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APRIL 2004

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Guy Gavriel Kay
Gordon Van Gelder

Charles Coleman Finlay

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Guy Gavriel Kay: View from the North April 2004

Guy Gavriel Kay grew up in Winnipeg, where he read Greek myths and fairy tales as a boy. He earned a BA in philosophy at the University of Manitoba, attended the University of Toronto and earned an LLB, then turned to writing as associate producer and principal writer from 1982-1989 for a CBC radio series dramatizing real-life legal cases. In Manitoba he met Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R., and helped him complete the unfinished The Silmarillion, published in 1977. He began publishing novels in 1984 with The Summer Tree, first of the "Fionavar Tapestry". Later came Tigana (1990), which won an Aurora Award; A Song for Arbonne (1992); The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995); the "Sarantine Mosaic" duology, consisting of Sailing to Sarantium (1998) and Lord of Emperors (2000). His latest novel is The Last Light of the Sun. He lives with his family in Toronto.    
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Official website: Bright Weavings

Excerpts from the interview:

“Every one of my books is somewhat different from the last. I have a certain horror of repeating myself that goes back to when I moved from 'Fionavar' to Tigana and everyone wanted another 'Fionavar' book. But when Lord of Emperors was done and I started thinking about where to go next, I realized what the last three novels shared was an exploration of immensely sophisticated societies. Dealing with troubadour Provence, you've got to have a remarkable level of cultural sophistication for the idea of a woman-run Court of Love to be part of your social apparatus. Moorish Spain, and that extraordinary Golden Age from the 8th or 9th century to the 11th or 12th, and the interrelationship of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cultures, which I did my fantasy spin on in The Lions of Al-Rassan, is another immensely sophisticated culture. And when you get to Byzantium, which I did in the 'Sarantine Mosaic', it's almost the uber version of the decadent courtly culture, where you won Mother of the Year if you didn't blind your son! I've been dealing with these intensely decadent, overwrought cultures.

“One of the things I wanted to do with the next book was to see what would happen if I moved to the other end of the cultural spectrum. I started researching, and ended up writing The Last Light of the Sun in order to move north. The new book is once more using fantasy to spin and work with themes of history that are immensely relevant to today. I'm trying to do a triple play, as it were, using fantasy to examine history -- those parts of history that seem profoundly and actively germane to now. So this one is my take, through the prism of the fantastic, on Vikings, Anglo Saxons, Celts (primarily by way of the Welsh, with some Irish elements), pre-Norman Conquest. The interplay of three cultures, two religions, and a remarkably recalcitrant world: remarkably difficult, obdurate, unsophisticated. The way I put it is, 'Silk doesn't work in the northlands.' So we're a long way from the kind of culture that expresses itself in mosaics, silk, delicate jewelry, discussions of philosophy and aesthetics; these don't fit in that world. Some people might aspire to have that kind of life, but most don't even think about it. You're trying to figure out how to get through the winter and feed your family, or preserve your kingdom (such as it is) from raiders coming in longships.


“One of the things I feel very strongly about is the untapped potential of fantasy for significance. That sounds fairly pompous, but what I mean is that the genre tends to be seen as frothy escapism. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that -- we all need it, and we can't spend our lives reading Schopenhauer and Proust. (Certainly I can't!) Fantasy can serve the distraction-diversion-entertainment function as well as any other form of entertainment, but it shouldn't be one of the forms defined as only able to do that. I want readers staying up till three in the morning to finish a book, and I want them crying out of emotional engagement with characters, but I also want them to, six months or a year after the book's finished, look at something that happens here and now and perhaps see that filtered through some of what a novel of mine suggested about the way the world works.”


“I believe there is a distinctly Canadian world view. Though I'm generalizing dangerously here, we don't have the aggressively nationalistic pride, the assertively confident sense of the nation that some or many Americans have. That leaves us more open to importing images, motifs, ideas, themes, from the wider world, as opposed to the mindset of 'Fortress America.' The underlying American instinct is to let Europe deal with its own bloody mess: 'We left Europe to get away from all the blood and chaos, and we want our own space.' Imperialist America isn't the underlying ethos -- it's isolationist America. I think Canada has a freer back-and-forth flow with other cultures and other countries, a tendency toward cross-pollenization.”


“As I've said for years, a good novel has to involve interesting things happening to interesting people. A lot of books have one or the other, like a fast-moving plot with really flat characters or intensely, thoughtfully observed characters with no verve or drive to the narrative at all. Putting the two together, and in balance, is the challenge.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the April 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

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