Jim and I have just received glowing, incisive reviews of The Stoneholding and Darkling Fields of Arvon from Harley Sims, a Canadian writer, independent scholar, and up and coming public intellectual, as well as cultural commentator, who holds a PhD in Old and Middle English from the University of Toronto (his remarkable website is well worth visiting). The reviews appeared on the Good Reading Guide website and can be found at this link.
Sims plans to do a feature-length interview with us for Mythprint (the bulletin of the widely respected Mythopoeic Society, dedicated to the work of Tolkien and his like-minded contemporaries, known as the Inklings). He is in fact the second mediaevalist who has unstintingly espoused our cause and suggested that our work has a unique kinship with that of Tolkien.
Like Sims, Professor Guy Trudel is a Canadian. He holds a DPhil from Oxford, specializing in Middle English. Until relatively recently he taught English at the University of Toronto and was often consulted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as an expert on Tolkien. He now teaches at Providence College in Rhode Island, where he remains a huge supporter of our work and has given us the following endorsement of The Stoneholding:
“Of all the books I have read, The Stoneholding comes closest to capturing the feelings of wonder and enchantment that I felt when I first entered the world of Tolkien. By the same token it is a quite unique work, brimming with its own creative genius and a brilliance that lifts it far above the legion of hackneyed imitations.”
In forthcoming blogs I hope to discuss some of the important issues that Sims, for his part, broaches about the nature of fiction and fantasy in particular. In the meantime, here is the text of his wonderfully tonic reviews:
HARLEY SIMS REVIEW OF THE STONEHOLDING (GOOD READING GUIDE)
The Stoneholding is soothing medicine for the hurried soul—a slow-release capsule of alpine pastoralism and fellowship with just enough action and intrigue to keep the pages turning. Originally self-published and now under the Baen imprint, it is a work of high fantasy—the first of a projected four novels—set in the Tolkienesque world of Ahn Norvys. The action of The Stoneholding is centred upon the continent of Arvon—a psuedomedieval British pastiche—and in particular upon the mountain-cradled clanholding of Lammermorn. Guarded by its impassable ring of peaks, the rural province serves as the humble but venerated seat of an ancient bardic tradition, one steeped in song and the lore of one King Ardiel, founder of the three-thousand-year-old Great Harmony. Correspondingly, the prose of The Stoneholding is rounded out by numerous songs and snatches of poetry from great works indigenous to the world of the novel—something that is often done in alternate-world fantasy, but almost never with any real feeling.
The Stoneholding is clearly a work of profound love and dedication on the part of its authors, and every paragraph bespeaks those qualities, as well as a long imaginative gestation.
With its occasionally challenging vocabulary, excruciatingly detailed geography, and humanistic emphasis on dialogue, The Stoneholding is not, properly speaking, a page-turner. It should and will be enjoyed in dedicated bouts, its speeches passed from cheek to cheek a couple of times before being ingested. The resulting warmth is comfortable and radiant, and its effect quite unlike the simple pleasure of a good, quick read. The authors refer to their work as an act of ‘sub-creation’—a theoretic term from J.R.R. Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories—and it is in according terms that The Stoneholding is best appreciated. Its leisurely tempo, achingly rendered scenery, and unequivocal respect for human life—even in moments of strife—redound to what Tolkien referred to as ‘Recovery,’ which is to refresh the reader’s perspective on and appreciation for the real world. Ahn Norvys is a world to be lived in, not simply to host a story, and for that, it is a world that encourages the lives and living of its readers.
The Stoneholding will no doubt stand as a tribute to Tolkien’s Middle-earth rather than as its own brand of fantasy (such as George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, for example), but few such tributes are so worthy. One hopes that Mark Sebanc and James G. Anderson can maintain the unique qualities of this novel as the series progresses, and as the temptation to fall into more conventional narrative patterns become increasingly difficult.
HARLEY SIMS REVIEW OF DARKLING FIELDS OF ARVON (GOOD READING GUIDE)
Continuing the refreshing, high fantasy tale they began in The Stoneholding, authors Mark Sebanc and James G. Anderson maintain their distinctive voice in Darkling Fields of Arvon. Like the first installment in the Legacy of the Stone Harp series, the novel offers an energizing and unhurried story of hope and companionship. Even as the land of Arvon is threatened by the murderous forces of the false king and his puppeteers, the authors are able both to maintain a sense of optimism, as well as to keep expectations taut. The book is therefore both comfortable and vigorous—gratifyingly conventional in its framework, but viscerally vivid. It is a subtle and difficult formula, one that jaded fans of the fantasy genre will appreciate immediately, and which newcomers will admire for its patience and buoyancy.
As a story, and like The Stoneholding (much of whose review applies here as well), Darkling Fields of Arvon is foremost about living space—about describing people, places, and things heavily, and reporting long conversations, in a manner suggestive of real life. The language is nevertheless very polished and formal, unadmitting of obscenity save for the rare description of bloodshed (Darkling Fields is, in this respect, more graphic than its predecessor). Like many series, however, Book Two is more dedicated to outlining the historical and phenomenological specifics of its fictional world, including the arcane ‘song lines’ described at the end of Book One. In doing so, the book also adds many new songs and poems—carefully metred—including the turusorans, which allow its protagonist to navigate the enchanted pathways radiating from Lammermorn throughout Ahn Norvys.
The central message of the book is one of hope, faith, and self-confidence, one that clearly recalls the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings, but without thumping those drums too hard or often. Wuldor, the chief deity of Ahn Norvys, is an Old English word meaning ‘glory,’ and which was used in Anglo-Saxon epithets for God. As the protagonist is told in his moment of vacillation,
“[d]o not be afraid to hazard the impossible, for, in doing so, you will learn by necessity to depend on a strength that is not your own, but on one that is far, far mightier. In Wuldor’s keeping, you will not be asked to do that in which he will not himself sustain you.” (296)