I recently snatched up a stray Swann paperback at the library’s overstock outlet store / art cafe and got around to reading it this week.
I’ve ranted at length about how much I enjoy Swann, particularly Cry Silver Bells, another of his minotaur stories.
Day of the Minotaur is another cozy fantasy romance set on Crete; the island faces Achaean invasion, leading to the half-beast children of the king being forced into exile in the wilds of the island’s interior. All of Swann’s hallmarks are there, though some of the characters come across as a little thin [Cry Silver Bells, a prequel to Day of the Minotaur, fleshes out characters like Zoe and Moschus more, so reading this after having read CSB everyone came off a little strange].
But we’re given our share of monster boys and monster girls, touching romance and bromance, and the tragedy of the ever-retreating magic from the world.
One thing I’ve noticed about a lot Swann’s books is that Ace’s packaging for them are, well, odd and sometimes promise things that aren’t exactly there or might disappoint someone unfamiliar with the sort of stories Swann actually writes.
The tagline “They fought at Time’s dawn for the world of today”? I… I don’t even know what that means, but it takes very loosey-goosey interpretation to arrive at anything close to that from the story therein.
Another thing is the forced Tolkien comparison on the back of the book.
It’s interesting that for how hard Ace pushed Swann as “like Tolkien”, not only are his books very un-Tolkienian in most known senses, but he apparently had not read much Tolkien. In fact, in the one interview published, Swann claims to have only ever read The Hobbit.
Where they are similar, however, is the whimsical portrayal of the pastoral; Tolkien’s Shire and Swann’s pagan realms of fae share a magic that is made more precious by their inevitable decline and disappearance in the face of modernity.
Of course, no one thinks of that as being “Tolkienian” these days. Tolkienian means big sprawling worlds, huge battles, wars against darklords, etc. None of which you’ll find in Swann–a common complaint against him–as he wrote cozy pastoral romances
With the everpresent question of “just how influential was Tolkien really” on fantasy, it’s worth noting that it was being referred to as Tolkienian (or rather ‘like Tolkien/in the vein of Tolkien’) at a time before what was understood to be “Tolkienian” had taken shape. Even before “Tolkienian” fantasy took hold, Tolkien was becoming a marketing buzz-word in the 60s paperback world. Similarly Zebra slapped Tolkien’s name on Adrian Cole’s Sword & Planet stories in the early 70s. While Tolkien’s writing influence may not have been all over SFF in the 60s and early 70s, his name had huge market weight in the wake of the illicit LOTR paperbacks.
The fantasy of Swann is more like that of Dunsany, though this is incidental in that they were both drawing from a common mythical well (Swann’s writing and narrative styles are not particularly Dunsanian, though the theme of magic’s retreat is found in much of both writers’ works).
Finally, I’ll add that for those of our friends who have expressed that while they like stuff like Monster Musume in theory, they’re not actually into lewd stuff and bad oppai jokes: y’all need to be reading Swann. He’s got you covered in the monster girl department. Harpies, Sphinxes, Dryads, Tritons, goat-girls, bear-girls, bee-girls, dolphin-girls….
Also, knowing that A.A. Milne is one of Swann’s favorite authors and influences makes the snacky bear-girl in this that much more pureTM.