sovay: (I Claudius)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2013-01-23 11:45 pm

So very sure his father was always, of the right and the wrong

This time last year, I was on a plane returning from D.C., enthusiastically underslept and thinking about Sherlock. This year, my god-daughter's birthday was Arisia Saturday and one of us needs to cross state lines in the near future. She is three years old now; I am informed there was a pirate party. I should just have recorded myself singing "Captain Kidd" or something.

Desktop note! This one dates from April 2010, when it looks as though I promised it to [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume as an expansion on comments ("By the same token, a few months ago I re-read The Grey King for the first time in literally I don't know how many years and realized that while I could have reconstructed the basic plotline, numerous visual and mythological details, and even quoted some of the text from memory, I had not at all remembered a major supporting character past his plot function and I was flabbergasted, because he was precisely the sort of character I would have expected to imprint on") and then failed to follow through, the usual. I was prompted to dig it up again by something [livejournal.com profile] genarti said at the YA panel "Strong Stories with Strong Parents" on Sunday. We were both talking about Owen Davies.

Having just finished Susan Cooper's The Grey King (1975) for the first time in literally I don't know how many years, I find it interesting to note that Owen Davies was not part of the story I remembered. White-haired Bran with his tawny owl's eyes, yes; I am not going to forget his parentage or his harp-playing or the choices he made and the first time I read the book in a slant of sunlight on my grandparents' downstairs couch in Maine, I started immediately trying to apply his Welsh pronunciation guide to all the names in the Prydain Chronicles—I make a point of the voiced dental fricative in "Fflewddur" to this day, even knowing Lloyd Alexander didn't. Cafall with the silver eyes that see the wind, yes, because it is in the poem; and whose hound he was named for, because it is part of Bran. I remembered John Rowlands, although mostly because he reappears in Silver on the Tree (1977), and I remembered Caradog Prichard vividly, because he is Cooper's most convincing depiction of the Dark in human form. (He makes no bargains, he summons nothing, he is not a fallen angel or even a tragic figure like Hawkin; he is a small-minded, spiteful, quick-angering man who nearly does murder over a meaningless grudge and destroys himself for it anyway. And once he wanted to be a poet, so he braved the night up on Cader Idris. He genuinely disturbs me.) I didn't remember the riddles under Craig yr Aderyn, but I remembered the sky-blue, hooded lord of the Dark. The Brenin Llwyd and his milgwn. At least one of the sheepdogs' names. But Bran's foster-father? Looking at him now, I would have expected to him to stick: "the familiar drab Owen Davies with his humourless, slightly guilty air," who for three days was loved by Arthur's Guinevere and for eleven years has been a father to her son, not quite as successfully as either of them might have hoped. That is exactly the sort of character-in-the-corners-of-things that under normal circumstances I re-read for. He was a surprise to me.

I suppose it's appropriate; he's introduced as a nonentity.

"How do you do, young man?" Bran's father came forward, holding out his hand; his gaze was direct and his handshake firm, though Will had an immediate curious feeling that the real man was not there behind the eyes. "I am Owen Davies. I have been hearing about you."

"How d'you do, Mr. Davies," said Will. He was trying not to look surprised. Whatever he had expected in Bran's father, it was not this: a man so completely ordinary and unremarkable, whom you could pass on the street without noticing he had been there. Someone as odd as Bran should have had an odd father. But Owen Davies was all medium and average: average height, medium-brown hair in a medium quantity; a pleasant, ordinary face, with a slightly pointed nose and thin lips; an average voice, neither deep nor high, with the same precise enunciation that Will was beginning to learn belonged to all North Welshmen. His clothes were ordinary, the same shirt and trousers and boots that would be worn by anyone else on a farm. Even the dog that stood at his side, quietly watching them all, was a standard Welsh sheepdog, black-backed, white-chested, black-tailed, unremarkable. Not like Cafall: just as Bran's father was not at all like Bran.


