In fantastic literature, the role of songs and poems cannot be discounted. At one time, of course, fantastic tales were often told in the form of epic poems, and modern fantasy has retained echoes of these roots. In the works of the classic fantasy writers, such as MacDonald, Lewis, and Tolkien, such devices abound, and moving onward into more recent works, such as our tour book, The Realms Thereunder, we see a continuation of this tradition.
In his own way, Ross Lawhead uses song and verse to enhance the setting, characterization, and plot of his story. At times, there’s some degree of imitation of the writers who have gone before, as with the frequent riddle exchanges he uses, but for the most part, he incorporates these devices in his own fashion.
Often song and verse are used in a serious fashion, as with this blessing that hints at the spiritual element of the book:
“May the Hand that Makes guide your hearts,
May the Light that Illumines shine on your path,
And the One that Goes Between aid your steps.”
Or the chant of the corrupt yfelgopes that reveals much of their nature and intellect:
“Fýr is First, it burns, it thirsts;
it feasts on flesh and fallen foes.
Urth is dirt, the Second house
we dig the dead, decayed to dust.
Thorn is Third, it cuts, it carves;
a cold and cruel crown for kings.
Ald is age it wastes, it wanes;
want walks Forth; when time wreaks wreck
Rech is smoke, the smog that smothers
the Fifth sense, smell. It chokes, it chars.
Claw is Sixth, it snicks, it snatches;
when sharp it shivs, and dull, it catches.”
Elsewhere, we get glimpses of history, social convention, and the workings of enchanted realms through snippets of song or verse. Yet for all the serious tone of the book, there’s also a lighthearted counterpart in some of this singing and recitation, perhaps poking a bit of fun at this genre convention, even as the book makes ample use of it.
We see this most strongly when Daniel, in order to survive in an elven forest, must make all his requests in song or in poetry (a skill difficult for him to acquire), and he fumbles around to come up with basic rhymes that will keep the forest happy, as seen here:
“Thank you, forest, great and good
For giving me my firewood.
But in order to survive the night,
I need this pile of wood to light.
Please give me what I require,
To make myself a good campfire.”
Without these elements, the plot certainly could have carried on, but the use of song and poetic verse added color and richness to the story.
What is it about songs and poems that have caused them to remain staple elements of the fantasy genre? Do you move past them without reading or study them for clues about the unfolding tale?