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.