Keith J. Taylor: Award-winning fantasy author (and REH fan)
Posted 29 April 2010 - 08:36 PM
Posted 30 April 2010 - 04:56 PM
The DANANS novels were set in the same world as Felimid, in Ireland in fact, but ancient bronze age Ireland, about 1700 B.C. I gave it the name Tirtangir as a corruption of Tir-Tairn-Gire, one of the Irish mythological realms. Means 'the Land of Promise'. I assumed that Ireland wouldn't even have been called Erin by its inhabitants at a date that early. The characters are Felimid's forebears, particularly Carbri and his twin brother Oghmal, who were regarded as divinities by Felimid's time. They're the same as the "Cairbre and Ogma!" Felimid sometimes swears by.
Nasach, the escaped slave in "Hungry Grass" did appear in some other stories, as you say. The second in the series was "Where Silence Rules", in an anthology called DISTANT WORLDS, and the next was "Men From The Plain of Lir" in WEIRD TALES Issue #292. "The Unlawful Hunter" and "The Haunting of Mara", two stories about Felimid's father as a lad, saw print in WEIRD TALES too. And a few about the sorceress Vivayn who appears in BARD and again in BARD III. They were "Spears of the Sea-Wolves", "The Ordeal Stone", and "Revenant", in WT #301, #292, and #303, respectively. "The Demon Cat", in WT # 295, featured Felimid at fifteen years old, before he left Ireland.
Posted 08 May 2010 - 08:06 PM
Posted 08 May 2010 - 08:07 PM
duece , picked up fine copy of bard no. 5------ralph g
Very cool! If you got that for under $30, consider yourself lucky. Don Maitz (who painted the other Bard covers) did a painting for this volume, but I don't think it was ever used.
Posted 08 May 2010 - 08:14 PM
Posted 08 May 2010 - 08:15 PM
duece, i got this with taylor's autograph as a gift, the one i had to pay for a bit for was " Lances of Nengesdul"---which is on the way----i believe this may be SWORD AND PLANET ?instead of heroic fantasy/sword and sorcery?----ralph g
Yep, "Lances" is KT's foray into S&P fiction. His take on Almuric and A Princess of Mars. I think it's quite good. Better than anything from OAK or Akers, IMO. He sent me a signed copy for Christmas last year. Just a great guy. The fact that he's so unknown here in the States is a crime.
Posted 08 May 2010 - 08:17 PM
Posted 08 May 2010 - 08:36 PM
duece, it was actually a gift from a friend--autographed from taylor----what do you know about lance? i have it coming along with the three danan books---ralph g
You've got a good buddy there, Ralph. I think the "Danans" novels are some of the best "Celtic fantasy" ever written. I have no doubt that REH would've enjoyed them.
Posted 08 May 2010 - 09:11 PM
Posted 18 October 2010 - 08:11 PM
"It might be a good idea to describe how I first conceived the idea of Felimid (and chose his name).
Felimid is an Irish bard of the early sixth century, and the first series character i ever created. He grew in my mind pretty slowly. I suppose the first glimmers of the idea began when I read Kipling's "The Last Rhyme of True Thomas", a poem in medieval ballad style about the legendary Scottish harper/prophet Thomas of Ercildoune. The legend says he spent seven years in Faerie as the guest and lover of Elfland's queen. He returned to Earth with an enchanted harp and the gift of prophecy. In Kipling's "Last Rhyme" he confronts a haughty king who propopses to make him a knight because of his music. Thomas declines and tells him ...
"The song I sing for the counted gold,
The same I sing for the white money,
But best I sing for the clout of meal
That simple people given me."
The king throws down a small silver coin and sneers, "All right, there's your poor man's fee. Now harp for me." He promptly makes the king three evocative, enchanted strains of music. The first one darkens the sun over the king's head and brings back sharp, immediate knowledge of all the wrongs and injustices, even the most deeply hidden, that he's ever done. For the first time in a long while he knows fear. Then Thomas "lifts the cloud" and plays on his harp again. The king sees the prospect of stirring battle and great deeds to be done. His spirits lift and he shouts in exaltation, "Advance my standards to that war!"
