BRIAN FROUD'S FAERIELANDS:
SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
There is a long tradition in SF, dating back at least as far as John W. Campbell, of taking a piece of art and writing a story based on it. In the early 1990s, fantasy artist Brian Froud decided to paint about fifty pictures and invite four fantasy authors to write stories based on the paintings which spoke to them. The first author was Charles de Lint, whose The Wild Wood was published in Spring of 1994. The second title was Patricia A. McKillip's Something Rich and Strange. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled before the two final books were published, although Terri Windling's The Wood Wife has since been published, sans Brian Froud artwork.
McKillip's tale is a rambling story of Megan and Jonah, lovers living in a coastal Oregon town where Jonah runs a small craft shop and Megan paints. The world of faerie interferes in their life when Megan begins to see things in her paintings which she knows she did not include and when Jonah finds himself attracted to a strange singer who appears to be the sister of Adam Fin, an artist whose jewelry Jonah has recently begun to carry on consignment.
Where the world of Faerie is involved, the logic of humanity can go out the window, and McKillip's characters continuously fail to act and react in a rational manner, perhaps coming to an height when Jonah admits his obsession with the singer Nereis to Megan who shows no signs of jealousy and only a modicum of annoyance. However, if the characters seriously begin to question the odd events surrounding them, the irrationality of Faerie vanishes and the work ceases to be an examination of that strange realm.
For McKillip, the realm of Faerie does not lie beneath the hill, as in so many Celtic tales, but rather beneath the waves. The sea is the home to Adam and Nereis, as well as their mother, Dory. Megan is drawn to the sea and has been since a child, the only images she is interested in painting are seascapes, which she sells at Jonah's art store. When McKillip does talk about the sea, either as a narrator or through her characters, she does so in a particularly poetic and lyrical way, adding to the ocean's power and moving it more into the realm of Otherness than it normally would have.
Froud's inspirational artwork appears in beautiful glossy prints throughout the novel. While his art does help evoke the setting, it has very little to do with the story McKillip has chosen to tell. However, as Froud explains in the introduction, the author had complete control over her part of the project. The reader can either try to figure out how Froud's images inspired McKillip or, perhaps more enjoyably, simply take Froud's imagery for itself. Although Froud's style tends to be redundant, his paintings contain enough mythic qualities and Other aspects to keep them interesting.
As a plot or character-driven tale, Something Rich and Strange does not succeed. The characters do not react in realistic or rational ways to the strange events which face them at every tuirn. The plot wanders through the 200 pages, occasionally coming together, but more often going in its own direction. Where Something Rich and Strange does succeed is the wonderfully evocative language McKillip has elected to use in relating her story which also captures the unreal sense of Brian Froud's paintings which inspired the novel.