Faeries, hobgoblins & iPods

By Jeff Clemens

To most English students and the general literate public, the words ‘Canadian literature’ automatically evoke a painful groan. Thankfully, not every Canadian author needs to recall coffee-spoon poetry and the unbearability of being a suburban housewife. Famed fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay is one of the authors giving readers something entirely different.

“When I started about a decade ago I thought that being Canadian was a bad thing–there was no glamour, it wasn’t sexy and there was just no advantage to being a Canadian,” explains Kay. “Now we have so much more and we’re so much more established and it’s a better scene overall with [Canadian] music and writers becoming more popular”

Being different from many other Canadian authors isn’t where Kay’s originality ends. His works distance themselves in many ways from traditional fantasy novels. In a traditional fantasy the protagonist does their task out of an ingrained sense of morality, but in a Kay novel, humanity–that possibility for good and evil in everyone–is a commonly explored theme.

“I try to add a little bit of an element of the characters doing the things they do for reasons other than the right ones,” says Kay.”These characters don’t do the right thing because they have to, but for their own reasons, and the results just happen to be positive.”

In his books, Kay also often attempts to combine both modern and historic elements. Classified by many critics as historical fantasy, Kay’s novels incorporate elements of earth’s history into worlds of high-fantasy. Using modern things like iPods and cell phones Kay reconciles the opposing worlds, weaving stories where readers are just as likely to meet a terrorist as a giant.

“The research is the fun part,” says Kay. “You do a lot of research and keep learning until eventually you have to actually work and write the story. I feel in order to write a good story the author needs to know more than is necessary so they are as close to an expert as possible.”

Kay’s dedication to knowledge is shown in the meticulous detail and compelling reality of his works and the vehemence in his voice. Publishing his first book in 1984, Kay still manages to keep his writing fresh, and has avoided getting stuck in the stereotypical fantasy trappings throughout his long career, distinguishing himself as a giant in a world of dwarves.

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