Read The Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle Free Online
Book Title: The Folk of the Air|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 2.17 MB
v The author of the book: Peter S. Beagle
Edition: Del Rey
Date of issue: December 12th 1986
ISBN 13: 9780345337825
City - Country: No data
Read full description of the books The Folk of the Air:[9/10]
They were playing with time and magic, but time is tricky and magic is dangerous!
This is an excellent summary of the novel Peter S Beagle took so many years to write. I read somewhere that "The Folk of the Air" comes after "The Last Unicorn" in his catalogue, so in my mind the action was set somewhere at the tail end of the sixties. Imagine my surprise when I checked the actual publishing date and noticed the almost twenty year gap! This low output (barring a few short stories and non-fiction) might explain in part why Mr. Beagle is so terribly underrated and why his urban fantasy set on a California campus among Medieval re-enactment societies is not as well known as the works of Neil Gaiman or Charles de Lint, who will both use the same literary devices of introducing creatures from a mythical past into an ordinary modern setting. And frankly (in my fanboy opinion), Peter S Beagle is just as good, if not better, than the two authors I mentioned above.
Avicenna, California. Museum of my twisted youth, vault of my dearest and most disgusting memories.
The story opens with the entrance of a minstrel, a troubadour returning home after long years of wandering the far corners of the earth, playing old tunes on his lute and driving a battered Volkswagen bus (what else?) named Madame Schumann-Heink. Joe Farell is a drifter coming back to his alma mater in Avicenna (a fictional town in the Bay of California), to stay with his old school friend Ben and with his older (and odd) lover Sia. An early incident with a young hitchhiker underlines Farrell's laidback atitude to life, his sense of humour and serves as an early warning to the reader of a dark and twisted road ahead.
The story takes its time about building up to this ominous 'phantom menace' and in getting us acquainted with the characters. First we get to wonder about the mysterious nature of Sia and of her off kilter house. Sia has a heavy psychic presence, offers counselling in her rooms to disturbed individuals and has as a pet a huge Irish wolfhound named Briseis. Ben is a teacher of Medieval studies at the Avicenna university. Secondly, Joe Farrel gets reunited with his old flame, a biker girl named Julie Tanikawa, in a lovely romantic interlude between two free spirits who cannot live either together or apart. Julie is also an artist and a globe trotter, and kids Joe about his obsessions with music and with the past. Farrell argues instead that it's better to get to the core of your interest by careful study, rather than scatter your attention on a thousand trivial pursuits:
Wherever I go, I always want to spend a lifetime there. Anywhere - Tashkent, Calabria, East Cicero. I always want to be born there, and grow up and know everything about the place and be horribly ignorant and die. I don't approve of flying visits. It's the same thing with the music, I guess. Smells, noises.
This quote serves as an excuse for Julie to introduce Joe Farrell to the League of Archaic Pleasure , a society for like-minded people who meet and pretend they are living in Medieval times. The story gets a lot moer interesting from this point, as Joe and Julie find out that the game of dressing up in armour or brocade and talking in Chaucer pidgin becomes reality for many of the participants. Ben is seen in the guise of a ninth century Viking named Egil Eyvindsson, so caught up in the role that he doesn't seem capable of separating the two realities. A fifteen year old girl nicknamed Aiffe pretends to be a dangerous witch and sumons a peculiar man named Nicholas Bonner who remembers being burned at the stake in Germany in the fifeen century. Many other kings and knights and princesses dance around in costume in this pretend Kingdom of Huy Braseal, but how would Farrell be able to tell the difference between the reality and the fiction?
Farrell could not find any faces in that first wonder of brightness and velvet, cloaks and gold and brocade - only the beautiful clothes glittering in a great circle, moving as though they were inhabited, not by human heaviness, but by marshlights and the wind. 'The folk of the air', he thought. 'These are surely the folk of the air.'
The passage above will explain the title of the novel, together with a later declaration from one of the participants, on the eve of the League's popular annual tournament:
We're not a softball game. We're an air, an atmosphere. You don't sell tickets to an atmosphere.
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about the games we play (I am paraphrasing Kurt Vonnegut in "Mother Night", but the aphorism seems appropriate in this setting). Names have power and the gods and demons of the distant past are only sleeping, waiting for a new acolyte to summon them. Joe must find a League name for himself, and he comes up with "The Knight of Ghosts and Shadows".
Of course it's a game. Middle-class white people running around in long underwear, assistant professors hitting each other with sticks, what else could it be?
I liked this middle portion of the book, again with a fair warning that the pace is a little slow, as the author takes his time to introduce the different Medieval impersonators. In particular, I liked the phlegmatic atitude of Joe Farrell, who decides to play along with the League and join its ranks as a minstrel at the court of King Bohemond, holding his judgement until more information comes his way ( I don't have any particular trouble with the supernatural. It bewilders me about as much as the natural, I can't always tell them apart. ). I also liked the slow but constant build-up of tension about the dangers of playing with things too little understood, and I liked the flashes of humour when the modern slang intrudes on the High Court speech required of the League members:
King Bohemond said, "What the f_ck?" The men standing with him all cleared their throats, and the king mumbled wearily, "Sorry. What bodeth this outlandish manner of exhortation?"
Most of all, I liked the author's mastery of language and the subtle way of introducing both a little political commentary and a personal, emotional note into the adventure. From the mouth of the same King Bohemond, addressing his new recruit:
Th'art a musicker, sayest? Play an air for us, then, that we may know thee. For the reeds and the strings say who we are, beyond all misconceiving, and where each of us a man of music, there would be no more falsehood nor treachery in the world, surely.
Step by step the case for living in the past is argued by several of the members of the League of Archaic Pleasures, asking the reader where he draws the line between escapism and a true lifestyle, a sense of belonging. Here are a few of these arguments:
Grading papers is boring. Wars are fun. Get in, we've got two other knights to pick up.