He's not a bad father; he loves Bran, but he has never been able to express it except through the kind of protectiveness (trying to use chapel on Sundays and non-conversation the rest of the week to keep his son away from the mysteries of the Light and the mists of the Brenin Llwyd, because even if he won't admit it out loud, he knows who his Gwennie was) that only makes Bran feel more of a freak, caged away from a normal kid's life with his tight-lipped deacon of a father. And it is Owen's religion which has bent him into "the usual expression of alarmed propriety," his conviction that his love for Bran's mother was a sin and so the faint, always undercurrent of shame or constraint in their relationship that Bran can't help but pick up on and feel is somehow his fault. You could change very little about this setup and he'd be the counterpart to Caradog Prichard, like the two chessboard figures of the Riders in Silver on the Tree: the Dark pressing in through greed on one side and denial on the other. But Cooper has a great deal of sympathy for him, which comes out first in the stories John Rowlands and Jen Evans tell about his past ("He had never loved anyone much before. Very shy, was Owen. It was like a dam bursting . . . With a man like that, it is dangerous—when at last he loves, he gives all his heart without care or thinking, and it may never go back to him for the rest of his life"), so that Will forgets his millennia of inherited experience for a minute and marvels at "this mist of romance surrounding dim, ordinary Owen Davies," and then the ways in which he keeps on surprising the youngest of the Old Ones. He is less vague than he seems; he hears the things Will doesn't say, he follows Bran, he stands with him against Prichard and the powers of the Grey King. He will probably be a lot less of a parental fuck-up from now on. But he's still an odd, regretful character, less Ector than Pellinore, and while his son may stand someday beside his Pendragon father, Owen's Gwennie never will come back to him. The last lines of the book are the echo of his loss.

He wasn't in my head at all. I'm glad to have him back.

My story "The Boy Who Learned How to Shudder" is in this anthology. I am greatly looking forward.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2013-01-24 03:34 pm (UTC)(link)
I wonder if Owen is a character that can't be--well, is vastly less likely to be--properly appreciated by non-adults?

Re: pirates: SteelyKid, who is 4.5, is also a big fan, thanks to a less-awful-than-usual animated TV show which has the fictional multiverse's least-pirate-like pirates. (Chad's theory is that they're pirating digital entertainment, which is why gold keeps appearing out of thin air.) I thought about bringing some dollar coins home from the T change machine, but decided she wouldn't actually recognize them as real money so it wouldn't be worth it.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2013-01-25 02:28 am (UTC)(link)
It's called _Jake and the Neverland Pirates_ and it's on Disney Junior. It has a hideously earwormy theme song and something of the video-game nature (e.g., the gold appearing out of thin air whenever they "solve a pirate problem"), but the three kid protagonists are 2/3 brown and 1/3 female and it's gently cooperative and non-violent without being hideously treacle-y or painful to listen to--I do not actually _recommend_ it, but it is better to be in the same house with than _Wonderpets_ or _Sesame Street_ (alas).

(Note that I have no strong feelings about Peter Pan to be offended by this version of Neverland.)

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 05:59 am (UTC)(link)
Congrats! I love that Grimm tale; can't wait to see your take on it.

I'd also love to hear you sing "Captain Kidd". Or maybe a variant thereof...man, I miss having those fools in my head.;)

[identity profile] handful-ofdust.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 06:18 am (UTC)(link)
Well, I just keep finding these pictures...

[identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 10:06 am (UTC)(link)
The Grey King's the one I never reread. Too many books with dead dogs in the world, and I never manage to stop in time. I suppose I ought to go back once as an adult.

The tragedy of Caradog Prichard is that he must know perfectly well that he isn't a poet. Must have known that from the moment he walked off of Cader Idris. Would have heard the voice of the mountain: you are a man who is doomed to break himself for petty little things not worthy of the legends. Being condemned to small-mindedness is a self-fulfilling prophecy; it's no wonder he lashes out any way he can, especially at anything with potential for greatness. I suspect, though, that it was his choice to mingle malice with his madness. A better man could have been Tom O'Bedlam and got round to poetry that way. Hubris, yes, that he tried the mountain at all, but not all hubris is punished quite so thoroughly.

[identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 10:09 am (UTC)(link)
The trick of Cader Idris is, of course, either you're a poet before you go up there, or you're mad to think there's a trick that can make you into a poet in one evening, because poetry involves, well, effort.

Magical places are always bloody like that, aren't they.

[identity profile] papersky.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 03:02 pm (UTC)(link)
He would have started to hear the words
hafod, gorsedd, dwr, fflam
and the chains the words bear
and the colours of them shining
in the dark on the top of Cadair
cadair, whose chair, whose seat now?
and the sea under the moon
and all the old heroes
Sulis, Aneirin, Gwion Fach
little repetition piglets, mad in the far wood
and the way the words tie thoughts to sound
gweli, gwynt, y gwynt ar drws bob bore...
in the real wind whipping tears
out across the drowned lands all the way
Cartref Gwaelod, whose home now?
to Harlech where the men y dyn
where the words ripped and rippled
both his tongues, and some of them were flame.

[identity profile] papersky.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 03:04 pm (UTC)(link)
I have not spent a night on Cadair and that's why.

[identity profile] papersky.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 03:05 pm (UTC)(link)
What a singularly useless poem. Oh well.

[identity profile] ashlyme.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 05:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Seconding sovay on the poem.

[identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 10:26 pm (UTC)(link)
No. Lovely. I was wanting to write a poem myself, and I literally do not have the right language. Thank you.

[identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com 2013-01-30 08:18 am (UTC)(link)
One could see--maybe not in the person of Caradog Prichard (whom I remember not at all, alas, though I did read the book long ago), but in someone else--a sort of romantic naiveté in the desire to have poetry be a thing that descends on you and possesses you. And, too, it is partially that--craft and hard work give you the tools to express it, but you are gripped by the power/beauty/terror/glory/dazzle/wildness/whatever. And I can imagine, if you see others in that thrall and yet don't experience it yourself, wanting that, very badly. And it must take tremendous strength of character and will to find some other way to be, if you're denied that way, when you wish for it.

[identity profile] moon-custafer.livejournal.com 2013-01-25 12:38 am (UTC)(link)
I can feel for Salieri in the first half of the play -- in the second half it gets more obvious that he wants musical genius mainly for what he can get with it, whereas Mozart will go to the wall for his music.

You also begin to notice that whenever Salieri says "and then, a miracle happened," what he really means is "and then, something bad happened to somebody I envy."

[identity profile] ashlyme.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 05:51 pm (UTC)(link)
Well done, you (on the anthology and the Cooper write-up). I'm boggling at the tentacle sex!

[identity profile] steepholm.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 06:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks to you, [livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks and [livejournal.com profile] papersky for an illuminating miscellany of Idrisian insights.

[identity profile] ladymondegreen.livejournal.com 2013-01-24 09:02 pm (UTC)(link)
I was wondering after the YA panel if you had reread The Grey King recently, because it seemed so fresh in your memory.

The bit about ("He had never loved anyone much before. Very shy, was Owen. It was like a dam bursting . . . With a man like that, it is dangerous—when at last he loves, he gives all his heart without care or thinking, and it may never go back to him for the rest of his life") reminds me intensely of this bit from Tanglefoot's Stone Fences:

"They say he got too close to his one and only lover
She came in like a fireship touched his soul with her flaming sails
Then she slipped away on a summer storm"

[identity profile] ladymondegreen.livejournal.com 2013-01-25 09:06 pm (UTC)(link)
That is my 'LARPing as Guinevere' icon, along with this one. I had a rather intense LARP experience around that character, heavily informed by having been obsessed with Arthurian myths throughout college.

I actually helped run a two hour Arthur roundtable with music and scholarship last year at Lunacon that was a lot of fun. Sadly, I missed out half of it, but for very good reasons.

I can't find the song on YouTube, but there is a DropBox with your name on it.

[identity profile] ap-aelfwine.livejournal.com 2013-01-25 05:33 am (UTC)(link)
My story "The Boy Who Learned How to Shudder" is in this anthology. I am greatly looking forward.

Congratulations! Looks a brilliant anthology, that.

I make a point of the voiced dental fricative in "Fflewddur" to this day, even knowing Lloyd Alexander didn't.

And well you should. It's a bit funny, as I don't speak Welsh at all, but I suppose it's on account of what gets done to Irish on a regular basis, but I feel like thanking you for this, although at the same time I amn't at all sure it's the thing to say.

I should just have recorded myself singing "Captain Kidd" or something.

I'd much like to hear you sing that one, some time.

Is the "Captain Kidd" that you have the one that starts out "My name is Captain Kidd
As I sailed, as I sailed..."?

Patsy used to sing that at the session in Anna Liffey's. I've never learnt it, although I've thought on doing so at times.

[identity profile] ap-aelfwine.livejournal.com 2013-01-25 07:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! It's a table of contents I really want to read.

You're welcome! My feelings with regards to the table of contents are much the same as your own.

Yes, although the version I learned first is a minor-key one by Waterson:Carthy and it seems to be in the minority. I love it, though.

And now I'm even more curious to hear the version you sing. I'm thinking Patsy's was in a minor key as well.

[identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com 2013-01-30 08:06 am (UTC)(link)
Marvelous. So sorry I missed this when you first put it up.

Now, tangentially, I'm intrigued by how much Caradog Prichard disturbs you and what you say about him:

he is Cooper's most convincing depiction of the Dark in human form. (He makes no bargains, he summons nothing, he is not a fallen angel or even a tragic figure like Hawkin; he is a small-minded, spiteful, quick-angering man who nearly does murder over a meaningless grudge and destroys himself for it anyway. And once he wanted to be a poet, so he braved the night up on Cader Idris. He genuinely disturbs me.)

What is it about him that most disturbs you?

[identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com 2013-01-30 06:25 pm (UTC)(link)
He spends a lot of time on the Internet.

Yes, I confess that when I read this: [They] need no interference or encouragement from supernatural powers to do their best to worsen the world around them I was already thinking, yes, I too have seen these people, here online.