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December 2003
 
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Watch the North Wind Rise (Seven Days in New Crete) by Robert Graves (1949)

THE POET Robert Graves wrote dozens of historical novels, but this is (as near as I can tell) his only venture into science-fantasy. It was apparently written to illustrate some of the theories presented in The White Goddess, his famous examination of "poetic myth."

The basic plot is standard 1930s pulp sf: contemporary man is transported into a future society, has adventures, falls in love, mucks things up, comes home. Much of the story is at potboiler level, and rather dated. But the hook is unique: Western Europe has reverted to a pre- (or post-) monotheistic culture centered on the worship of a Minoan-style triple goddess. Because nations no longer exist, war has become a formal contest between neighboring communities, and seems to be a mixture of rugby football and capture the flag. It's rough but nonlethal.

The protagonist, Edward Venn-Thomas, is "invoked" into this society by a group of witches, and of course falls in love with one of them. Some fairly standard plot complications follow, with decidedly nonstandard consequences. Along the way, we are treated to some lovely inventions: the Nonsense House, brutches, ghosts-but-not-really, ritual death and rebirth. In Chapter Sixteen, Venn-Thomas has a satisfying, and often funny, philosophical conversation with a would-be poet named Quant (probably Graves's stand-in). And I guarantee you will jump out of your chair at the end of Chapter Twenty-one.

The poignant and evocative ending, when Venn-Thomas returns to his wife with an unusual gift, is well worth the journey.

—J.M. Graetz

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