So Awesome It Hurts: Evangeline Walton’s Prince of Annwn

Thursday , 10, August 2017 15 Comments

It comes down to the lousy names, really.

Tolkien spoiled us all. And yeah, being a philologist that had invented several languages and then creating a fantasy world to serve as some sort of a Method acting preparation in order to lend them the sort of savor and roots that real languages have…? After reading and rereading the masterpiece that came out of that exercise– which itself was written and rewritten over and over– not much else can really compare. And the bloated big box story monster novel that never really ends? On the basis of the absolutely mediocre names alone they can be safely discarded as not being worth the time.

Sometimes it just seems like that in fantasy there is only Tolkien… and then his imitators that mostly seem unable to write a coherent story that actually has an ending.

Where can you turn for mind-blowing fantasy that has first-rate authentic names that derive from a rich and vivid historical tapestry? And that are also tightly plotted, coherent stories that pack a lot of punch and that pay off everything that is set up with immaculately paced dramatic beats?

Well my money’s on Evangeline Walton’s Prince of Annwn, which is her retelling of the epic adventure stories of Welsh mythology. And when the cover says “adventure stories”, it is not exaggerating. This stuff is on par with the work of A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jack Kirby. Which is odd when you think about it. I mean, if old pulp stories have more in common with the sorts of tales that the ancients wrote in order to encapsulate everything they valued and everything they found inspiring and entertaining… then how did pulp stories end up being considered to be “low brow” and “low culture”?

I love how it gets right down to business.

The opening line? “That day Pwyll, Prince of Dyved, who thought he was going out to hunt, was in reality going out to be hunted, and by no beast or man of earth.” He’s heading into a spooky forest by the second page. And by the end of the chapter, he finds himself face to face with a frightening being from an Otherworld: Arawn, a King in Annwn. Who is the Welsh equivalent of the god of death!

(And hey… I told you the names were good.)

And I have to say… one of the best things about The Lord of the Rings is the way the it casually implies that you are reading something that captures the reality of something from our own past, our own history– that people in old legends really were people, and that the events they recount really happened somehow.

Not a lot of people can pull that off. But that’s something real myths and legends tend to do. And Evangeline Walton’s handling of this particular bit of unearthed arcana really does make the distant past seem incredibly present.

It’s magic.

 

 

15 Comments
  • Xavier Basora says:

    Jeffro
    Very cool. Lemme say that Evangeline/Evangelina are my favourite names in English.
    Ok what do you really like about the book? What captures your imagination and entrails you about it?
    Is it available via Gutenberg or other free book sites?

    I concur that urmyths or popular mythology capture something deep in us. I would strongly urge aspiring writers to read and ransack those myths. And of they can read them in the original languages so much the better.
    xavier

    • Jeffro says:

      Briefly:

      1) There’s something gob-smacking in every chapter.
      2) Everything is set up flawlessly. Take everything Mr. Plinkett complains about current cinema and you’ll find the exact opposite here.
      3) There are some intriguing dilemmas here– without obvious solutions. They reach into both the moral and the cosmic dimensions.

      • Xavier Basora says:

        Jeffro:
        Thanks. Cool! what’s your favourite flabbergasting scene?
        and is the book available as free ebook?

        xavier

        • Jeffro says:

          Man I hate to be coy, but I’m pretty sure I have three favorite scenes and I can’t pick a fave. Great problem to have!

          The actual Ballantine paperback is available for a song on Amazon. (It’s uber-cool; basically an Adult Fantasy Series book without the logo.) I think this one tends to end up in Half Price Books stores more often for some reason.

          A truly underrated work that belongs on peoples’ radar.

          • Xavier Basora says:

            Jeffro,

            Thanks! I just read an article that no one has written fantasies using Catalan mythology for stories. Thus it’s a genre absolutely wide open. Hmmm maybe that’s something to look into now that you’ve introduced us to Prince of Annwn 🙂

            xavier

  • caleb says:

    John C. Wright is rather partial to Walton’s stuff, if I’m not mistaken. She’s quite excellent, and it always pleasant to hear some more praise for her.
    One senses a pattern: if some female fantasy/SF/horror writer is completely ignored by the usual suspects today, despite achieving some acclaim during her lifetime, then you can safely assume that her fiction is actually -good-. On that account, methinks that you’ll appreciate Joy Chant’s novels.

