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

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