F is for Fairy Tale (with a rather silly conspiracy theory subplot) (Feist)

What I read: Faerie Tale by Raymond Feist.

Faerie Tale is a modern fairy tale. Its fairies are the Daoine Sidhe--those are cool elves (the type Tolkien uses) not cutesy elves. Feist also relies on the almost amoral elves of myth rather than the highly moral (but still aloof) elves of Tolkien's world. And he utilizes several medieval/Renaissance ideas about elves, including Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. His fairy world is real, dangerous, evocative, and engaging!

This fairy world comes in contact with a prosaic family in modern upstate New York over the course of a summer and fall (from June to All Soul's Day). The overall effect is Ray Bradbury meets Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series meets a little bit of Stephen King meets conspiracy theory รก la The Da Vinci Code (although Faerie Tale was published much earlier in 1988).

The first three influences make the book very good. It's a bit slow-moving but never boring, and the final chapters are (mostly) quite gripping.

The conspiracy theory stuff weakens the book considerably--instead of being a 100% jolly good read, it becomes a 85% jolly good read. Like The Da Vinci Code, Feist uses a pompous version of Indiana Jones (more long-pontificating-screeds-of-exposition investigator than fighting-snakes investigator) to tell us all about the big bad conspiracy--a group of men who have infiltrated all levels of government/society throughout history in order to maintain a treaty between the Sidhe and human kind. Our pontificating investigator tells us repeatedly how POWERFUL this group is, how INFLUENTIAL and DANGEROUS and . . . well, you know the drill.

Here's the problem--with all conspiracy theory subplots, I might add:

For an all-powerful, influential group, these conspiracists are the most incompetent bunch of power mongers ever to grace planet earth.


First, they allow the house of a fellow dead conspiracist, containing important records and detailed maps, to go on the market. They don't buy it. They allow it to be sold to an unsuspecting family. They allow the unsuspecting family to live in the house for five months even though the end of the book makes clear they could have bought the house much earlier. They send NO ONE to watch the family. They send NO ONE to watch the area. They make NO efforts to keep the family from moving the treasure. They do not contact the Sidhe to warn them the treaty is in jeopardy. They spend all their time in Europe, locking up our pontificating investigator, and they send the one guy from their group they don't trust to America. They finally show up at the end wearing dark shirts and looking important.

Geez, if I were the Sidhe, I'd demand new ambassadors--like a bunch of all-powerful conspiracists who could at least live up to the name. (Perhaps the problem is the one quoted by Q in Star Trek: "It's hard to work in a group when you're omnipotent.")

The addition of the conspiracy theory not only weakens the book, it is entirely unnecessary. It is mostly exposition and creates a very weak and unnecessary pay-off for a very weak and unnecessary set-up. The pontificating investigator is kept from returning to help the family by the conspiracists. This is pointless confusion. The pontificating investigator is researching wacky stuff; the wacky stuff is enough to keep him from returning IN TIME. In any case, he isn't the real hero of the book. The real heroes are the twin boys.

I actually recommend the book--with this proviso: Ignore the conspiracy theory stuff. Concentrate on the family and the boys. You don't have to rewrite anything in your head. The real pay-off for the book is more than adequately set-up. My personal theory: Feist set out to write one book and did! But another book started to intrude. One of the hardest things for a writer to do is to delete unnecessary (but beloved, even interesting) material. Feist didn't do it. So, Faerie Tale is a 85% jolly good read.

Still, 85% is pretty jolly.



mike said...

When you get to M (maybe in a year or so) you should read something by grant Morrison. He's a comic writer, perhaps "THE" comic writer right now... and I absolutely LOATH him, with one exception: "All Star Superman", a classical superman story that tells , basically, the last tale of superman (maybe). While it's worth a read, I'd actually like for you to read something else by him, like "Final Crisis". Final crisis is awful awful, but most critics and fans love it. The book is harder to read than Isiah, and almost completely incomprehensible. The fans argue that having to read the book three times to understand a fragment seems to indicate great storytelling... I think it indicates a bad writer. Anyway, I'd love to have your opinion. Maybe I'm just crazy.

Dan said...

Conspiracy seems to be the catch-all gimmick people use to explain why things happened. Rather an event being the outcome from a series of unfortunate event, the event happened because so and so wanted it to be. As if there are individuals who know precisely what other people will do and when they will do it. Now I do believe conspiracies happen. Most often they are called business plans. Bill Gates has a conspiracy to sell his software. Starbucks has a conspiracy to sell coffee. Wal-Mart has a conspiracy to sell diapers. Then there are conspiracies of thought. Liberals believe Dick Cheney is a mastermind of lots of conspiracies because, well, liberals think Dick Cheney is evil. Meanwhile, right wingers think the Clintons are king conspirators. Although the funny thing is no one can say the Clinton conspiracies are secret as Rush Limbaugh has gone to great lengths to discuss all of them in detail.