Review: The Last Rainbow by Parke Godwin

Continuing the purge of my old writing files after a hiatus to paint the master bath. Not only am I finding stories I never published (no surprise there, not every story is a winner), I’m finding stories and articles I’d forgotten I’d written. One of which was a fairly detailed review of Parke Godwin’s The Last Rainbow. I was reviewing for the long gone Fantasy Review at the time, and as I was going through my old file I found a letter from the editor telling me they already had a review of the book, so my review was never published and I’m including it here. There are a couple of spoilers, for those among you who believe that what happens in a book is what the book is really about, so fair warning.

The Last Rainbow. Originally published by Bantam Spectra Books,
1985.

Parke Godwin’s The Last Rainbow is subtitled “A Novel of Saint Patrick” and that’s certainly true—in the same sense that Firelord was about King Arthur and Beloved Exile, Guenivere. As in it’s true so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Novels about legendary figures are nothing new—the bare bones of fact and myth always beg for the flesh of the storyteller’s art, but to say that the vein has been mined before is to completely miss the point. What sets our best writers apart is not chosen genre, social consciousness, or even prose style. It is their ability to look at a subject, any subject, from their own unique perspective and let the rest of us see what they see. Communication is the heart and soul of any good story. Anything less is just ‘connect the dots’ and word games. T.H. White used “The Matter of Britain” in his The Once and Future King to reflect his own society, and if the images in his mirror are cloaked in fancy they’re never hidden. John Gardner took the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and turned it on its head, telling the story from the monster’s point of view in the masterful Grendel, and suddenly we’ll never again be quite so righteously complacent in the hero’s triumph. Agree or not, we will look again, and wonder.

All of which is a roundabout way to point out that Godwin works a kindred magic in The Last Rainbow. He takes the stone statue life of Saint Patrick, and with a superb artist’s eye, patiently chips away the gilt of time and dogma to reveal the living flesh beneath. Continue reading

Things I Like – Part 1

I’ve talked about Parke Godwin as a person before, but now I’m going to concentrate on his legacy a bit. He tried out science fiction  (see The Masters of Solitude written with Marvin Kaye) but he really hit his stride with historical fantasy. I rank his take on the Matter of Britain at the very least in a league with Rosemary Sutcliff’s, and I do not say that lightly. My first exposure to this area of his work was The Last Rainbow, a take on the legend of St. Patrick, a subject I didn’t think I cared a whit about until I read his version. Parke Godwin came from a theatrical background (he was an actor long before he became a writer) and you see it in the care that goes into the creation of every one of his characters. They are never around just to serve the plot, a failing you’ll often run into even in the best of other authors’ work. Each and every one has, for want of a more appropriate term, stage presence. If a tinker shows up on page 234 for one scene only, you can bet he has a backstory, his own reasons for being where he is, and you’re likely to remember him when the book is done. There are no throwaway characters in a Parke Godwin Book.

Next up is Firelord. This is the beginning of the diptych of Godwin’s take on the legend of King Arthur. If I had to single out any one book as Parke Godwin’s masterpiece, this would proabably be it. Godwin’s take on the story of King Arthur takes him from Celtic tribal prince to a soldier in the last days of the Roman Empire’s influence in Britain to war commander to king. The fantasy element is always slight enough that one could ignore it, up to a point, but it’s there in a way that makes sense. Even Merlin plays his part, though he’s not who you might think he is. It’s a unique take on the legend, and I’m not giving any more away, so read it yourself, if you haven’t already. You’ll note above that I said “probably” his masterpiece. The only reason I’m a bit wishy-washy on that is because I waffle between Firelord and the second book, Beloved Exile. If Firelord is mainly Arthur’s story, then Beloved Exile is Guenivere’s. Specifically what happens after Camelot falls, a time period given fairly short shrift by most accounts of the story, maybe because the early tellers saw that as the end, but there are no endings, not really, and there was no way in hell that the Guenivere of Firelord was going to be retiring to a nunnery, then or ever. Which book is my favorite rather depends on what day you ask me.

There’s a lot more I could talk about, but then I don’t want to spoil it for anyone just getting into Godwin’s work. I will point out that you don’t want to overlook either Waiting For the Galactic Bus or The Snake Oil Wars, Godwin indulging his comedy chops with the linked stories of two extremely advanced aliens who get “temporarily” stranded on the Earth and the extreme mess they make of the place. There’s his one collection of short stories, The Fire When it Comes, including the World Fantasy Award-winning novella of the same name. There’s Tower of Beowulf. There’s his marvelously off-center take on Robin Hood—Sherwood, and Robin and the King. There’s…well, lots. Unfortunately a great many of these are out of print, but editions are available, and I’d jump on them while they are. You wouldn’t be disappointed by any of them, and if you are, well, we have nothing to discuss.

Harold Parke Godwin 1929-2013

Ever since I got the word last August that Parke Godwin’s health and faculties were in decline, I knew I was going to have to write this post sooner or later. It was perhaps selfish of me that I wanted it to be later. Much later. I had dreams of receiving one more of his witty letters, finished with that flourish of a self-caricature he always drew after the closing, even though we’d long since switched to email and those caricatures were gone. Then I thought of my father in law, who I loved dearly, telling me, not too long from the end, “I’m so tired.” I understood what he meant then, though I tried to pretend that I didn’t. His body was just worn out and it was time to go, and it was the same with Parke Godwin. “Pete” to his friends, who were legion. I was proud to count myself among them. Continue reading

Favorite Li(n)es

We all have them. Some of them we didn’t even write. Since my brain is otherwise locked up at the moment, I’m putting a couple of my favorites up here instead of, you know, writing something. Both of today’s lines come from one of my all-time favorite writers, Parke Godwin. The first one needs a little context, so know that it was spoken by Guenivere in Beloved Exile after learning of the death of a romantic rival.

“Later I heard she died of the plague. God is good. Sometimes he’s an absolute dear.”

The second is from “Influencing the Hell out of Time and Theresa Golowitz” and needs no context at all.

“Dead one day, and already I need a lawyer.”

While I realize that any single line or small phrase separated from its context is never going to have the same impact, these are two that, anytime I think of them, always make me smile.

And I think I will throw in one more from another of my most favorite writers. This is from Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.

“No cat out of its first fur can ever be fooled by appearances. Unlike human beings, who seem to enjoy it.”

Anyone else have a favorite line? Anyone who doesn’t? (I would need that latter explained to me).

Talking to Myself and Feeling Old

Sometime back in the mid-nineties, just a year or two after I’d started publishing regularly, I was asked to write a profile. I don’t remember by whom. I don’t even remember what for. But I stumbled upon it a while back. Most of it is out of date, other parts are simply overblown and embarrassing, and show just how full of myself I was at the time(Which makes me wonder how much has really changed). But as a document of where I was and what was passing for reflection in my feeble excuse for a brain at the time, I found it interesting. I can’t see how anyone else would but, hey, tough noogies. This is my blog and I feel like sharing. Or in the words of past philosophers– “I’ve suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.” Continue reading