Lyonesse Trilogy

Lyonesse Trilogy

The Lyonesse Trilogy is a group of three fantasy novels by Jack Vance, set in the European Dark Ages, in the mythical Elder Isles west of France and southwest of Britain, a generation or two before the birth of King Arthur. An Atlantis theme haunts the story, as do numerous references to Arthurian mythology. Some place names and concepts, such as references to sandestins as magical creatures that do the actual work of carrying out a magician's spells, are shared between Lyonesse and Vance's Dying Earth series, suggesting that the two worlds may be linked.

Books

In order of plot chronology:
*"Lyonesse" (subtitled "Book I: Suldrun's Garden" on the title page)
*"The Green Pearl"
*"Madouc"

Background

The Elder Isles

The Elder Isles, situated southwest of Cornwall and west of Brittany consist of a large island Hybras, (the Hy-Brasil of ancient Irish legend), about the size of Ireland itself, surrounded by numerous smaller islands of various sizes. The Elder Isles were formerly a single kingdom, divided into ten Grand Duchies. As a result of political intrigues instigated by the witch Desmei, the Isles fragmented, with each Grand Duke declaring himself king of his own domain.

Lyonesse occupies the southern half of Hybras, and is ruled by King Casmir and Queen Sollace. Casmir claims right of kingship over the entire Elder Isles as a lineal descendant of the first king, Olam Magnus, and maintains twelve standing armies to back up his claim. However, he is locked in a stalemate with his two principal rivals, Dahaut and Troicinet, in that he can not attack one without leaving himself vulnerable to retaliation from the other. Thus, he tries to subvert the other kingdoms and increase his own power through intrigue and guile.

Dahaut occupies most of the northern half of Hybras. King Audry also claims the throne of the Elder Isles by right of descent, but he is languid and more interested in courtly intrigues than military discipline. His armies make an impressive show on the parade ground but their military capabilities are questionable.

North and South Ulfland occupy the western coastal region of Hybras, separated from Lyonesse and Dahaut by a mountain range that runs the length of the island. North Ulfland is ruled by the elderly King Gax from his fortress Xounges, but the countryside is occupied by the Ska. The Ska are unwilling to commit their forces to a siege so they permit Gax to remain behind the walls of Xounges, where he is powerless to attack them. South Ulfland is nominally ruled by King Quilcy, but Quilcy is feeble-minded and in reality the barons of South Ulfland are fiercely independent and are more interested in fighting each other over ancient feuds than in uniting against the Ska. The principal strong points in South Ulfand are the fortress Kaul Bocach and the castle Tintzin Fyral, ruled by Duke Faude Carfilhiot, a handsome but depraved tyrant.

Troicinet and Dascinet are islands off the southeastern coast of Lyonesse. The impulsive king of Dascinet declared war on Troicinet and was soundly defeated by Troicinet's naval forces. Troicinet and Lyonesse maintain an uneasy truce, with Troicinet agreeing not to attack Lyonesse from the sea so long as Casmir does not attempt to acquire ships capable of landing his twelve armies on Troicinet. Troicinet is ruled by King Granice who has no sons; his nephews, the princes Trewan and Aillas, are second and fourth in line for the throne, each behind their respective fathers.

The four smallest realms, Pomperol, Blaloc, Caduz, and Godelia contribute some colorful settings and minor characters but do not drive the events of the plot.

Magicians and fairies

The Elder Isles are home to a number of witches and magicians. The most powerful is Murgen, whose edict prohibits the magicians from interfering in temporal matters or playing favorites with the various kings, on the grounds that sooner or later the magicians would come into conflict with each other, to their mutual detriment. Murgen is powerful enough to enforce his edict against any individual magician. Murgen also guards the Elder Isles from an unspecified doom. As a form of relaxation, Murgen adopted an alternate personality or scion named Shimrod who was as carefree and light-hearted as Murgen was until burdened by his cares. In time, Shimrod's personality grew so strong that he developed into a separate individual.

