THE SUMMER TREE by Guy Gavriel Kay – READ ALONG Week 4
We’ve come to the end of another Wyrd and Wonder read along!
This year, Beth, Nils, and Scarlett joined in Imyril’s read along of The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay.
We’ll be sticking to the following reaching schedule, and posting a weekly discussion of that week’s chapters. Imyril will be doing the same on her blog, and everyone is welcome to join in! If you don’t have a blog, feel free to join in the conversation on Twitter.
- Week 1: Overture – Chapter 6 (hosted by Imyril)
- Week 2: Chapters 7 & 8 (hosted by the Fantasy Hive)
- Week 3: Chapter 9 – Chapter 12 (hosted by @queenzucchini)
- Week 4: Chapter 13 – end (hosted by @bkfrgr)
SPOILERS AHEAD: This post is a book-club style discussion of the novel, rather than a review to tempt new readers in. We do discuss plot points, character motivations, and twists – if you have not read the book and do not want it spoiled, please do not read further!
The first volume in Guy Gavriel Kay’s stunning fantasy masterwork.
Five men and women find themselves flung into the magical land of Fionavar, First of all Worlds. They have been called there by the mage Loren Silvercloak, and quickly find themselves drawn into the complex tapestry of events. For Kim, Paul, Kevin, Jennifer and Dave all have their own part to play in the coming battle against the forces of evil led by the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim and his dark hordes.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s classic epic fantasy plays out on a truly grand scale, and has already been delighting fans of imaginative fiction for twenty years.
Week 4 – Chapter 13 – End
1. Paul is now the Lord of the Summer Tree. What do you think this means/ will mean?
Nils: I said last week that I didn’t quite believe Paul was dead, so the twist was kind of a disappointment for me. I don’t actually know what it means for Paul to now be “Lord of the Summer Tree” but I’m guessing it’ll be something significant to saving Fionavar.
Beth: Ha! When you said there was a twist coming up, I didn’t even realise it was that when I got there, as I’d already taken it as a given 😂 I’d have been more shocked had he genuinely died – the whole ‘surprise! They’re not dead!’ happens so often in fantasy now, that I’m always highly suspicious of deaths.
Scarlett: I also didn’t realise the “twist” as Paul becoming Lord of the Summer Tree. I thought along the lines of you, Beth.
Nils: Yeah I guess it wasn’t really much of a twist was it? That’s why I called it lame, because it was Kay’s attempt at a twist. Although maybe at the time it was written it was more shocking to readers who haven’t read as much fantasy books as we have!!
Scarlett: Yes, exactly.
Beth: Yeah I suppose… his Gandalf moment…
That title “Lord of the Summer tree” didn’t really register with me either? I thought it was his title for having passed the test and made it to the end and then didn’t really think more of it past that. I guess though, he now owes Mornir? Is he now a pawn of the thunder god?
Nils: I think from the moment he decided to sacrifice himself he became Mörnir’s pawn.
Beth: Good point there Nils!
Scarlett: You are onto something there, Nils.
2. Each of our grad students has found a role to play in Fionavar, most questionably Jennifer. She asks herself “what was her sin, what had she done” to deserve the terrible TERRIBLE punishment she receives at the hands of Maugrim and his creatures. What are your thoughts and feelings on Jennifer’s plight, and how have you made sense of it within the scope of the story so far?
Beth: This made me so cross.
This damn fallacy that if a woman has been raped then it is because she has done something and so must be punished. That she has brought this down upon herself by – by what? Being beautiful? I was so upset that she seemed to think she’d done something to deserve this.
Nils: Beth I am fuming at what happened to Jennifer. Had I known this book had a prolonged rape scene in it, I’d never have picked it up. Like you I am done with this kind of story arc, this notion that women must be punished by rape, broken by rape, controlled and dominated over by rape, that her character can evolve or grow or become strong or go on a path of vengeance because she has been raped? I’m sorry, but fuck that shit. What makes this even worse is that this was Kay’s grand finale, and it felt like the only purpose to it was for shock value. Could there not have been another way to break Jennifer’s will? Could there not have been a better way for Kim to finally find her, other than Jennifer having to die? And where was Maugrim‘s punishment, his consequences for his heinous act? Oh wait, he doesn’t get one! Why? Because there’s a sequel… *sigh*
Beth: We talked at length about this in our WhatsApp. I felt it so unfair that Kay required a similar breaking of spirit from Paul, but Paul’s trial was through fasting and pain and reliving the trauma of losing Rachel. It feels like, for male characters, there’s any number of ways to test them and break them, but for female characters it comes back to rape. I could get that the two characters were playing the roles of sacrifices, that where Paul was a willing sacrifice to Mornir, Jennifer has to be an unwilling sacrifice to the force for evil. It was just a level of depravity that went so far beyond anything else we’d seen in the book so far.
And didn’t we have hints at the start that Loren knew this was going to happen to her?! And he just lets it?! I need to have another look over that to check…
Scarlett: Both of you have said it best and besides my dismay, I can only add that I feel that her whole character with the flashbacks to her home and everything that went through her mind in those moments was portrayed weakly. I don’t want to use that word, but GGK gave her no agency, no control at all. Just remembering back at the other scenes in the book, I feel that he has not a lot of experience to write about women or sex or love. Kind of bizarre, maybe a sexist too.
Nils: Absolutely Scarlett. You put it perfectly.
And yes Beth, I think quite a few characters knew, I’m pretty certain Ysanne did. We had hints all along that something bad was coming but I never thought it would be this horrendous.
Scarlett: I can imagine that Ysanne did. I never thought of this either. Did that have to be? Was there not another option for this story?