    • deuce says:

      I was about 20 when I read Chant’s first novel. I was somewhat underwhelmed. However, perhaps I need to give her a reread. I couldn’t get into THE WORM OUROBOROS when I was 20 either, and now I consider it a minor classic.

  • deuce says:

    I think Walton did a great job with those books. Walton’s Gothic Horror novel, WITCH HOUSE, was the first original/non-reprint novel published by Arkham House. It goes for big bucks today.

    For those checking out Evangeline on the web, don’t be misled by articles that claim Ian and Betty Ballantine “discovered” Walton for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series. That was Lin Carter, the series editor. The BAFS was instrumental in bringing back lost classics by Dunsany, Eddison, Walton and others and Lin was behind all of that. While his fiction quality was very uneven, Carter was undoubtedly one of the great fantasy scholars/editors of his generation.

    Somewhere on the net is an interview with Walton — which I can’t track down at the moment — where she strongly implies that BETTY and Ian Ballantine refused to publish any of her other fiction, instead wanting her to do LotR knockoffs. Those looking for a publisher in the ’70s-’80s who pushed things toward what we have now should direct their gaze at Ballantine rather than dogging on Donald A. Wollheim and DAW. Ballantine fired Carter and spiked the BAFS. DAW gave Lin his last paychecks before he died.

    “If old pulp stories have more in common with the sorts of tales that the ancients wrote in order to encapsulate everything they valued and everything they found inspiring and entertaining… then how did pulp stories end up being considered to be “low brow” and “low culture”?

    Fellow travelers came along later, but William Dean Howells definitely got the ball rolling:

    http://www.tangentonline.com/articles-columnsmenu-284/529-on-writing-as-a-fantasist

    Before Howells — who quite obviously referred to Haggard’s SHE in his manifesto — American literati seem to have been fine reading fiction by the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Longfellow. After that, such tales were “trash” and, quite possibly, a bad influence on the betterment of the “common man.” Individualistic heroes stood in the way of the “common folk” joining in the Workers’ Struggle and developing a class consciousness.

    • Andy says:

      Well, Mark Twain also seemed to have a bug up his ass about Walter Scott. He seemed to think that plantation owners justified slavery by likening it to the feudal system in Scott’s works or something. Maybe there’s something to that but it seems a silly reason to dismiss the work of a guy who can’t help who his readers are.

      • deuce says:

        “Well, Mark Twain also seemed to have a bug up his ass about Walter Scott.”

        Yeah, I’m aware of that point. I know someone who is working that into a non-fiction book he’s writing. Twain may have had a little influence on the shift — he also defenestrated James Fenimore Cooper — but Howells held the purse-strings at the Atlantic. He used that as a weapon to shift the Overton Window in American fiction.

        BTW, Twain was quite vehement about getting rid of Native Americans. They didn’t rate the same as American Blacks, in his view.

        http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/rissetto/twain3.html

        It’s impossible not to note that Cooper, whom Twain hated, had a more balanced view of Native Americans. Of course, that had nothing to do with Twain’s disdain.

    • John E. Boyle says:

      Thanks for the link, deuce. I’ve heard about Howells before, and it DOES seem to be true:

      Socialists mess up everything they touch.

  • Anthony says:

    I own Walton’s Mabinogion retelling. I must get back to that.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Walton’s Mabinogion isn’t for everyone of course (“too wordy” is the complaint I hear most often), but if you do like her style, you will enjoy it immensely.

  • Xavier Basora says:

    This came to me as I read the comments: how has progressivism contributed to pulp’s denigration of pulps and the oblivion of its authours?

    xavier

    • Jeffro says:

      Modernism is anti-Pulp and post-Christian. Post-modernism is not content to merely be “realistic” and rationalist and above superstition and morality. No, it pushes an Anti-Christian religion as hard as it possibly can. Both of those ideological movements would harshly criticize the older works that embody Christian cultural touchstones as being either “juvenile kid stuff” or else “sexist, racist, and homophobic.”

      Progressives have been so busy laying down suppressing fire against their Modernistic forbears that most people don’t even know there was anything happening in fantasy and science fiction before that.

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