Imprinting on the Thames Valley

I think my first science fiction book was Star Cat or maybe Frog and Toad in Space. The first grown-up science fiction I recall clearly is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight and Dragon Song. Followed by Clark, Asimov (The Gods Themselves and then Foundation. Which may explain some of my quirks.), Drake, Laumer, and others. The first urban fantasy I ever read? The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, back before urban fantasy was “a thing.”

I mentioned this series last year, because reading at least the title book is a yearly ritual. Four English children step into the uncanny that lurks just below the surface, guided by their “Uncle” (or mentor) Merryman Lyon. Along with a Welsh boy named Bran, the six take lead roles in the final battle of Light versus Dark.

The mood of the books is increasingly tense and driving as the great battle draws closer, each side striving to fulfill prophecy and bring about final victory. And the endings? Are haunting. The Dark is Rising is interlaced with flute music, “Greensleeves” and another sweet, sad melody that haunts the characters, lingering just at the edge of memory. A man calls for his lost love in The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree closes with the oldest of old magic fading from the world, watched by one last guardian. Humans are left to grow on their own, free of outside intervention, for good or ill. I always get a wistful sense at the end of those three books in particular, as if the author wishes for one last glimpse of the Lady, or to hear the Golden Harp once more, or to shiver as the geese that are not geese stream across the sky on the 12th night after the Solstice.

That sense of wistfulness, as well as admiration for the writing and stories, lingers with me. I think it is what imprinted in my mind as part of the basic idea of urban fantasy/high fantasy. Part of me would like to see a unicorn (NOT the idiot unicorns of M. Lackey’s Hundred Kingdoms series). I’d like to look up and see dragons soaring overhead, or gryphons. A little bit of me would love to have the Gift to sing and enchant people into seeing what I’m singing. It’s a bit like the filk song about the farmer who stumbles onto the sidhe dancing one night. “There’s virtue in a cabbage/ Even elves eat, I suppose./ But once, just once, oh how I’d like/ to grow a silver rose.”

Just once, one winter, I want to stand outside looking up at the stars and hear the haunting sound, like an ancient song played on an antique flute, twisting through the darkness.

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