Murgen's chief opponents are the magician Tamurello and the witch Desmei, who chafe at Murgen's restrictions and work to destroy him. However, Desmei has apparently disappeared after working a great magic. She dissolved herself and created two beings of perfect beauty, Faude Carfilihot and the demi-witch Melancthe, and a third creature as a repository for her most horrid aspects. Desmei destroys the creature with fire, which creates a green fume; Melancthe recoils from the stench but Carfilhiot inhales it avidly. Carfilhiot is whisked away to the castle Tintzin Fyral (whose previous owner had mysteriously disappeared) and becomes the lover of the effete sorcerer Tamurello. Melancthe takes possession of Desmei's palace.

Magic is effected through the use of spells, magical apparatus, or magical creatures called Sandestins, that magicians can somehow compel to do their bidding. The art of creating new magical apparatus is lost, so magicians guard their equipment fiercely. Murgen has placed a number of items on loan with Shimrod; Melancthe has appropriated all of Desmei's apparatus to her own use, much to Carfilihot's annoyance.

The Elder Isles are also home to a number of magical species including fairies, trolls, ogres and other types of greater or lesser potency. The fairies are organized into Fairy Kingdoms or Shees; Thripsey Shee, the domain of King Throbius, is the only one to feature in the novels.

The Ska

The Ska, originally from Norway, were driven from their homeland by the nomadic Ur-goths (who adopted the Ska culture and became Vikings). They settled Ireland as the Nemedians, but were again driven out by the invading Celts and forced to settle Skaghane, an island off the northwest coast of North Ulfland. The Ska have declared war against the rest of humanity, and have embarked on a program to conquer the Elder Isles. The Ska preserve a language and culture dating back to the last Ice Age and, believing that all other races and tribes of humans had interbred with Neanderthals, consider themselves superior as the only pure human race.

Main characters

; Aillas : Youthful king of Troicinet and other principalities; he is the main protagonist of the trilogy.; Casmir : King of Lyonesse; he is the primary antagonist of the trilogy.; Suldrun : Wistful, willful daughter of Casmir and Sollace.; Dhrun : Son of Aillas and Suldrun, raised in a fairy where he lived 9 years while only one mortal year passed.; Madouc : Fairy-child commonly thought to be the daughter of Aillas and Suldrun, and thus a member of Casmir's household; she is the main protagonist of the third book.; Glynneth : Girl who escapes an ogre with Dhrun and joins Aillas' household. She eventually becomes Aillas' queen.; Yane and Cargus : Prisoners of the Ska who escaped with Aillas, later; member of Aillas's spy network.

Magicians

; Murgen : Dominant sorcerer of the Elder Isles.; Shimrod : Originally an avatar of Murgen; now an independent person and common visitor to Aillas' household.; Tamurello : Effete, yet cogent magician, perpetually working at Murgen's (and by extension, Aillas's) downfall.; Desmëi : A powerful, vengeful witch.

Other key players

; Faude Carfilhiot : A creation of Desmei's. An ideal male form but tainted by the green fume. ; Melancthe : A creation of Desmei's. An idealized female form, but with a largely blank personality. Created by Desmei as a revenge against men (in the person of her former lover Tamurello). Has a secret purpose not revealed until the last book.; Tatzel : Ska woman who catches Aillas' fancy.; Torqual : Notorious Ska bandit who Casmir attempts to use to his advantage.; Visbhume : An ambitious, amoral scoundrel with a limited knowledge of magic.; Father Umphred : An ambitious, amoral scoundrel, a missionary/priest seeking to introduce Christianity to Lyonesse kingdom by Casmir's royal fiat.

Plot summary

"Lyonesse" (also known as "Suldrun's Garden")

The story is told in several interlocking threads which are not always chronological.

King Casmir of Lyonesse arranges the marriage of his daughter Suldrun to Faude Carfilhiot, so that Carfilhiot will allow the passage of Casmir's armies through South Ulfland (so as to attack Dahaut on two fronts). Repelled by Carfilhiot, Suldrun refuses. In a rage, Casmir confines her to her garden, barred on two sides by a steep ravine, the third by a wall and a locked gate, and the fourth by the sea. Suldrun is content to be alone until one day, a half-drowned sailor washes ashore.

