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December 1999
 
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The Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Pratt

Fantasy literature of the late 1990s does not often articulate political issues—indeed, the absence of politics from the fantasy of manners genre (such as A College of Magic by Caroline Stevermer) seems to scream for a classically Marxist examination: "Who owns the means of production?" - but this was not always the case.

Fletcher Pratt's 1948 novel, The Well of the Unicorn deals with political turmoil in the land of Dalarna. Evicted from his family lands, Airar Alverson joins the band of the Iron Ring, a rebellion against the oppressive rule of the Vulkings. His leadership during a successful ambush helps build a popular following among a variety of ethnic and economic groups (mercenaries, free-fishers, pirates, city-folk, and forest dwellers). Airar's rag-tag bunch acts with guerrilla flexibility against the totalitarian Vulkings. Intrigues and battles are interwoven with political discussions and reflections on the consequences of using magic (also a theme in Pratt's The Blue Star). The Well of the Unicorn is anything but dry: Pratt's characters (and their sex lives) are very different from Tolkien's rather idealized world.

The Well of the Unicorn was first published under the pseudonym of George U. Fletcher (one of my copies was inscribed by Pratt to his friend Doc Clark, "To John Disgusting Clark, George Urinaborg Fletcher"). The setting closely parallels medieval Denmark and, interestingly enough, much of Dalarna's "real-world" history can be found in The Third King (1950), Pratt's study of 14th-century King Valdemar IV Atterdag. The Well of the Unicorn has been reprinted several times and is well worth reading in any form.

—Henry Wessells

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