Saturday, January 20, 2018

Woman of the Elfmounds (Paul Edwin Zimmer)

As part of my research on Paul Edwin Zimmer, whose Dark Border was my favorite book as a teenager before encountering The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, I've been tracking down all his published writings. Much of this isn't easy, Decades have lapsed since much of it last saw print, but Amazon is brilliant for finding out-of-the-way short stories collections and novels. This entry, though, is about the miracles of interlibrary loan.

Zimmer's first published solo prose work was a chapbook called Woman of the Elfmounds (1979). After an unusual several week delay, the U of A library got it for me just the other day, and I quickly saw what took so long. Basically, they had to import it from Canada -- the University of Alberta, to be precise).

Well, Elfmounds was published by Triskell Press in a series edited by the Canadian paragon of urban fantasy, Charles de Lint. According to the front matter, Woman was actually Triskell's first book in that series. Nice little volume, actually, with Celtic illustrations -- the story tells of a culture class between culture clash between barbaric man and highly civilized elves, the Tuatha Dé Danann or elves of Irish folklore, although they're never named as such in the text. The Tolkien influence is strong; one of the Elves references sailing off to the lands of the "Ever-Living," and it's worth noting that the group of writers associated with Zimmer, the Greyhaven writers that included Zimmer's sister Marion Zimmer Bradley, named their communal house Greyhaven in honor of Tolkien. The Tolkien-esque theme of mortality and immortality also plays a significant role in this chapbook, not to mention his other writings. Woman ends with a powerful image of a semi-delusional men chasing an image of his own death.

Also interesting in this Triskell Press chapbook is its introduction by Evangeline Walton -- perhaps more noteworthy in showing Walton's friendship with Zimmer (she also did a blurb for The Dark Border) than anything she actually says, which like most intros by other authors is more courtesy than illuminating. Since the U of A actually has her papers -- like Barbara Kingsolver, Walton was a long-time Tucson resident -- I may have found another avenue for potential information on Zimmer and other Greyhaven writers. It might fulfil an idle day of library research, anyway.

But back to Zimmer.

Eighteen years after the Woman of the Elfmounds chapook, Zimmer revised it for publication in Elf Magic, a 1997 collection of stories edited by Martin H. Greenburg. I'd originally thought, before reading the Triskell version, that this later revision belonged to the Dark Border corpus -- the hero's name, Conn Mac Cathla, has a similar structure to names in A Gathering of Heroes. The Triskell version, however, convinced me otherwise. While the name is suggestive, the Elves in both Woman of the Elfmounds stories lack the same qualities as his Dark Border Elves -- no references to "elf-shock" and so forth, although the elves' special antagonism with wolves remains.

Zimmer's revisions are themselves focused only on style and length. Remaining the same is the plot and the special inventions (names, items, spellings) remain exactly the same. 

For the most part, I actually like the prose better in the original version, but the revised version generally had well-chosen deletions. Some of those excisions may have been been editorial demands by Greenburg for Zimmer to meet a maximum wordcount, and some were usual -- for example, Zimmer removed all but one reference to "Druids," and I'm not sure why. More importantly, though, Zimmer excised the section concerning the Elves' motivation in meeting Conn Mac Cathla, creating more uncertainty about the Elves and giving greater credence to the claims by Conn's tribe about them -- just enough, in fact, that the reader shares Conn's hesitation as he's caught between two worlds, heightening the tragedy of the ending.

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