Princes Allias and Trewan of Troicinet are sent on a sea voyage to visit the various kingdoms of the Elder Isles to gain experience at statecraft. While in port, Trewan learns that his father has died and that the line of royal succession now passes from King Granice to his youngest brother Ospero and then to Ospero's son Aillas, bypassing Trewan. He conceals this knowledge from Aillas and, late at night, pushes Aillas overboard. Aillas washes ashore at the foot of Suldrun's garden. While he recovers, they become lovers, and plan to escape. However, they are caught and betrayed by Brother Umphred and Casmir orders Aillas imprisoned without even bothering to learn his name. In due time, Suldrun delivers a son named Dhrun, and gives him into the care of her former nurse to hide him from her father. However, Dhrun is taken by the fairies and replaced with the changeling Madouc. Casmir retrieves the baby and, none the wiser, takes her back to the castle. Believing that Aillas and her son are dead, Suldrun hangs herself in her garden. Allias manages to escape and returns to the garden, where he learns from Suldrun's ghost that he has a son, but he is perplexed to see the Princess Madouc in a royal procession. Aillas learns of the changeling from the old nurse, and sets out on a quest to find his son, using a "Never-Fail", a talisman that points him in the right direction, obtained from the fairies at no small price.

Dhrun, a cheerful happy baby, is raised in Thripsey Shee by Twisk, Madouc's mother, who stole him from the old nurse's family, leaving Madouc, her willful and cranky child by an unknown vagabond. Time passes differently in the shee than in the mortal realm; Dhrun lives 9 years in the shee in the span of one mortal year. Since he is not a true fairy, he is cast out of the shee, but without malice (except for a spiteful rival who curses him with seven years of bad luck). Dhrun sets out through the forest of Tantravelles, a haunted place where the human presence is weak and the supernatural is very real. He rescues Glyneth, a girl of about 14, from a troll, and they have a number of adventures before joining Dr. Fidelius, supposedly a physician specializing in the treatment of sore knees, who travels between the country fairs of Dahaut in a medicine show wagon pulled by two two-headed horses.

Faude Carfilhiot, wanting to be a powerful magician but lacking the patience to learn the necessary skills, schemes with his lover Tamurello. They will use Melancthe to seduce and distract Shimrod while Carfilhiot steals his magical apparatus, by which theft Shimrod (relatively new to his craft) would be so weakened as a magician that he could not retaliate. The plot is successful but Shimrod's equipment is proteced by magical locks and is unusable. Shimrod learns from a magic monitor that watches his house that the thieves who tortured his house servant and stole his goods were a handsome young aristocrat and an older robber who complained that years of climbing on rooftops had left him with sore knees. Shimrod adopts the guise of Dr. Fidelius, specialist in sore knees, in hopes of finding the robber, who will lead him to the aristocrat.

Aillas' quest to find his son is interrupted when he is captured by the Ska. He tries to ransom his freedom, but they are not a numerous people and need labor more than gold. The Ska lay siege to Carfilhiot's castle Tintzin Fyral, and Aillas gets a good look at the castle's defenses. He is then sent to work as a house slave at Castle Sank, home of the Ska Duke Luhalcx and his family, where he becomes infatuated with Lady Tatzel, the Duke's daughter. Aillas escapes Castle Sank with two other slaves, Yane and Cargus, but they are recaptured and sent to the fortress Poëlitetz, which guards the boundary of Dahaut and North Ulfland. Here, Aillas is assigned to a work crew digging a secret tunnel from Poëlitetz out to the plain in front of the fortress. Aillas leads another escape, and after a series of adventures, finds himself on the southern outskirts of Avallon, capital city of Dahaut. The Never-Fail indicates that Dhrun is northward, in the city or beyond.