Then, with the last strain the harper plays him, he feels his lost youth return, sees his former love waiting for him to return from the hunt, and is a carefree young prince again -- for a short time.
He's so dazed by now that Thomas has to help him mount his horse. For a long time he sits without a word. Thomas tells him,
"I ha' harpit a shadow out o' the sun,
To stand before your face and cry.
I ha' armed the earth beneath your heel,
And over your head I ha' dusked the sky.
"I ha' harpit ye up to the Throne o' God,
I ha' harpit your midmost soul in three,
I ha' harpit ye down to the Hinges o' Hell,
And -- ye -- would make a knight -- o' me?"
So that was part of it. Then, at about sixteen, I read Rosemary Sutcliff's magnificent SWORD AT SUNSET. It was and still is the definitive novel treating Arthur as a historical character of post-Roman Britain, a cavalry leader battling the Saxons, rather than a medieval king with knights and castles. His closest friend Bedwyr (in Sutcliff's book) is a warrior, fine horseman and gifted harper all in one. That contributed as well. At sixteen, too, I bought "The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History", which has progressive maps and text from the fall of the Western Empire through to nearly 1500. Danes, Franks, Vandals, Saxons, Huns, the migrations ... to me this was treasure. I still have that book. Spine repaired with tape, coffee stains on some pages, and I wouldn't buy a new clean edition to replace it.
Then the sword-and-sorcery revival of the 'sixties began. L. Sprague de camp's anthology, SWORDS AND SORCERY (1963), contained the minor Poul Anderson gem, "The Valor of Cappen Varra." Cappen Varra is an urbane southern minstrel who makes the mistake of travelling north to Viking lands in hope of reward for his songs, but finds they don't like southern ballads and roundels. They prefer their own gory sagas, chanted in their own alliterative style. And Cappen finds himself with the unenviable job of having to rescue the king's daughter from a she-troll with a cannibalistic appetite.
Cappen Varra is likeable, active, articulate and quick with a sword, but he's smaller than the huge Vikings and cultured beyond their power to appreciate, so he has a rough time among them. Probably it won't be hard for readers of BARD to see some similarities there.
Then I read Cecilia Holland's very fine THE KINGS IN WINTER (1967). That's set in Ireland during Brian Boru's reign, with the Danes marauding and killing all over the place and the Battle of Clontarf not far off. The main character, besides being Irish, is a skilled harper -- and also intelligent and responsible. He's Muirtagh, chief of the clan O Cullinane -- or the remnant of it, following a treacherous attack and massacre by their (Irish) enemies about twenty years before, in his boyhood.
Muirtagh is a small man physically, but he's a capable clan administrator and diplomat, a good husband and father. To compensate for his lack of size and strength he's become a skilled bowman. The big, formidable warrior of the family is his young brother Cearbhal. Off the battlefield he's good-natured. He and Muirtagh are close. Muirtagh, more than anything else, wants to see his clan recover from the massacre, increase its numbers in peace, grow propsperous and secure again. To that end he's even ready to forget vengeance and let the past go.
The O Cullinanes' clan enemies can't let it go, though. They are the ones guilty of treacherous massacre, and they are the ones who have to believe at any cost that they are the good guys, acting in self-defence. As frequently happens, their guilt inspires them to further violence. Finally a half-dozen of them catch Cearbhal alone and cut him down. Muirtagh arrives on the scene, and none of the surviving killers are much impressed by Muirtagh; they know he's a law-abiding man with no name as a fighter. One says self-righteously, "We'd have killed you too. Except for the law against killing harpers."
Muirtagh stands rooted to the spot for a moment, unable to believe what he's just heard, his brother's hacked corpse on the ground nearby. Then he shouts, "The law against -- cite me a law against harpers doing the killing, can you?"
And he reaches for his bow.
