Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nick Kyme's "Honourkeeper" and the post-Tolkien Dwarf

There will be dwarfs and all types of orcs and elves, too, in the post-Tolkien world but will they be good books?

There are plenty of dwarf books available. Dragonlance novels are replete with dwarfs of various types and flavors and every would-be Tolkien populates his or her epic fantasy novel with them. Some attempts are successful, others are not.

Nick Kyme's dwarf novels are the most successful exemplars of post-Tolkien dwarf-craft and dwarf-lore on the book stand.

Dwarfs, of course, are archetypal and existed before Tolkien. Whenever they appear they grab the imagination or, at least, they stimulate mine.

I have been a fan of dwarfs for over fifty years but my interest didn't begin with Tolkien. Disney's "Snow White" ignited the spark and then Wagner's Alberich and Mime sealed the deal.

In "Das Rheingold" and "Siegfreid," the dwarfs Alberich and Mime function as "shadow" characters that, through their lust and greed, initiate the events that lead to the finale.

In Wagner and in the early fairy tales and legends dwarfs are dark, primal creatures; however, in modern epic fantasy they have evolved into something quite different. Tolkien is responsible for the movement toward the light, even though he mined his dwarfs from either the "Ruolieb," a German poem of the twelfth century, or the Elder Edda, and brought them gingerly into the modern age. Perhaps, the coup de grace was Peter Jackson's version of the lovable Gimli in his film version of "The Lord of The Rings."

Nevertheless, as I said, I have always been interested in dwarfs and that interest was, of course, fanned into a white hot heat when I read Tolkien's "The Hobbit" in 1965. From that point on I wanted more dwarfs. However, I found subsequent books featuring dwarfs, not written by Tolkien, disappointing. I was particularly bothered by the dwarfs in the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realm books. What I desired was a dwarf book that could stand on its on.

A few years ago, I was working out of my Frankfurt office and I took a detour through the Hugendubel Bookshop downtown and discovered "Die Zwerge" by Markus Heitz. I thought I had found a book divorced from the Tolkien influence that tried to situate the dwarf in an epic fantasy setting. However, when I finished the first book I was disappointed. Heitz's book seemed too similar to the Dragonlance/ Forgotten Realm type; it was not serious or dark enough for my taste. The archetypal resonance of the dwarfs was fading in the light of modern publishing. I wanted a good-old Anglo-Saxon beastie that could stand square with Beowulf or the Green Knight and swing a mean ax. I yearned for a pre-Tolkien dwarf.

Nick Kyme, Gav Thorpe, and to a certain extent Nathan Long have created from a post-Tolkien model a pre-Tolkienesque dwarf. Through the combination of the Gothic background of Warhammer and its underlying mythos, a dwarf-type has arisen that I believe is close to the early renditions of dwarfs found in the English, Norse, and Germanic fairy-tales. I began to notice this trend in Nick Kyme's "Oathbreaker" and Gav Thorpe's "Grudge Bearer." However, my theory didn't gel until I read Gav Thorpe's "Malekith." In that novel, he brought the dwarfs to life through a sustained tour-de-force of what Tolkien would call subcreation. This realized dwarf world appears again to great effect in Nathan Long's novel, "Orcslayer."

However, Kyme's "Honourkeeper" is the near masterpiece because he situates his novel in a completely dwarf world. Yes, there are elves and men but the book focuses on and is unified through his disciplined use of a multiple point of view from the major dwarf characters. Within this framework, he explores the Warhammer mythology concerning the dwarfs and their elaborate civilization. Additionally, Kyme presents a rigid and structurally sound plot. In essence, the story is simple: tricky elves deceive dwarf king into warring Norscans on their behalf. When the story is distilled, it falls into four parts: (a) meeting with elves; (b) deceived by elves; (c)war with Norscans; and(d)revelation of deceit and revenge. Within that simple plot, Kyme explores the dwarf environment, the dwarf culture, and even the dwarf language.

"Honourkeeper" transcends its genre through its seriousness. In fact, many of the new Warhammer novels seem imbued with this sense of seriousness; and, ultimately, that is what makes the Warhammer IP series so successful and readable.

1 comment:

  1. My sincere appreciation for such an intelligent and favourable review. It's always very nice to hear that folks have enjoyed my books. Dwarfs, too, are a passion of mine. I've been a fan for many years, though my experiences are limited to Tolkien and Dragonlance in the main. It wasn't until I encountered dwarfs in Warhammer that I really started to feel some resonance with these characters, so it was a genuine thrill to be asked to write Oathbreaker and then Honourkeeper afterwards. I plan on returning to the dwarfs in the future, though the form and content of such a return is, as of yet, unknown.

    Once again, my sincere thanks.