Originally published in Beyond Bree, December
I was disappointed to see Marcos Pourteau's review of The Curse of Slagfid in Beyond Bree, May 1990. While his review is a reasonable one in the context of this particular book, it unfortunately may turn some readers of Beyond Bree away from a series of stories that they might really enjoy if they decided to give them a chance. This is not to say that everyone will enjoy Elizabeth Boyer's stories, for it is likely to be an acquired taste at best. However, she is with some integrity producing a series of books which are in part inspired by the writings of Tolkien.
As the author bio in every book recounts, Boyer was led to
Tolkien by science-fiction and from there developed an interest
in Scandanavian folklore. Her books, The Sword and the Satchel,
The Elves and the Otterskin, The Thrall and the Dragon's
Heart, The Wizard and the Warlord, The Troll's Grindstone,
and finally Grindstone's sequel, The Curse of Slagfid
are the result of these influences.
About ten years ago I taught a course at the University of New Mexico called "Tolkien's World." The class included a student from Iceland who complained that the Journey of the Nine Walkers was unrealistic because Scandanavian Northerners were never so pleasant to each other on such trips. Nearly all of Boyer's work is analogous to the first journeys in The Lord of the Rings, but corrected to the Northern temperament. When the group leaves Rivendell, Elrond tells them that they are under no obligation to stay with Frodo or continue the journal on their own. Each should go as far as he decides is best for him. These are the ground rules with a vengeance for all of Boyer's adventures. The participants complain, they argue, they pout, even take off on their own, but usually come through for each other grudgingly in the end.
Boyer's style is closer to The Silmarillion than The Lord of the Rings. To see clearly the model for her style, a reader might try reading a little of The Edda before approaching one of Boyer's books. In this way, the reader would see that Boyer is not completely uncompromising and does try (a little bit) to cater to the twentieth-century cravings for characterizations and consistent explanations (but much less so than in Tolkien's popular writings). The only other books I know of offhand that are similar in style to Boyer's are Poul Anderson's Hrolf Krakis's Saga and The Broken Sword, written before Tolkien's most popular works were published. It is much harder to like her characters than Tolkien's because they are always so ill-tempered and disagreeable. Granted, there is not much of a market and perhaps there would be none at all if other writers tried to copy Boyer's style. Yet, it seems to me that Tolkien himself would have liked Boyer's work very much and that many people who like Tolkien's work enough to subscribe to this publication would find it, if not enjoyable, at least worth reading if they gave her writings a try.
In approaching Boyer's stories, however, The Curse of Slagfid is a poor choice, since it is a sequel to The Troll's Grindstone. Part of the reason that the characters are so mysterious to Porteau is that they were developed in the previous book. The reason that the world(s) of these strange races of elves and humans are not explained is that Boyer has already written five other books, all of which take place in the same general area. To get a full account (as full as Boyer's style will permit), start with The Sword and the Satchel or The Elves and the Otterskin. Curse itself should not be read without first looking at Grindstone. At the end of Grindstone, a female elf name Ljosa sacrifices herself to save the life of Leifr. Although believed dead at the end of the first book, Ljosa appears occasionally in the second as a cat, events that pass unnoticed in Pourteau's review. Curse is a Two Towers-like interlude before the recently published third book, The Dragon's Carbuncle, in which Leifr gets into a lot of new trouble with old enemies, meets many new people, and continues his efforts to bring back his long-lost love.
ECH - A Guide to Boyer - November 15, 2004