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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Starflower, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Her Wikipedia page is pretty sparse, but Anne Elisabeth Stengl does have a blog. That blog gives more information about Stengl and her work, and shows you covers from the nine published items in her Goldstone Wood series.

Discussing nine volumes without giving away too much of the plot isn't going to be easy, so let's take a few specifics from the fourth volume, Starflower, without really summarizing it. (The first two books won Christy awards, and Starflower was nominated for one.)

What to say?
First, these works are fantastic literature. They are clearly fantasy -- there are fairies, dragons, and there is magic. The dragons can appear to be human, and the fairies, most of them, anyway, are also animals, such as a goat, a cat, a badger. Fairies live for a very long time. The setting is not an actual geography, or a specified time. There are no steam engines, no gunpowder, no printing presses, so it's something like the earth of long ago. But there is not an emphasis on swordplay, or magic. The emphasis is on character.

As in most fantastic sub-creations, there are rules. In Starflower, knowing someone's actual name gives some power over them. There are fairy paths that, if you can find them, and stay on them, let one travel very far in a very short time. There are barriers around various fairy realms. There is a near world, and a far one, but they intertwine. As N. T. Wright put it in his Revelation for Everyone, and in others of his works: "God’s sphere of being and operation (‘heaven’) and our sphere (‘earth’) are not after all separated by a great gulf. They meet and merge and meld into one another in all kinds of ways."

Second, (and see above) these are Christian books. Why do I say that? They are not preachy. No one goes to church. One reason I say that is that there is clearly conflict between good and evil. Fairies, and humans, are often drawn to the evil of the dragons. Another reason is redemption. Characters are forgiven. Even the most vile can be. Starflower is largely about the transformation of a self-centered, proud, character into one capable of selfless love and sacrifice. 

The books are often about that sort of love. In Starflower, the heroine loves three most unlovely dogs, and, in the process, transforms their behavior, through her unselfish love of them, seeing what is good in seemingly evil beasts.

One of the characters in Starflower is a hound. Stengl states, in the epilogue, that she was thinking about the Hound of Heaven, and quotes the first stanza:
I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;   
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;   
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways   
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears   
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.      
      Up vistaed hopes I sped;   
      And shot, precipitated,   
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,   
  From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.   
      But with unhurrying chase,        
      And unperturbèd pace,   
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,   
      They beat—and a Voice beat   
      More instant than the Feet—   
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’ (Public domain. Source.)

Third, the structure of the books is interesting. The reader may be introduced to a character in one volume, and to episodes involving that character, and then, in another book, see the same episodes from the view of another character, or see a different view of a character. Starflower is said to be set centuries before any of the first three books, which are all set in the same time period. But some of the characters in Starflower were introduced in one or more of the previous books. A seemingly new main character is introduced at the beginning of the book.

The Goldstone Wood books do intermesh, but a reader should be able to read any of them profitably without having read the others.

Fourth, and unlike, say, Tolkien, who gives us little or none of what's going on in the mind of Sauron, Stengl spends lots of words on the thinking of the dragons.

Fifth, the books are well written. I have yet to see a grammatical error. The chapters make you want to read on, although they often change point of view from one to the next. Stengl is good at naming: Eanrin, Imraldera, Gleamdren, Iubdan, Glomar, Bebo, Wolftongue, Amarok. Stengl's descriptions of settings are well done. Her characters are easy to get to know. The plots are gripping. The books are not like any other fantastic literature that I have read, in atmosphere, characterization, setting, and plot, but many people who love fantastic literature should be able to enjoy them, whether the reader is Christian or not.

Sixth, the characters are ethnically diverse. The heroine of Starflower is described as having dark skin, and there is a dark-skinned woman on the cover of the book. Two of the other volumes feature females with oriental facial features on their covers.

I'm glad I read these books. I'm now going through them, some for the second or third time, and hope to enjoy them for years to come. Perhaps you can, too. I have previously posted on Stengl's Heartless and on her Veiled Rose.

Thanks for reading! Read Stengl.

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