Faude Carfilhiot leads a band of men out from Tintzin Fyral on a "hunting" expedition to capture one of the barons who oppose his rule. However, it's an ambush, set up by Carfilhiot's enemies working together. His troops are killed one by one but he escapes with his life and seeks refuge at Melancthe's palace. He says they should be lovers; who better, since they are the same person. She disdains him because he inhaled the green fume whereas she tasted it and spat it out. He seduces her. In retaliation, she magically transports him all the way across the Elder Isles to Avallon. Lacking funds, he seeks out the bandit Rughalt of the sore knees, his accomplice, to provide him shelter and funds. Rughalt is practically destitute; his knees are so bad he can no longer burgle houses and his only income comes from robbing the guests of a mean little inn. He sees Dr. Fidelius' wagon at the great fair of Avallon and is desperate for a cure. Carfilhiot tells him Fidelius is probably a quack but Rughalt is adamant; if he got his agility back, he would no longer be poor. Shimrod takes Rughalt deep into the woods and extracts Carfilhiot's name from him.

Carfilhiot, waiting for Rughalt, suddenly intuits that Fidelius was Shimrod. He kidnaps Dhrun and Glyneth and steals the wagon, driving it to Tamurello's mansion, who uses magic to send it back to Tintzin Fyral.

Aillas, now in Avallon, learns from the captain of a Troice ship that his father lies dying; if he dies and Aillas is not on hand, Trewan will be crowned king. As Aillas, Yane and Cargus debate what to do, Shimrod runs up and asks if they have seen a wagon pulled by a pair of two-headed horses. Aillas had, and Shimrod tells him that Faude Carfilhiot has kidnapped two children that were travelling with him. Aillas notices that the Never-Fail is suddenly pointing south, and asks the names of the children. Shimrod and Aillas ride to Tamurello's mansion but arrive too late; Carfilhiot and the wagon are gone. Aillas decides with a heavy heart he must return to Troicinet to prevent Trewan from being crowned king. He arrives at the last possible minute, confronts Trewan with his murderous deed and kills him when Trewan attacks. Aillas is crowned king of Troicinet.

Shimrod can not act directly against Carfilhiot to rescue Glyneth and Dhrun, because that would constitute taking Aillas' side in a political matter and violate Murgen's edict. However, Aillas has learned that Quilcy, King of South Ulfland, has drowned in his bathtub, and that Aillas is his rightful heir by collateral lineage. He lands a force of troops in South Ulfland, proclaims his kingship, and demands a show of fealty from Carfilhiot as Carfilhiot's rightful leige lord. Carfilhiot refuses, and Aillas' Troice troops lay siege to his castle. Aillas' soldiers, informed by his knowledge of the castle's defenses, avoid the traps and pitfalls Carfilhiot has prepared, much to Carfilhiot's dismay. He calls on Tamurello, who confronts Aillas. This gives Shimrod an excuse to call on Murgen, who forbids Tamurello from acting and banishes him to his mansion. Tamurello offers to bring Carfilhiot to his manse, but Carfilhiot refuses to leave his castle. The siege is eventually successful, Dhrun and Glyneth are rescued, and Carfilhiot is hung as a traitor to his king. When his body his cremated, a green fume escapes and blows out to sea, where it mixes with the spume and condenses into a "green pearl", which sinks into the sea and is swallowed by a fish.

Aillas, now King of Troicinet, Dascinet and South Ulfland, and his son Dhrun, make a diplomatic visit to Lyonesse. Casmir is puzzled as to how Aillas, barely out of his teens, could have a nine year old son, and why Aillas' face seems rather familiar.

"The Green Pearl"

In a fishing village in South Ulfland, a fisherman catches a flounder and discovers the green pearl inside. The pearl changes hands a number of times, impelling each new owner to strange excesses of conduct, until the final owner offends a minor magician, who takes him deep into the forest and casts a spell of paralysis on him. His body decomposes and merges with the forest floor; in the Spring, beautiful flowers with strangely evocative odors sprout at the site.

