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Home arrow Books arrow The Summer Tree -- Guy Gavriel Key

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The Summer Tree -- Guy Gavriel Key Print
Written by Mike Noel   
Wednesday, 09 July 2008

The Summer Tree

Perusing the science-fiction and fantasy section at bookstores as much as I have means that I've seen many books by Guy Gavriel Kay.  These books have always intrigued me and they've been perpetually on my list of fantasy books to read sometime.  A few weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and got The Summer Tree, the first book in the Fionavar trilogy. It wasn't what I was expecting but it wasn't bad. Based on comments I had read about Kay I was expecting something a bit more literary and Tolkienesque.  Instead, I found that the book was rather simple and even colloquial at times.  As I said, not bad, just not what I was expecting.

This book is old enough that there are plenty of plot summaries around on the internet so I won't go into that in much detail.  It uses the Narnian plot device of transporting a group of individuals (five in this case) from the real world into the fantasy world.  Once there the five individuals are instrumental in saving that world from destruction.  Well, at least that's the way it looks.  The book ends before the big battle takes place.  I guess that's why it's a trilogy.

One central theme in The Summer Tree is the issue of sacrifice for the sake of redemption.  The imagery of a tree upon which a person dies as the sacrifice cannot be an accident and I'm sure that the author was intending to evoke images of the Christian message of sacrifice and redemption.  While the parallel is not exact, there are some significant similarities. There are the obvious physical similarities -- the sacrifice happened by Paul being bound to a tree to die for three nights.  

Beyond these there are more conceptual parallels. First of all, Paul, the one sacrificed on the tree, was not the on who was supposed to be sacrificed.  Instead, he took the place of the rightful person.  Paul, being from a world outside of Fionavar can be seen to be exempt from the laws of that world and therefore complete innocent.  Secondly, his sacrifice was for redemption of a wrong committed in that world.  He was paying a debt that was rightfully to be paid by another individual.  Thirdly, Paul was "resurrected".  After he "died" he was restored and came back.  This didn't reduce the efficacy of the sacrifice but made it even more potent.

At first glance a Christian reader might be tempted to view this story as sacrilegious and making a mockery of the faith.  I admit that I was tempted along those lines.  But on deeper consideration I think it is more fair to see this story as an echo of the Christian story that resonates with readers as it touches on elements that are an inherent part of human nature.  Instead of mocking Christianity is is reinforcing it in a rather subtle but powerful way.  A person moved by Paul's sacrifice in The Summer Tree, an obvious fiction, can't help but be moved in a similar way by the historical fact of Jesus' sacrifice. 

The books do contain a bit of adult material so caution is recommended for young readers but overall I consider it a good book and worth reading. 

Last Updated ( Sunday, 13 July 2008 )

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