With the recent ‘epic finale’ of the Harry Potter series, a lot of fans have been gone through an emotional upheaval – it’s really over. But while I became a HP fan totally by accident, the characters that have shaped my life and stayed with me for over half my lifetime are the ones I met in Raymond E Feist’s Riftwar Saga.
Ironically, I got ‘involved’ by accident too. I was into Greek mythology and Arthurian novels and a friend just dumped the final book, A Darkness at Sethanon, on me. She’d read it and hadn’t liked it; I looked at it rather sceptically. It had been through countless hands, courtesy of a book rental service. The cover, which depicted a man in black armour on a fiery horse – later I would learn it was Murmandamus on a daemonsteed – was battered and bruised and just generally unappealing.
But I took it anyway and gave it a shot. And I fell in love with Jimmy and Locky, Arutha and Amos, Laurie and Pug, Martin Longbow and Kulgan and all the rest. After just one read, without even knowing what had gone before, I was hooked.
The Riftwar Saga was my first foray into fantasy and while I’ve read many others, the characters stay with me still, and I still get teary-eyed when a favourite character dies even though I’ve read the books enough times to quote not just lines but whole paragraphs.
I’ve read and re-read them, taped them and re-taped them when the original tape fell off, loaned them to friends who stayed up half the night just to find out what happens next, and yesterday I just re-taped Magician:Master so my 13-year-old daughter could read it without the pages falling out.
The parallels between the characters in Feist and those in classic Arthurian novels doesn’t escape me, nor the fact that it mirrors Star Wars mythology. I suppose it’s a universal theme that resonates with many – the humble beginnings of an individual who is thrust into traumatic circumstances only to find that this is exactly what he/she was born to do. Add in the wise mentors and loyal friends, and it’s hard not to root for them.
In the Riftwar saga, what touched me most were the characters and how real they were to me. All their confusion and doubts and anxieties, the idealism of honour and duty, and the sure sense of who they were and what they were doing. Maybe that’s what caught hold of me – wanting to know who I was and what kind of person I was going to be. In fact, maybe it’s what we all secretly wish for ourselves – to be absolutely certain of who we are and what we need to do in this life, despite the anxieties of growing up, and having the guidance and support of mentors and friends we have complete faith in, and who likewise believe in us without an ounce of doubt.
Following Pug to Kelewan and back, trailing after Jimmy through the Thieves’ Highway, hanging on to Arutha’s belt all over Krondor with the secret police hot on his heels, feeling the heave of the ocean swells as Amos gets them all through the Straits of Darkness….
All these and more became a backdrop as familiar to me as my own home, and the characters have become my best friends. In fact, each time I re-read the original set of books, it feels like I’m re-visiting a favourite place, a place that’s comforting and reminds me of the best things in life – friendship, wonder, inner strength, and hope. Now that’s magical.