Aillas and Dhrun divide their time between Watershade, Aillas' placid castle on the island of Troicinent, and his new capital Doun Darric in South Ulfland. Glyneth has been installed at court with the anomalous title "Princess" and Shimrod is a frequent guest. Aillas journeys to South Ulfland where he attempts to convince the fiercely independent barons to accept his rule as king. He bans private justice and torture and orders the barons to forget their old feuds and unite against the Ska. Aillas' program gains credibility when he sends a force to destroy the mountain keep of the first baron to openly defy him.

In Lyonesse, King Casmir plots to destabilize South Ulfland by sending two agents, Sir Shalles and Torqual. Casmir sends Shalles into the Ulfish uplands to sow dissent among the barons through rumor and intrigue. Torqual, a renegade Ska, is ordered to assemble a band of cutthroats to attack those nobles who support Aillas' rule. Torqual has his own plans, to conquer all of the Elder Isles for himself, and Casmir soon grows exasperated with Torqual's demands for ever increasing amounts of gold. Casmir is also troubled by a prophecy made at Suldrun's birth that her son would rule the Elder Isles; Casmir believes Suldrun gave birth to a girl, the princess Madouc. He applies to Tamurello for assistance, who sends to him Visbhume, a low magician of peculiar personal habits. Visbhume makes inquiries and informs Casmir that Suldrun's child was in fact a boy, and that Madouc is a fairy changeling. Visbhume learns that the boy, known to the fairies as "Tippet", was travelling with a girl named Glyneth, and that Suldrun's former nursemaid, who had tried to hide Dhrun from Casmir, had left Lyonesse with her entire family and were now landed gentry on Troicinet. The next line of inquiry is obvious.

In South Ulfland, Aillas ponders how to test his new army, comprised of Troice knights and Troice-trained Ulfish soldiers. The Ska are fearsome in battle but their weakness is their small numbers. Aillas plans a series of hit-and-run raids designed to inflict casualties while avoiding a pitched battle he would almost certainly lose. Aillas sends a force against the lightly-defended Castle Sank and succeeds in destroying the garrison and the outer buildings but not the inner citadel. Watching from a distance, Aillas sees a party of Ska approaching Sank on horseback, including the Lady Tatzel. Aillas pursues and captures her, declaring she is now his slave. Since the route back to Doun Darric was likely to be swarming with Ska troops responding to the attack on Castle Sank, Aillas decides to travel north along the high moors into North Ulfland, to arrive at Xounges where he can take a ship home. Along the way they pass Torqual's fortress hideout; Torqual challenges Aillas who defeats him in a duel and leaves him for dead.

Tatzel is proud and haughty; her world view will not accept that she has been made a slave by an "otherling", as the Ska refer to outsiders. However, she gradually comes to recognize Aillas' intelligence and competence. Aillas, for his part, discovers that the Tatzel of reality is nothing like the Tatzel of his daydreams, and the infatuation is broken. They eventually develop a wary mutual respect.

After a series of further adventures, Aillas and Tatzel arrive at Xounges, to find the dying King Gax beset by a Ska delegation headed by Tatzel's father, Duke Luhalcx. The Ska wish King Gax to appoint a Ska successor to his throne, in return for which the Ska promise amnesty for the inhabitants of Xounges. Gax would prefer that his successor drive the Ska out, but the legal heir, Sir Kreim, has already indicated to the Ska that he could be bribed to abdicate, and Gax expects to die a bitter death. Aillas returns his unsatisfactory slave to her father, and in a private audience with King Gax, reveals his identity. In a public ceremony, Gax transfers the crown to Aillas, much to the surprise and consternation of the Ska.

Glyneth, at Watershade, ponders her future. She has been playing flirtatious games with Aillas, testing him, but decides that the time for games and testing is over. Before she can act on her decision, she is kidnapped by Visbhume and taken to the alternate world Tanjecterly. Visbhume promises to return her to Earth if she tells him the circumstances of Dhrun's birth, but his obvious designs on her person inform her that she will be killed once he has the information. Glyneth feigns intimacy long enough to strike Visbhume with his own dagger, and runs away into the wilds of Tanjecterly.