It's memorable scene, as there are always memorable scenes in Holland's stories. But having left corpses on the ground, Muirtagh takes the only course that will avoid the feud being revived and the destruction of what remains of the O Cullinanes. He accepts outlawry, appoints a new clan chief and travels alone to Dublin, seeking refuge among the Danes, ruled by King Sigtrygg. In Sigtrygg's hall, warm again, with food in his belly, after weeks of starving, freezing and facing the dangers of solitary travel, he says wryly, "I'll never again listen to stories that tell of outlawry as something dashing."
Reading THE KINGS IN WINTER put my own early stroies of an Irish harper into perspective for me. At sixteen I'd been writing a few yarns about an Irish hero who was a powerful warrior named Connor (remind you of someone?), huge, red-bearded, with immense strength -- a combination of Conan and Thor with a touch of Beowulf. And besides all that, a skilled harper with magical powers. I might as well just have put a big red "S" on his chest. Yes, Connor was the creation of a sixteen-year-old all right, and it was obvious.
I was twenty-two, in the army, with my writing in abeyance, when I read THE KINGS IN WINTER. (I read CATCH-22 and FLASHMAN at about the same time, as it happens.) I won't say a light bulb flashed above my head. KINGS and the character of Muirtagh worked in my imagination, though. Unconsciously, I removed the aspects of Connor that were like Cearbhal, the big, mighty, Dane-killing warrior, and kept the ones that were more like Muirtagh ... and I didn't forget Cappen Varra."
Posted 18 October 2010 - 09:18 PM
"The second half of the 1980s saw a shamrock-trampling stampede of cheapjack Celticism, to which the work of the Australian Keith Taylor was a rebuke and a reminder of what could be done with Northern European themes. His 5 Bard novels, set on the same seas and shores frequented by Cormac Mac Art and Wulfhere the Skull-splitter, play with Howard?s piratical pairings of not only the Gael and Dane but also Conan and B?lit in the amour fou of harpist Felimid mac Fal and reaver Gudrun Blackhair. Taylor commuted surefootedly between Tir Nan Og, Camelot, and Valhalla. for three books, and although Felimid?s artistic prowess never prevents him from also making his sword sing, his humor and humane tendencies confer upon him a unique status, half-in and half-out of the Celtic and Germanic warrior ethos. Then came the fourth Felimid novel, Raven?s Gathering (1987), which is the standout. Gudrun?s Valkyrie veneer is sorely tried as Odin and rival sea-wolves turn on her in a Ragnarok-writ-small that vies with Poul Anderson?s reconstruction of Hrolf Kraki?s Saga (1973) as an evocation of what Tolkien called the Old North?s ?potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage? to the inevitable victory of dark powers."
The rest of the essay can be read here:
Posted 06 November 2010 - 07:06 AM
"Well, I started a long dissertation on how the ideas for Felimid mac Fal, bard of Erin, germinated and grew in my head originally. It'll take two posts at least to complete it. Memories keep coming back, and details I thought I'd long forgotten ... including the various influences by other writers that contributed this and that stimulus ... like Robert E. Howard, Rosemary Sutcliff, Cecelia Holland, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Poul Anderson, Rudyard Kipling, G.K. Chesterton and so many others.
Old G.K. was certainly one. His epic poem, "The Ballad of the White Horse," telling of King Alfred's resistance to the invading Danes, features a Danish minstrel named Elf,
" ... whose gold lute had a string
that sighed like all desire."
... ... ...
"Blue-eyed was Elf the minstrel,
With womanish hair and ring,
Yet heavy was his hand on sword,
Though light upon the string.
"And as he stirred the strings of the harp,
To notes but four or five,
The heart of each man moved in him
Like a babe buried alive."
Chesterton's heathen minstrel is a wicked and dangerous character, with a magic spear given to him by the supernatural Rhine maidens after he had been drowned three times "and washed as dead on the sand", but still survived. My Irish bard isn't as dark and destructive, and he hasn't died and come back, but he does have a lot to do with old heathen gods and spirits.
(Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore's husband and a very prolific writer in many styles, was directly inspired by Chesterton's poem for his stories about Elak of Atlantis, "Thunder in the Dawn" and "Dragon Moon." Even the title "Dragon Moon" is a phrase from the poem, and he quotes from it in the chapter epigraphs. And the villain of "Thunder in the Dawn" is a character named Elf the minstrel.)
There was a pseudo-Irish harper named Romna in the old Leigh Brackett/Ray Bradbury collaboration, "Lorelei of the Red Mist." I say "pseudo" because the adventure is set on Venus, but the Red Sea rovers are plainly inspired by the ancient Irish, with names like Faolan, Beudag, and even Conan. They wear kilts and swing a mean sword. The women included.
There was also a raffish travelling harper called Ciaran in Brackett's "The Jewel of Bas." (His girl friend was a branded female thief.) I didn't read John Myers Myers' THE HARP AND THE BLADE until the mid-1980s, but when I did, his main character -- a footloose Irish poet of the Dark Ages -- rang loud bells with me. He even has a three-syllable name that begins with F! Finnian, luckily, not Felimid. Even so, I said out loud something else that begins with F. I'll have to ask you to take my word that it is coincidence.
Mind you, I read Myers' SILVERLOCK in the 1970s. And the character of Golias therein -- a sort of personification of all the free-spirited wandering poets and singers who ever were, some of his other names being Orpheus, Widsith and Taleisin -- may have contributed something to Felimid.
As for the name, I did swipe it from another story. Frans G. Bengtsson wrote -- in Swedish, originally -- what for my money is one of the best two Viking novels ever written, THE LONG SHIPS. (The other is Rider Haggard's ERIC BRIGHTEYES.) Two of the minor characters in the Bengtsson novel are King Harald Bluetooth's Irish jesters, the Erin Masters, Ferdiad and Felimid.
There were various Irish kings in the dark Ages named Feidlimid, but Felimid rolls more easily off the tongue. Besides, Felimid has the sound I was looking for. It calls to mind words like musical, mellifluous, friendly, fluent, luminous, and felicify, but that final 'd ' suggeests that he also has a hard edge when it's really needed.
Fine. I now had a suitable name for him. I had a clear enough picture of his appearance and physique, too. He wasn't huge, but neither was he a small man like Muirtagh the O Cullinane in Cecelia Holland's novel, or an expert archer like Muirtagh. Felimid is only a couple of inches above middle height, a lithe, quick-moving type, well co-ordinated. He's well proportioned, strong enough for most purposes, supple and active, but no Conan. He's more like a dancer or acrobat than a powerful tiger. Skillful. Trained, as most Irish lads of good family were as a matter of course, with weapons, and adroit with sword, sling and javelin. He belongs to an ancient line of harpers who claim descent from the Tuatha De Danann, the ancient mystical race of Ireland, children of the earth-goddess Danu, who were masters of arts and crafts, from carpentry (Luchtaine the wood-worker was one of them) to magic. Their physician, Dian Cecht, could heal any illness or wound except an injury to the brain or spine. You'll find many of them, particularly the sea-god Manannan, making appearances in Poul Anderson's THE BROKEN SWORD.
Felimid has fair skin, green eyes, and brown hair. His beard, when it grows, is a light ginger colour, but as a rule he's shaven. He'd have an oval face, except that there's a slight disproportion of long jaw and snub nose. His wide flexible mouth is nearly always doing something -- talking, laughing, singing, drinking or kissing. Felimid can fight to good effect, but he's much more into wine, women and song. His basic preference for staying out of trouble is unfortunately offset by impulsiveness and a quick tongue that sometimes operates faster than his judgement. He takes a dangerous delight in making mock of bullies or pompous fools.
