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Born to Exile

2 Mar

I’ve always found the archetypal figure of the bard fascinating in folklore as well as in fantasy novels. There is Mercedes Lackey’s Eric Banyon, the star of the Bedlam’s Bard series of urban fantasy novels; Taliesin, perhaps the most iconic of all bards in Celtic mythology; and Listener, hero of Hans Bemman’s stunning fairytale fantasy The Stone and the Flute, which sits somewhere on the grey borderland between fantasy and mythology. Two of my best-loved characters from a couple of my favourite fantasy series are bards: the not-so-simple gleeman Thom Merillin from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and the sometimes pragmatic but always loveable harper Flewder Flam from Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. In real world history virtually every culture has their own wandering musicians and storytellers – Renaissance troubadours, minstrels from the Middle Ages, Norse skalds, Anglo-Saxon scops, Greek rhapsodes, Indian udgatars, Middle Eastern ashiks, French Galliards and a dozen others. The part they play in the old tales is absolutely crucial for, without bards and their ilk there would be no tales to pass down, especially in the ancient days when reading and writing skills were scarce or non-existent, and it was the oral tradition which kept history, myth and legend alive. Perhaps the most memorable bard in fantasy that I’ve ever come across, however, is Phyllis Eisenstein’s Alaric, who for me remains iconic  from reading the classic novels Born to Exile and In the Red Lord’s Reach many years ago.

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