Beth: Yes Scarlett, exactly! He can imagine a world with all this political and religious strife, with numerous tribes and peoples, with unicorns and svart alfar and magical men in lakes… but he can’t imagine a world women do not have to suffer at the hands of and for men?
And another thing – I’m a little fed up of the “it’s a book of its time” excuse. There are plenty of books of that time and older where female characters aren’t treated in that way so I’m not sure how much of an excuse that really is anyway.
Nils: Absolutely agree. I’ve read plenty of older fantasy books which don’t include rape. What were your thoughts Scarlett?
Scarlett: I’m disappointed at the way GGK treats his female characters. With moments of such wonderful prose, he seams really blunt when it comes to women.
3. What did you make of the many events in the throne room, from the assassination attempt to the showdown for the crown?
Nils: I thought that scene where Sharra is revealed as the secret assassin was pretty good, I wasn’t expecting it to be her.
Beth: I wasn’t expecting her either! I felt Pervy Prince was a little hard done by in one sense, in that at no point does he say to his brother that he will challenge him for the crown, and his brother is all set to kill him for it. I mean, doesn’t exactly bode well for his rule, does it. As for PP and Sharra, despite her trying to murder him, he still tries to find her later to sleep with her?? Did he think it was some kind of extreme level of flirting?? “She’s clearly obsessed with me.”
Nils: I meant to chat to you about that!! But the thing with Jennifer made me forget! Yeah, what was all that?! He goes to find her hoping to sleep with her even after she tries to kill him!! And then when he doesn’t find her, so he sleeps with someone else?! Pervy Prince sure does put it about, doesn’t he?!
Scarlett: The Ballroom scene was pretty good but I too was stuck on Jennifer. One thing we have learned is that GGK is master of jumping scenes and I wasn’t fully invested in the Ballroom scene as I wanted too.
Beth: It was difficult to focus on anything else that happened, and to any of it seriously. I think the start of the book gave me such high hopes for a properly classic portal fantasy, somewhere between Narnia and LotR, that when we get to the events in the final part, they’ve left me that bit more disillusioned and disappointed.
Nils: Oh Beth I had Narnia vibes at the beginning too! I thought we were getting a slightly grown up but still cosy and whimsical fantasy story, but this was far from it.
Scarlett: At times, I think the book was created with such beautiful scenes like other old fantasies we love. I just think it is out of balance…jarred a bit. It doesn’t run smooth or lends to the same detail. Out last reading discussion segments were really wonderful in terms of fantasy and culture etc. This entire last part of the book left me a little disappointed.
4. There’s been a surfeit of signs, a plethora of portents in this week’s reading. Now is the time to air your opinions on such things as flying unicorns, getting lost in the woods, the Cave of the Sleepers, magical Horns and unearthed Cauldrons.
Beth: There is so much Welsh/British mythology in here. And I can’t work out if Kay is deliberately using “our world” mythology to link the worlds in this notion of a connected system of worlds, or if he’s taken it as inspiration for his own fantasy mythology but not stepped far enough away from the source with the hope people wouldn’t realise? How well known is y Mabinogi and Taliesin outside of Wales? Herne and the wild Hunt would be better known surely? And Arthur and his knights sleeping? I’m just… I’m really not sure what to make of it all. I love mythology (the book I’m reading alongside this is all about Herne the Hunter), but I’m not sure I like seeing it in a fantasy world where you’d normally expect to see new and different/unique world building?
Nils: I also love mythology, but I like it when authors pay respect and homage to it. Not when they mix different mythologies together, throw in mythological names and vague lines and don’t really give it any depth. Beth I was reading Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne at the beginning of the month and it’s a real tribute to Norse Mythology. Gwynne shows respect to those myths but also makes the story his own. Like you said Beth, that’s the important part.
Scarlett: I haven’t actually researched what GGK had in mind when he wrote this. Did he pull aimlessly from different mythologies and just wanted to mix it up? As a reader, I’m honestly letting these things come at me and I soak them in as served. However, I do appreciate when an author has a lane in which they like to write. If I want Greek Mythology I can pick it, if I feel like Viking myths, I appreciate to be able to chose a book specifically. I can see how you both pick up on different things there, to me this was a bit of a hodge podge of the imagination. What comes to mind for me is The Neverending Story with it’s creatures and lore, yet a world of beauty and ugliness.
Nils: Except The Neverending Story is a masterpiece compared to this (and I’m only basing that opinion on the film so far).
5. The Dwarves did it, in the darkness, with the Cauldron of Khath Meigol! What do you make of this last-minute revelation? And care to make any predictions on future developments?
Beth: There is so much going on by this point that I didn’t really know what to make of this. I’m really sorry, but I wanted to love this book, I was so excited to be reading it! But I’ve got to the end, and the hints and vague prophetic mutterings have just got too much for me, to the point where, I’m not sure when exactly, but I stopped caring. The only thing that did really register about that part was that it sounded very much like the Dwarves of Moria, digging too deep and awakening an evil. So… if we’re making predictions in future developments that I’m most likely not going to read (again, I’m really sorry), they woke Maugrim? Or some such?
Nils: Yeah, I won’t be reading further in the trilogy either, sorry. I have very little desire to know what happens next. My anger towards the scene with Jennifer overshadowed the rest of the ending and I just didn’t care what any of the other characters were up to.
Scarlett: I had already checked out at that point. I have a hard time following everything about the lore. However, I am always intrigued by dwarfs in fantasy, it’s weird, maybe I was read too many fairytales as a kid, and I may read that last segment again, not that it has come up. I’m not sure if I will continue to find out at this point.
6. Finally, reaction shots on Maugrim the Unraveller – go!
Nils: What a bastard.
Beth: I mean, Nils says it all really 😂
So unfortunately, quite a disappointing end to our read along – we’re so sorry not to have gelled with this one quite as you did Imyril!