Beyond the Keep on the Borderland (Pt.3) – Clifford Simak’s Enchanted Pilgrimage

So, the last war between Mankind and Fey has ended, settling into an uneasy armistice. The Caves of Chaos are no longer teeming with the creatures of Fey, and the Keep on the Borderlands is no longer garrisoned, has fallen into disuse and disrepair, and only a small church remains as a reminder that this was once a forward outpost in Christendom’s endless war with soulless heathens. What becomes of the heroes of that age? The Clerics who fought against the forces of Chaos to advance and defend Civilization and ensure that Mankind’s right to rule the land God bestowed upon Adam?

“I have never been able to settle quite comfortably into the role of churchman, although I do my best. I mortify the flesh and discipline the spirit, but the hungers rage within me. Age does not seem to quench them. Much as I may frown upon the folly of what you intend to do, I find within myself the ache to go along with you. I suppose it may be this place, a place of warriors and brave deeds. Peaceful as it may seem now, for centuries it was the outpost of the empire against the peoples of the Wasteland. The tower is now half tumbled down, but once it was a great watch tower and before it ran a wall, close to the river, that has almost disappeared, its stones being carted off by the country people to construct ignoble fences, hen-houses and stables. Once men manned the tower and wall, standing as a human wall of flesh against the encroachments and the depredations of the unholy horde which dwells in the Wasteland.”

“Your grace,” said Snively, far too gently, “your history, despite the centuries, is too recent. There was a day when the humans and the Brotherhood lived as neighbors and in fellowship. It was not until the humans began chopping down the forest, failing to spare the sacred trees and the enchanted glens, not until they began building roads and cities, that there was animosity. You cannot, with clear conscience, talk of encroachments and depredations, for it was the humans—“

“Man had the right to do what he wished with the land,” the bishop said. “He had the holy right to put it to best use. Ungodly creatures such as—“

“Not ungodly,” said Snively. “We had our sacred groves until you cut them down, the fairies had their dancing greens until you turned them into fields. Even such simple little things as fairies…”

This clash between clergy and demi-humans comes from the completely alien and antithetical worldviews each has. Mankind vs. Fey is older than Elf vs. Dwarf, though some of the reasoning and cruft is similar. Elves don’t like Dwarves because Dwarves cut down trees and pursue wealth; Dwarves don’t like Elves, because Elves are haughty and aloof. In the case of Mankind vs. Fey, Fey don’t like mankind because men encroach on their borders, and Mankind doesn’t like Fey because their existence is blasphemous.

So, strange must be the circumstances that a Elf, a Dwarf, or a Halfling would join with Men, especially Men of the cloth, to assist in pushing back that boundary of Elfland for the benefit of Man and Civilization.

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4 responses to “Beyond the Keep on the Borderland (Pt.3) – Clifford Simak’s Enchanted Pilgrimage

  1. Have you read either of Simak’s other, very similar, fantasies: Where The Evil Dwells and The Fellowship Of The Talisman? He had a habit of reworking themes/plots several times.

    • This is actually the first novel of his I’ve read. Before this, the only other story of his I’d read was Hellhounds of the Cosmos, which starts out a Strange Tale of Super Science and ends full Eternal Champion.

  2. These three fantasies are alright, having some very good moments mixed with some weaker ones. His sci-fi, however, can be amazing. Very sweet, very pastoral, but never without some creeptastic moments of bleakness or despair.

    • Yeah, like I mentioned in the first installment, I’m not blown away by the story, but it’s still an approach to combining quest-centric fantasy with low-fairytale fantasy in a way that I haven’t actually seen a lot of.

      Swann, to me, is one of the masters of low-fantasy fairytale adventure, but he’s generally writing from a pre-Christian framework, so the emergence of Christendom and its rise to primacy in the late Empire is what finally brings his fairy-world tumbling down after the long-retreat before civilzation, with the arrival of Aeneas marking something of a “beginning of the end”.

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