"Fugitives In Winter" was the first story featuring him to see publication. It appeared in Ted White's FANTASTIC STORIES magazine for October 1975. The 33rd World Science Fiction Convention, AUSSIECON, was held in August of that year, in Melbourne. (Ursula K. Le Guin was the guest of honour -- one hell of a fine writer of both science fiction and fantasy.) I attended knowing my story had been accepted, and found out that I was eligible to to join the Science Fiction Writers of America on that basis. I promptly applied. Andrew J. Offutt was the treasurer of SFWA at the time; in our exchange of letters, I found he was writing a series of novels about Robert E. Howard's Gaelic pirate, Cormac mac Art, and he found I knew a fair bit about the period from my research for the Felimid stories. Everything came together in just the right way at the right time. In the end, I helped plot and provide the background for two novels in the series -- TOWER OF DEATH and WHEN DEATH BIRDS FLY, both set in the year 486. (THE TOWER OF DEATH of the title was the imposing Roman lighthouse at the north-western tip of Spain, still in existence, a national monument now called the Tower of Hercules. It was modelled on the Pharos of Alexandria and was indeed standing in 486. It's one hundred and eighty feet high. At the time Cormac and his not-too-subtle Danish pal Wulfhere arrive at the tower, it has become subject to the nasty attentions of a nest of Lovecraft's Deep Ones lairing offshore, allied with a human sorcerer and local cult, and people who spend the night in the tower have begun showing a tendency to die, drained of their blood.
While sharing in that series, I played with the idea that Felimid's father might have sailed with Cormac mac Art in the days when Cormac led a crew of Irish pirates, before his crew broke up and he joined Wulfhere. (Deuce Richardson and I were going to work out a timeline for Cormac and Wulfhere before "The Cimmerian" website closed down, and we still think it'd be a worthwhile project.) After all, Cormac's adventures take place in the years leading up to 490 A.D., the year Felimid was born. I was rather hoping to take over the series if Andy ever decided to leave it, but REH's estate didn't see things that way and I never wrote any more about Cormac.
It was probably for the best. There would have been problems tying in Felimid's background and travels with Cormac's. Cormac (in the fifth century) had encountered Robert E. Howard's version of Arthur, who for REH was a wild Celtic savage from one of the "tribes that never bowed to Rome." My own version of Arthur, or Artorius, was the Romano-British war leader fighting the barbarian Saxon invaders, to defend as long as possible all that was left of Roman civilisation in the island, and Felimid met him in the sixth century. The two wouldn't have been compatible.
I still liked the idea that Felimid's father (named Fal) had been a pirate in his day, though. But since the family had been poets and harpers for uncounted generations, that implied that Felimid's father had rebelled, kicked over the traces, and broke with the family tradition to follow a wilder, more lawless mode of life. That would give scope for drama and conflict between the generations. I decided that as a boy, Fal tried to please his own father (a traditionalist) by attending a bardic college and training there, but by the time he was thriteen he knew it wasn't for him. At fifteen (after taking part in the Battle of Ocha, in which a High King named Ailill Molt, or Ailill the Ram, was killed) Fal departed to join a crew of reivers from Munster. Since he couldn't serve his pirate apprenticeship under Cormac mac Art, I came up with a reiver captain by the name of Nasach, a fisherman's son who had been captured and enslaved in the Hebrides as a boy. He later escaped and took to reiving. Unlike Cormac, he was neither literate nor a swordsman; the spear was his weapon. (Spears are cheaper and more easily made. They're also very effective in skilled hands.)
Stories about both Fal and Nasach -- before they met -- appeared in WEIRD TALES in the late 1980s.
After Nasach retired and settled down, Fal became a captain of reivers in his turn and had great success while he lasted. But he died at twenty-four. Violently. The lovely wife of a boorish and unappreciative husband ran away with the young pirate. He followed, intending to kill them both, and Fal killed him instead. Finally the dead man's clan descended on them shortly after Felimid had been born, and Fal sent them off in his ship with his henchman Donagh while he stayed behind with a dozen men to cover their escape. He died in the fight.
Felimid therefore was raised by his mother and grandparents. He was also nurtured for some years by a foster family. It was the custom of the time and often formed ties that were just as strong as blood relationships.
More next time."
Taylor has the same love for wild Irish reivers (and bloody mayhem) as Robert E. Howard. Search out his stuff. You won't be disappointed.
Posted 24 December 2010 - 10:43 PM
KT posts on there often, talking REH, Cormac, S&S and history. Check it out.