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Giant Bones
Peter S. Beagle
New American Library Books, 272 pages

Giant Bones
Peter S. Beagle
Born in New York in 1939, Peter S. Beagle graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1959. His works include the novels A Fine and Private Place, The Last Unicorn and The Folk of the Air, as well as non-fiction books and the screenplay for the animated film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The Last Unicorn became an animated film in 1982. He lives in Davis, California.

Peter S. Beagle Website
The Last Unicorn Review

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stephen M. Davis

Peter S. Beagle succeeds with Giant Bones in offering six novellas of high quality. The author admits that he doesn't write "epic trilogies culminating with elves, dwarves, wizards, and men standing at Armageddon and waving magic swords and assorted enchanted jewelry in hopeless defiance of this or that Dark (or anyway Grubby) Lord."

Because of this, the reader will be pleasantly surprised at some of the twists and turns in these stories. They don't follow any formula: I don't remember any Dark Riders anywhere in the book, nor will the reader find any dragons here. There are evil creatures lurking in these pages, but none of them look like they got put together by the tossing of twelve-sided dice.

Instead, Mr. Beagle has written six stories here with a deft hand and a light touch. The stories are tied together only by being part of his Innkeeper's Song world, so Mr. Beagle has plenty of room to work with.

In the opening piece, "The Last Song of Sirit Byar," the bard Sirit Byar and his companion, Mircha Del, return to the home of the madwoman Jailly Doura to try to cure her of her madness. There is no light in the house and Mircha Del, the story's narrator, can sense Jailly Doura's presence without seeing her:

"Close to, she didn't smell like a distant river at all, but like any old hill woman, like my father. She smelled lifelong tired, lifelong dirty, she smelled of clothes sweated in and slept in until they've just died, you understand me? I know that smell, I was born and raised to it, and I'd smell just like that now if I hadn't run off with Sirit Byar. What chilled my bowels was the notion that a wealthy madwoman, prowling a grand house among terrified servants, should smell like home."
Mr. Beagle demonstrates here how a better-than-average writer can take a descriptive passage and tell the reader as much about the narrator as he does about the person being described.

Things are rarely what they seem in these stories, and the reader won't find himself saying "Well, I saw that coming."

In "Chousi-Wai's Story," for instance, an unwilling bride-to-be is assisted by a singing fish in a palace pond. The price he asks for his help? Not the first thing the reader would consider.

"The Magician of Karakosk" gives Mr. Beagle a chance to show what a talented writer can do with a world of magic. His magician in this story, a country bumpkin named Lanak, shows that understanding the words of magic, and understanding the principles, are two different things entirely.

As Lanak says to the queen, "In the country, spells and glamours are the very least of magic--understanding, becoming what you understand, that is all of it, truly. My queen, you need a wizard who will understand the world of queens, ministers, captains, campaigns. Forgive me, I am not that man."

Which is not to say that Lanak isn't every bit a match for the queen, who discovers this too late.

The title work of this collection, "Giant Bones," is told by a harried farmer trying to tend both a pregnant farm animal and his own sleepless son, who is nagging him for a story.

The story told is meant to explain to the son why he need not worry growing up short, and involves the boy's Grandfather Selsim. Selsim apparently spent eighteen years among the last of the giants and, at the end, he found himself the final participant in an ancient Giant ritual--one which has left Selsim's offspring taller than average men.

The giants in "Giant Bones" are like most of the characters in Mr. Beagle's book: they are fantasy characters who go past the stereotypes most authors limit themselves to in the fantasy genre.

Giant Bones is well worth reading. Now, if I could just find The Innkeeper's Song...

Copyright © 1997 by Stephen M. Davis

Steve is faculty member in the English department at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, S.C. He holds a master's in English Literature from Clemson University. He was voted by his high school class as Most Likely to Become a Young Curmudgeon.

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