Long Lost Paperbacks No. 7

Firelord, 1982 Bantam edition, mass market paperback.
Firelord, 1982 Bantam edition, mass market paperback.

On the long list of books that should never be forgotten, Firelord by Parke Godwin rates a spot near the top. Godwin (1929-2013) was one of the best fantasy writers of the final decades of the 20th Century, yet sadly, nearly all of his books are out of print. If you want to read Godwin, you are relegated to the secondary market or a well-stocked library. None of his novels have been released as e-books that can be purchased through the usual retail channels (although if you search you can find e-versions available through Open Library).

That’s a terrible shame. Godwin was a great writer. He was a master at taking the epic legends of Western Civilization and breathing fresh life into them. Firelord (1980) is the best of his books, the finest take on the King Arthur legend I’ve ever read. It’s one of those rare novels I return to every few years and it gets better with every reading. I happily rank it as one of my top ten favorite books. As Godwin himself said, “It should have happened this way, it could have, and perhaps it did.”

Firelord begins at the and of Arthur’s life as he looks back at the events that placed him on the throne. There’s a maturity to the voice, a weariness, yet also a joyful embrace of both the pain and pleasures of life. This Arthur is a very real man, not a sterile and glorified archetype:

“I want to write of us the way we were before some pedant petrifies us in an epic and substitutes his current ideal for ours. As for poets and bards, let one of them redecorate your life and you’ll never be able to find any of it again.”

Godwin also does a masterful job of incorporating fantasy elements in a realistic and believable way.  Firelord was said to be a major influence on John Boorman’s movie Excaliber (1981), which was itself a break from the way the King Arthur legend had traditionally been told.

The follow-up, Beloved Exile, carries on the legend from Guenevere’s point of view after Arthur’s death. It, too, is an excellent read. But of Godwin’s other novels, The Tower of Beowulf is a particular favorite of mine. Seek any of these out through resellers on the internet or your local second-hand bookstore and you won’t be disappointed.


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