“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
– Harlan Ellison
Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist (rhymes with “iced”) is one of my all-time favorite books because it successfully does something I’ve never seen any other author do (with the exception of J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter) and that is, he introduces an ensemble cast without making it confusing who the characters are. Most authors, even highly gifted and experienced ones, are terrible at doing such a thing.
The story of Faerie Tale is a dark urban fantasy, mixing Celtic faerie lore and a young 20th century family who move into a country home in upstate New York next to enchanted woods. I have long maintained the thing which makes stories wonderful is the telling. A great story idea, told terribly, is not a great story. A cliched story idea, told beautifully, is a magical story. You don’t need to be told the plot of this book. You already know it. You’ve seen it all before. Idyllic farmhouse. Happy family moves in. Teenage girl hates it. Young twin boys love it. A cast of character actors come into the picture and you’re visualizing Dan Ackroyd and Bill Murray. There’s an old Irish drunkard and you can’t help but imagine him looking a wee bit like Darby O’Gill. You know the story. Weird things start to happen. The level-headed mother and father are skeptical of what the twins are ranting and raving about and think it’s overactive boys imaginations. The weird things start to become spooky things. The spooky things become downright sinister and evil. Then someone get captured by the faeries and needs to be rescued.
Yeah. It’s really nothing all that inventive or original or creative. But, damn, if the story isn’t told in a way that is so wonderful and engaging and eloquent that you just need to keep reading.
Look at Romeo & Juliet for example. When you distill that story down to the prime elements, boy meets girl, they fall in love, their love is forbidden, through a series of mishaps and miscommunication, their plans to run off together are foiled and end in tragedy. To describe it that way sounds terribly boring. Yet, the way the story of Romeo & Juliet is told, it’s one of the most heartwarming, romantic and heartbreaking stories ever written.
That is what I’m trying to convey in this review of Faerie Tale. The story might sound like something familiar, something you’ve seen a million times before, but the writing is so exquisite and the way the story is told is so lovely, that you enjoy every moment of it. Just as you enjoy Romeo & Juliet, despite knowing it ends in tragedy.
My description of Faerie Tale isn’t meant to be negative or condescending. As I said, this is truly one of my favorite books. For some reason, it’s simply one of the most vivid books I’ve ever read. Even years after reading it, my memories of this story are like replaying a movie. This isn’t the kind of book with passages of quotable text so much as it’s a book drenched with visceral memories. When the characters go into the woods, you can smell the tree bark. When they go to the farmhouse, you can hear a squeaky plank of wood on the porch, even though the author never told you the porch had such a thing. You hear the peal of summer windchimes. You see the golden light trickle down a blade of grass in firefly sparks. When you read Faerie Tale, you are there. You don’t read this story, you live it.
The interesting thing about author Raymond E. Feist is, he only writes books that are part of a series. He has written 10 book series ranging from duologies to tetralogies and Faerie Tale remains the only standalone book he has ever published. Faerie Tale is also the only urban fantasy novel he has written. All the other Raymond E. Feist books are pure high fantasy novels of swords and sorcery. That may seem irrelevant, but as an author myself, I believe this is significant. Breaking out of writing the same kind of novel more than 30 times is going to give you something fresh. New. Exciting. I’ve never met Raymond E. Feist. Never spoken to him. But nevertheless, I am confident to say, as a fellow novelist, this book inspired him in a way nothing else ever had. He finally found himself in unexplored territory. I’m positive that had to be thrilling for him, and I think his enthusiasm shows within the pages.
As a lover of dark faerie tales (the theme of which is very dominant in my own duology The Vampire Noctuaries), this book is not entirely accurate to traditional faerie folklore. Raymond E. Feist conforms to about 70% of traditional stories and the other 30% seems to be entirely made up. He successfully incorporates the darker elements of the unseelie court and the cruelty and sensuality of naughty and deranged impish things. He is accurate about moving days and some faerie charms and glamours and those elements of the story are enchanting for readers who will understand the references. Those of you who are steeped in faerie myth and know a lot about it, might find some elements of Faerie Tale a little annoying, because you’ll know according to tradition, faeries might not behave this way or that. However, most people are only casually aware of Celtic faerie mythologies. Those of you who don’t know anything about faeries beyond A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a few Disney movies, won’t notice how much is kind of skewed in Faerie Tale.
This book, as I have twice reiterated, is one of my favorites of all time. The story is compelling. The characters are vividly realized. The setting comes to life. The scary parts make shadows move in the corner of your bedroom late at night. The atmosphere permeates from makebelieve pages into the very air you breathe. Faerie Tale is a magical story in the best sense of the phrase. When you’re looking for a book to take you out of your boring and mundane world, and deliver you into a place that skirts the line between dream and memory, walk the pages of Faerie Tale and you will find yourself on a path where you have always belonged. Just beware of the Bad Things. They’ll be watching you.