Aillas and Shimrod are prevented from following Glyneth through the portal into Tanjecterly by Murgen, who understands that this is part of a plot by Casmir and Tamurello to get rid of them, thus weakening Murgen and advancing Casmir's political goals. Murgen instead sends an agent, synthesized from the physical pattern of a fierce beast from Tanjecterly and the guile and cunning of a barbarian pirate named Kul. To give Kul a human soul with love and loyalty for Glyneth, Murgen infuses it with Aillas' blood.

In Tanjecterly, Kul catches up with Glyneth and rescues her from Visbhume. Under duress, Visbhume explains that passages to Earth can only be opened at certain times and places, and the next opportunity is many leagues distant. After many adventures they arrive at the portal and Visbhume opens the way, but causes the animal they have been riding to attack Kul, injuring him. Glyneth, though frightened of Kul at first, has grown to love the human spirit within him, and refuses to leave him. Glyneth tells Visbhume the truth about Dhrun's birth, and Visbhume vanishes through the gate.

At the Goblin Fair in the forest of Tantravalles, Melancthe is entranced by four beautiful flowers she has bought, which evoke emotions she can't quite identify. Both Shimrod and Tamurello arrive, prompted by the opening of the interworld portal. Tamurello accosts Visbhume, learns Dhrun's secret, and then turns Visbhume into a snake so that he can not reveal the truth to anyone else. Shimrod and Melancthe peruse the booths at the fair. The flower seller, in search of more, has dug up the green pearl, causing the flowers to die, to Melancthe's great disappointment. He offers her the pearl, but Shimrod dissuades her. Tamurello also sees it and is captivated, but before he can take it, a snake darts out from the forest and swallows it. Tamurello instantly chants a spell and turns into a weasel, pursues the snake into its hole and returns triumphant with the pearl in his teeth. Murgen, disguised as a peasant, quickly seals the weasel and pearl in a glass jar. The weasel dissolves into a green transparency, like a skeleton in aspic.

With no word from Tanjecterly, Aillas resumes his campaign against the Ska. His hit-and-run strategy finally prompts a tactical mistake by the Ska, who divide their forces into two smaller armies. Aillas' Ulfish army attacks and destroys one of these armies. Aillas offers a peace agreement whereby the Ska return to the original limits of their territory; in return Aillas will demand no reparations or hostages. The Ska agree.

In Tanjecterly Kul follows the orders implanted in him to return Glyneth to their original starting point, which is the location of the other portal. On the way they are attacked several times so that he loses a great deal of blood, and the beast and pirate aspects of Kul begin to assert themselves. They reach the portal and are besieged by enemies, but Shimrod appears to rescue her. Glyneth will not leave Kul, but Shimrod explains that while Kul is dying, his love for her came from someone else. Shimrod and Glyneth return to Earth where she is reunited with Aillas, the undisputed King of Troicinet, Dascinet and Ulfland. Aillas, Dhrun, Glyneth and Shimrod journey to Watershade for a banquet, while In Lyonesse, Casmir awaits news from Visbhume that will never come, and ponders the mystery of Suldrun's son.

"Madouc"

Princess Madouc, unaware of her true parentage, suffers an unhappy childhood comparable to Suldrun's, but has more spunk and actively resists the regimen imposed upon her as a royal princess. On an unauthorized outing into the forest, she discovers her mother, the fairy Twisk, and learns the truth, including the fact that her father's identity is unknown. She meets Prince Dhrun at a reception and shares her knowledge with him, incidentally establishing a mutual but low-key attraction.

Meanwhile, Casmir continues to plot against Aillas by funding the exploits of the Ska renegade Torqual, which however have little effect against Aillas's precautions.

Shimrod the wizard, at Murgen's request, investigates mysterious demonic attentions in Ys, which appear to involve Melancthe. That lady continues to fascinate and frustrate Shimrod. Later, as part of his service to Murgen, Shimrod disguises himself as a Scythian bravo to infiltrate Torqual's band. He is unable to make progress in his investigation of Melancthe, but disrupts a plot to assassinate King Aillas and kidnap Dhrun.

