Twice previously to this post, I have had something brief to say about this magnificent fantasy novel, and I’ve promised then to come back to it and conclude my remarks. It took me a long time to get back to finishing it up, not because it was not gripping and vital enough to hold my interest, but because I had just plainly entered a phase when I was a little further away from my “reading fantasy” self and a little closer to my “reading what purports to be realism.” Recently, however, I at long last returned to finish up the second half of The Way of Thorn and Thunder (The Kynship Chronicles) and found myself thoroughly satisfied with the promise of the first half of the book as it was fulfilled in the second half. There are many reasons why this is so, but one of the most compelling is what I would like to term the “fluidity of process and purpose” in the book.
For there is no question, this book flows. At first, it was hard to stay attached to some of the characters because of this, and the reason seemed to be that just when I would reach a point of intense involvement with one set of characters, the scene would shift and I would find myself with a different set of characters within a very short amount of time. There were also a number of places where (in contrast to the things we’re all lectured about in beginning creative writing courses) new characters were introduced fairly late and began to be important in the story. In other words, this fantasy novel was too lifelike in some respects! What a strange thing to complain about! Not that I was complaining–I liked all of the characters and all of the scenarios, and found them very enticing to follow: it’s just that the book, like the “Eld Green” life force itself (called the wyr), kept slipping and flowing away from my control of the plot.
Then I asked myself, finally, “Why should a reader control the plot?” And thereupon I made an important discovery: the reader was evidently intended to ride like a surfer on the waves of the novel, occasionally losing his or her balance when the plot or characters did something unexpected, and wiping out. Then he or she was supposed to go back out into what I have called the “flow” to try again, not to master the fluidity of process, rather to enjoy it as it passed underneath with the reader riding along until something else changed.
There also was a fluidity of purpose: the topic seemed to change from advocation of good ecological practices to kind love practices to responsible governing practices and so on through a whole list of actions and beliefs that might support our real world better than we are proving ourselves capable of now, for the most part. So, as I found, I hadn’t really left my realistic reading world behind at all: I was only engaged in seeing that there are other tactics and strategies for everything we need to do in the real world, and that “continuity in change,” a phrase which occurs in the novel, is one of the key topics though it is hidden away in a picture of a world which appears on the surface to be a fantasy. For, except for the force of magic, which most people in the world today might regard with toleration as a fantasy subject, yet would probably not really believe in except for their own particular stripe of religious belief, there are many, many points of correspondence between the experiences of the characters in this novel and those of people in real life. And just as the positive characters adopt each other freely into their “kynship” structures, allowing friends to become kith and kin, so the reader is taken up as a novelistic responsibility by Daniel Heath Justice, who never once lets the reader off with making a facile generalization and never lets the reader down by doing something trite. This novel, in conclusion, is well worth reading for anyone who finds the topics of fairness, equality, and societal love important issues; as well, it’s just a plain fun, good-humored, and remarkably admirable world in which to find oneself. The only problem is that it ends too soon (do I hear “sequel?”).
6 responses to ““The Way of Thorn and Thunder (The Kynship Chronicles)” and Fluidity of Process and Purpose”
I was wondering if there was going to be a sequel when you some of characters being introduced late on. This is often a narrative strategy employed when a sequel is in the air. All worthwhile fantasy makes us reconsider our own situation, I think, which is why it demands the same reading skills as anything more clearly realistic. I haven’t come across this but am off to look for a copy now.
The thing is, this book was originally a trilogy (the edition I bought is the revised one-volume book from Amazon.com, which was an excellent purchase, as it incorporated Justice’s most recent revisions). Just as there was no real sequel to “The Lord of the Rings” afterwards (though there were other books written about the same world), it seems unlikely that there would be a sequel or prequel. Nevertheless, in the Glossary, there are a number of items about various aspects of the world in question, many of which could be expanded into other views and stories. I’m hoping. And while it is clearly a fantasy novel in genre, it IS based upon some cultural models and history from the real world, in particular Native American history and tradition. So, there is a connection of a real sort as well.
I had another thought about this during the night but I’ll need to read the book to test it out. There is a good narrative reason why characters turning up near the end of one book so often indicate that there will be a sequel, to do with the way that a writer signals that a particular narrative pathway out of the many available is going to be the one followed. This is what I call ‘Igniting Moment’, think the wolf turning up in the story of the Three Little Pigs. The same technique isn’t one that is normally used to mark other high spots, such as the climax or dénouement, unless there is a new story to push forward but I wonder if here the writer has ‘borrowed’ a marker from the earlier Peak to mark one of the later ones. I’ve found the book available for download. I’m going to have to read it.
PS I hope that makes sense:)
It definitely sounds like an interesting read. How large are the stories?
I found his website, and it mentions a forthcoming new story entitled ‘The Ruins of the Phoenix War’. That is a name that sells itself =)
Yes, it is very illuminating. The entire book, inclusive of Glossary and maps, is 616 pages (as I note in my comment above, I bought the revised edition which incorporates the trilogy into one volume. I always like to read the author’s latest version of his or her work, as a general principle). And yes, thanks for mentioning his website. I should have listed it, but I can put it here for the benefit of other readers: it’s http://www.danielheathjustice.com . You should definitely read this author. And thanks for doing the research on his website; he also has non-fiction work, and I don’t know if “The Ruins of the Phoenix War” is it or not. I’ve fallen sadly behind in my book-purchasing, so I’ll have to see if I can get this book from the library.
While what you’re saying makes sense, Alex, I think Justice has a lot of irons in the fire critically and creatively speaking, and I wonder if he won’t just continue writing other fictions and essays rather than return to the specific world of the “Eld Green.” Of course, as long as he keeps the same ethical framework I’ve no complaints, but will just wait patiently to see what he does.