Are we there yet? I appear, at least, to be dragging my verbal and metaphoric feet in working up this response to David Russell Mosley’s On the Edges of Elfland. Remember, it was a promise to try for a response. These qualifiers made a good hedge for me to hide behind.
I liked Alfred’s character. His underlying uncertainty combines with pathos in a subtle but felt sympathy. I feel with and for him. It would take another reading for me to distinguish the many characters (types) as they begin multiplying: dwarves, gnomes, elves, goblins, fairies, at least two dragons both of which Alfred slew, and hobgoblins, giants; perhaps strangest of all—humans.
But here humans, with whom the story begins in the village of Carlisle, are distinguishable. Their task is to save Carlisle from destruction, with Alfred’s leading. But without the old story-receiver-reteller named Oliver Cyning these humans would not have been inspired. This is a story in part about a battle and the necessity for battle; so, the narrative progressing, lots of characters are needed. But for me the distinction between them is absent as these disparate types gather. There’s just not enough there for my imagination. Oddly, the well-done exception is in the area of fungus. And also Balthazar Toadstool, the gnomish mushroom shepherd and historian, who first appears to Alfred as a giant walking mushroom from the midst of a fairy ring.
The story is partly about Alfred’s maturation. I see hints of some favorite authors, George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and their ideas of fairy everywhere in this book. A George MacDonald type of character is in the idea of Alfred, who is unpromising at a telling point in his life. Much of the rapid change in him is attributed to Elfland itself, the air of Elfland. But there’s enough engaging background, as revealed in Alfred’s believing childhood, to make imaginable his swift change from unhelpful or sullen or disaffected youth. None of these adjectives seem quite right for Alfred, yet, as I grope, I find he’s perhaps just not ready to oblige. To be committed. Thus the struggle of the young adult emerges. He will not commit until the air of his errand begins to shift his mindset back to childhood belief and devotion. The pressure of bullying helped destroy his beliefs, and he later became an achiever in college, leaving behind poetic faith, keeping for himself the story-poetry while denying its power.
I don’t want to tell you too much about the story. It’s also a story by an author new to the writing of fantasy and fiction. And I hope my response may invoke your desire to read as mine was initially invoked by Dr. Mosley’s blogging.
…There is this muse, you see. I call it the reading muse. Sometimes, mysteriously, I’m moved to desire some particular work. Maybe it’s not the work one was hoping for. This has happened to me before. Perhaps something not quite as appealing as the look of book may attract. But in this instance, not having seen, I was not yet attracted to the looks of Edges. That was the special pleasure I was given. A delight simply bestowed.
I still believe in the reading muse. Mosley’s elderly Oliver Cyning would testify to this experience. I haven’t prayed to this muse as I have to the writing (or fairy or speculative) muse influencing writers in crafting good stories. Sometimes the muse stands off, waiting to find out about your commitment. It has a way of showing—commitment does. When the muse sees it she’ll come down and breathe on the pen in your hand. It will be something like entering Elfland. The air in Elfland will do wonders for a youth, even the immature quasi committed. Or for the mature, the aged, and accustomed; perhaps someone who had been told to just go away. Because….
“The text before them comes to exist not in its own right but simply as raw material; clay out of which they can complete their tale of bricks. Accordingly we often find that in their leisure hours they read, if at all, as the many read.” —CSL, An Experiment in Criticism.
This is my written response to On the Edges of Elfland. It is not quite a review.
See part one here: view from the edge of elfland