The Folk of the Air
by Peter S. Beagle
When Grace loaned me this book, she mentioned that she didn’t know why it wasn’t in print. Casting about online, I found out that Beagle is in fact in the process of rewriting it. Which disappointed Grace, as the book is a favourite of hers, and she likes it as it is. I can her point, but I can also see Beagle’s. The novel’s a fine tale about a wandering musician who gets involved with a group not wholly unlike the Society for Creative Anachronism, and then also with magic and old Gods and time-lost souls. But it’s slightly loose, the plot maybe not so perfectly constructed. Yet there’s no doubt that overall, it’s a very strong book.
What anchors the novel is its sense of emotional reality. On the one hand, it’s about fantasy and the fantastic impinging on and shaping reality; so it’s about a sense of transcendence, about being touched by extraordinary powers. But it’s also about real life, about mundanity, if you will, in the various senses of the word, about love and lost love and moving on from lost loves. It’s genuinely realistic, in that sense. And it has a heft, a credibility, that many attempts to mix fantasy into reality don’t attain.
But, yes, I can see why Beagle would want to rewrite it, if only to reshape its plot; the novel sometimes doesn’t seem to build in any obvious way. There are payoffs at the end, but the book seems to wander into them, with incidents not quite building on each other in the ways they perhaps ought to. The atmosphere of the book is strong, but becomes somewhat diffuse as a result.
Still, this is a fine book. The character work is fine, the prose exceptional. A lesser writer could be quite happy with having produced this novel; I have to think it says something about Beagle that he’s determined to do better.