The Tim Powers series continues while I work on new stuff.
This one is a look at his third novel.
Raw Feed (2002): The Drawing of the Dark, Tim Powers, 1979.
This is the most humorous Powers’ novel I’ve read, a delightful placing of the Arthur myth into the 1529 Siege of Vienna. (Powers said in an interview that the book started out as part of a series placing King Arthur in various historic settings. However, the project was cancelled, and Powers used his notes to produce this novel.)
Like other historical fantasies I’ve read by Powers, The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides, Powers manages, at times, in his unornate prose, to create a sense of place and time. Here, it was in the battle scenes outside of Vienna. (All of the Powers novels I’ve read are, in some sense, historical. The Fisher King trilogy may take place in modern times, but history and historical personages are important.)
I liked how the humorous book progressively got darker with Brian Duffy finding himself possessed (body switching and possession are archetypal Powers’ themes) by Arthur, a player in schemes not to his liking, manipulated by fate and Aurelianus/Merlin to be the champion of the West and the Fisher King. (Powers is a master at knowing when to be explicit and when to be, for maximum effect, strategically vague. Aurelianus tells him that the battle for Vienna is the battle between East and West without telling us exactly what that means, what philosophies and moralities are at stake. Powers leaves that up to the reader’s imagination, perhaps informed by his reader’s cultural background.)
Eventually, Duffy is present at the accidental death (or, perhaps, suicide or even accidental homicide) of his beloved Epiphany. He survives the end of the novel, but his friends and Epiphany are dead, and he has little to show. His is not even a champion anymore, Arthur’s spirit is in hibernation again, just a solider of fortune.
As usual, Powers combines a lot of mythologies: Finn MacCool, the Fisher King (the Fisher King waxing and waning and connection with the state of the land or vice versa seems to be somewhat inconsistently similar to the dead Balder of Norse mythology who the antique Vikings believe to be buried in Vienna), Arthur, Sigmund from Teutonic myths, Arabic beasts, and Japanese myth. (Powers seems to have made a mistake in his figure of Antoku Ten-No, an actual Japanese child-emperor who died in 1183 not, as Merlin says, eight hundred years before 1529.)
Powers skill is seeming to reveal all to interest his reader, wow him with his invention, and then introduce even more wonders. He does a nice job with Duffy who really, most of the time, doesn’t want to be a champion, an incarnation of Arthur. I liked the scene where Duffy is escorted across the Alps by mythical creatures. I also liked how Powers evoked the emotion of song Arthur sings through Duffy; Powers does it by telling of events the music resembles but not in a programmatic way.
This novel also makes use of Powers’ characteristic notion of blood and grounded magic. It’s not hard to see why this was the novel that made Powers’ reputation. I also liked the future King John I of Hungary showing up as Zapolya.
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