Madouc having angered Casmir by refusing to be part of a marriage alliance he's devised, the king punishes her and humors Queen Sollace by making Madouc the prize in a quest for the Holy Grail (a relic which would draw pilgrims to the cathedral being built under the instigation of the treacherous Brother Umphred, who has revealed to Casmir that Dhrun is Suldrun's son). Madouc's response is to seek the Grail herself, since that seems the best method of preserving herself. She discovers what seems to be the Grail, but Casmir reneges on his promise.

Madouc then discovers Casmir's plan to frustrate the magic mirror's prophecy that Dhrun would rule the Elder Isles, by having him sit momentarily at the magic table in the capital city of Dahaut and then having Dhrun killed. Madouc foils this plan by warning Dhrun and the assembled worthies (humiliating Casmir). She is then kidnapped by Casmir's agents but rescued by Aillas and Dhrun.

Casmir throws the dice on a war against Dahaut, which in itself goes well but which also triggers an attack on him by Aillas, whose army routes Casmir's army. The war results in Casmir's capture. Aillas declares himself king of the Elder Isles (with Dhrun as his heir) and brings peace to the realm, also taking the opportunity to have Umphred drowned for his betrayal of Suldrun. Glyneth, now Queen, gives birth to her and Aillas' daughter, Princess Serle. Madouc and Dhrun are in love, and finally it is learned that Madouc's father is actually Shimrod. All ends happily.

Commentary

One view is that the characterisations of the various kingdoms are decidedly Anglo-centric. The Celts of Godelia are fickle and eccentric, the ambitious and aggressive King Casmir is a Germanic despot in all but name, the court of King Audrey of Dahaut is a caricature of the decadent excesses of a French monarch and the Ska are transparently cruel Viking raiders. The picture is complete with the Arthurian figure of Prince Aillas hailing from the plucky island race of Troicinet whose sea power is crucial to the story.

Indeed, the entire background to the work is a re-working of the Arthurian myths, complete with a great mage (Merlin/Murgen), a Round Table/Cairbra an Meadhan, chivalric codes and a search for the Holy Grail. [http://www.geocities.com/area51/rampart/2547/fantasy8.htm]

The Arthurian hypothesis can perhaps be countered by strong indications that the author has delivered a very "conscious" melding of various other medieval folkloric and more formal story telling themes, characters and plot devices. The proto Arthurian characters are rather a "pre-working" of the later romance and still distinct from that tale. Similarly the Ska are repeatedly described as pre Viking, and indeed pre - Neanderthal, giving them a far richer presence than “cruel Viking raiders”.

To take only Camelot and "Rule Britannia" from the books might seem a superficial reading.

Vance builds the history of his world using layers of facts, names and religions taken from various European cultures - Greeks, Romans, Celts, pre Carolingian French and Spanish "kingdoms" etc and adding in places and peoples imagined by those same cultures - Atlantis, Ys, Avalon, Formor and so on. This fantastical/factual mix is used to ground his tale in "history". It also seems to give some of the same depth that a longer series of books might develop where place, relationships and plot are built up over time (as in George Elliot's "Wessex" or Trollope's "Barsetshire"). It seems to provide the believability that develops where a story is set in a well-known, well-defined historical setting as if the reader holds merely a hitherto untold story.

A third view is probably that the trilogy is not so much a melding as a partly mixed collection of history, fable, mythology, alternative history, sagas and Romance - albeit a very enjoyable one. A comparison to Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby could be drawn where the energy and bravura in story telling is countered by weaker thematic drive and lesser plot cohesion especially compared to both author's later works.

The combination of a tale that is apparently set in medieval Europe, but which contains significant elements of fantasy and magic lends itself to use as setting for role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. See for example [http://www.noosfere.com/JackVance/jv_lyonpnj.html " Jouez Lyonesse"] which provides a detailed set of role-playing statistics for most of the major characters of the trilogy.

Editions

See also

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