/ / /
It's what happens in groups. People who get together because of a hobby or an obsession start to look a certain way. Boat people, backpackers, science fiction types, comic book collectors. Even short-wave radio freaks sort of have a look.
(an interesting follow up question would be : what does my look says about my hobbies? I guess 'computer gamer' and 'couch potato'. I hope I strike out on 'creepy online stalker')
/ / /
Because, of course, nobody ever volunteers to be a peasant.
/ / /
Honey, you have no idea just how much weird shit I will endure for the sake of having someplace to dress up. I'm sorry, I got to be somebody besides that damn bus driver now and again.
/ / /
Little bit addictive, the 'griot' business. Down at the post office, they don't have much room for a person wants to be an entire group memory all by himself.
The last quote, courtesy of the shaman/chronicler Hamid ibn Shanfara, is my favorite in explaining not only Medieval re-enacting but also speculative fiction in general as a probe into the inner dreams and aspirations of a generation. Avicenna and its Medieval leagues have some flower-power connotations in refusing a purely materialistc world and seeking wisdom in the alternative lifestyles, but the issues raised are still relevant, I think.
The last part of the novel is the reward of all that slow build-up. It is simply spectacular, an edge-of-the-seat rush to stop an evil entity from unleashing havoc on the present world. From an exorcism involving a Japanese deity to mock-up war on a deserted island, then to the annual tournament that establishes the next king in single combat, we are thrown into the middle of a magical hurricane that transcends space and time. Remember that opening quote from the blurb? Game's on, for Farrell and his friends! Spirits hungry to become flesh battle gods older than civilization in a universe where the laws of physics have been abandoned and the only limit is the power of imagination.
Julie recalls her childhood visits to her traditional grandmother:
I remember she used to drive my parents crazy, because she'd tell me really scary stories about the different kinds of ghosts - 'shirei' and 'muen-botoke' and the hungry ghosts, the 'gaki'. And 'ikiryo', they're the worst, they're the spirits of the living, and you can send them out to kill people if you're wicked enough. I loved the 'ikiryo' stories. They gave me such great nightmares.
Nightmare is a good word for the final experience, but also good are majestic and incredibly poignant about what we are and what we can do with our lives. I saved the best for last, the savagery inherent to this world of ours and the hope that keeps us going forward. These last quotesa are what makes the difference between a four and a five rating for me.
I am a black stone, the size of a kitchen stove. They wash me in the stream every summer and sing over me. I am skulls and cocks, spring rain and the blood of the bull. Virgins lie with strangers in my name, and young priests throw pieces of themselves at my stone feet. I am white corn, and the wind in the corn, and the earth whereof the corn stands up, and the blind worms rolled in an oozy ball of love at the corn's roots. I am rut and flood and honeybees. Since you ask.
I like it here. Of all the worlds, this one was made for me, with its silliness and its cruelty, and its fine trees. Nothing ever changes. For every understanding, a new terror - for each foolishness at last pulled down, three little new insanities sprouting. Such mess, such beauty, such hopelessness. I talk to my clients, but I can never know how they can get up in the morning, how any of you can ever get out of bed. One day, nobody will bother. [...] And still you desire one another. And still you invent and reinvent yourselves, you manufacutre entire universes, just as real and fatal as this one, all for an excuse to stumble against one another for a moment. I know gods who have come into existence only because two of you wanted there to be a reason for what they were about to do that afternoon. Listen, I tell you that on the stars they can smell your desire - there are ears of a shape you have no word for listening to your dreams and lies, tears and gruntings. There is nothing like you anywhere among all the stones in the sky, do you realize that? You are the wonder of the cosmos, possibly for embarassing reasons, but anyway a wonder. You are the home of hunger and boredom, and I roll in you like a dog.
This hell of a place, I will miss it so much. This fat body, walking mud puddle, deceived by everything, this impossible, ruinous accident of a world, these people who would truly rather hurt one another than eat - oh, there is nothing, nothing, nothing I would not do to stay here ten minutes longer. Oh, I will leave clawmarks, I will drag mountains and forests away under my fingernails when I am dragged off.
"The Folks of The Air" is a complex story , with rich picking for the patient reader who want to look beyond its immediate horror thriller structure. It does have some pacing issues and some sketchy characterization (mostly this means I wanted to spend more time in the company of some of the characters). But the ending redeemed all the minor grumbling I went through in the previous chapters. I hear a new edition is in the works from the author, and I would really, really love to read a sequel (view spoiler)[ what happens after Joe Farrell and Briseis drive off into the California sunset in their trusty Volkswagen bus? (hide spoiler)]. Until then, I believe Julie's Grandmother offers the best coda to the adventure:
... she knew that human beings everywhere need mercy most of all.
bonus - soundtrack listing (some mentioned in the novel, some my own contribution)
- The Beatles - "Day Tripper" , "Helter Skelter". "Eleanor Rigby"
- Simon & Garfunkel - "Scarborough Fair"
- Jethro Tull - "Living in the Past" , "The Minstrel in the Gallery" , "Too Old To Rock'n Roll, Too Young To Die" , "Bouree"
- Bobbie Gentry - "Ode To Billy Joe"
- Blackmore's Night - any
- Loreena McKennitt - any
Read information about the authorPeter Soyer Beagle (born April 20, 1939) is an American fantasist and author of novels, nonfiction, and screenplays. He is also a talented guitarist and folk singer. He wrote his first novel, A Fine and Private Place , when he was only 19 years old. Today he is best known as the author of The Last Unicorn, which routinely polls as one of the top ten fantasy novels of all time, and at least two of his other books (A Fine and Private Place and I See By My Outfit) are considered modern classics.
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