I’m continuing to be impressed by what I’ve read from Thomas Burnett Swann. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a fan of mythological stories from antiquity. While Swann’s stories and techniques are the familiar fare that one will find in his contemporary writers of fantasy, he draws from the wells of Ovid and Herodotus to create his tales. I can say with some confidence that Swann has probably written more stories about the Etruscans than any other modern fantasist. I mentioned once that he reminded me of Frank G. Slaughter, but the only other 20th century fantasy writer that I could compare him to is Dunsany.
The Weirwoods is, at its core, a fairy-tale. An Etruscan lord captures a water-sprite because he thinks it would make a nice slave for his daughter; the daughter wants to free the sprite and return him to his lake and his people; she does so with the help of a travelling minstrel and a water-sprite sorceress. Of course to describe it as such seriously undersells what Swann is doing with this story.
Swann explicitly uses the uncanny nature of Fey as part of his “realism”; while the cover depicts the sorceress Vegoia as blue-green and obviously some kind of inhuman fish-person, the sprites in the weirwoods look more or less human except for the look in their eyes, fins at their temples, and their webbed feet which slosh and squish whenever they walk. This, of course, in contrast with all of the historical (and pseudohistorical) details Swann fills his world with.
Though they’re not “bad”, Fey are certainly inhuman, particularly in their reasoning and in their passions. Notions of love and gratitude as we understand them are alien. Their behavior cannot be predicted by the standards that one would apply to their fellow man, and that makes them dangerous.
Being busy with the zine and staying on top of my other reading has pushed this off longer than I’d intended and my comments on it are far more shallow than I’d planned, but I still wanted to highlight this, even if I didn’t end up talking about the juxtaposition between Urban vs. the Rustic, Vel the sprite-boy vs. Arnth the minstrel, Tanaquil the good Etruscan girl vs. Vegoia the fey sorceress, love vs. pleasure, freedom vs. bondage, so on and so forth. I’ll just leave it at saying Swann has me hooked.