Vergil and Med Fantasy
The last time we met Avram Davidson we were visiting Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania in the company of Doctor Eszterhazy. True, we met him briefly, too briefly, when we crossed paths with Marco Polo, and that was it.
Avram Davidson was an excellent writer, one whose style was his and his alone. He is responsible for some of the most memorable short stories in the history of the genre – like the one in which he describes the life-cycle of bicycles, from larval paperclips to wire coat-hangers, to full bicycles.
It feels deeply unjust that Davidson and his works have somehow fallen off the public’s radar. Granted, Gollancz reprinted some of his best works as cheap ebooks, and Robert Silverberg and Grania Davis curated a collection of his short stories a few years back that should still be available, but it looks like there’s a few of us that remember.
Case in point, a lengthy piece I read a few days back, in which the writer offered a somewhat supercilious overview of what’s sometimes called Med-Fantasy or Mediterranean fantasy, and having name-checked all the obvious authors, walked off stage, so to speak, having failed to mention Avram Davidson’s books about Vergil: The Phoenix and the Mirror (1969), Vergil in Averno (1987) and The Scarlet Fig (2005).
Set in a world in which classical mythical creatures are real, the novels cast poet Virgil in the role of a magus and enchanter, in line with some apocryphal writings and Medieval beliefs. And, featuring as it does, among other things, a quest and a travel to Cyprus, the first book in the series should be hailed as Mediterranean fantasy indeed, and having been published in 1969, as one of the founding texts of the genre.
Only problem – the guy who wrote the piece I was reading did not mention Avram Davidson or his books. He probably never knew about the author nor the stories.
Davidson’s been removed from our canon, and the availability of his texts is worthless if the reading public does not know about him.
The same seem to go with many other old authors, especially those that were “too different” from what at the time was the standard of fantasy fiction: their works are still generally available. but nobody talks about them.
Which is really a crime.
We’ll try and do something about it here in Karavansara.
If you are looking for Mediterranean fantasy, or just plain old good, erudite and eccentric fantasy, check out The Phoenix and the Mirror.
You will thank me later.