I emerged from my writing cave after two weeks to find this view waiting for me:
I seriously need to get out more.
When three strange women (one black, one brown, one white) arrive at a wayside inn called The Gaff and Slasher, Karsh, the innkeeper, takes them in against his better judgment. Two of the women—Lal and Nyateneri—are searching for their former mentor, a powerful magician who has summoned them to save him from destruction and worse at the hands of his most powerful pupil, Arshadin. The third, Lukassa, is a village girl whom Lal resurrected after she drowned and whose childhood love, Tikat, pursues the three, intent on regaining her. When these blighted souls converge on the inn, life there is forever changed as powerful forces wage ungodly battle for possession of the magician’s soul.
I first came across The Innkeeper’s Song ten years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite fantasy novels. Beagle is a masterful stylist, his narrative full of wonderful, unexpected metaphors and fierce musicality. There is poetry in this book few writers can manage, full of things left unsaid and subtle inferences. All of this comes together to weave a compelling story that is impossible to put down.
Told from various points of view, The Innkeeper’s Song is a multi-faceted fantasy, not just one tale, but several woven together seamlessly, flowing in and out of stream-of-consciousness. Hard to fathom, I know, but it works brilliantly because Beagle is a master of characterization. There is never any doubt who is talking, even when the differences are subtle.
In elegant yet simple prose, Beagle plumbs the nature of life, death and love by illuminating the shifting relationships among the various major and minor players (including an irascible shape-changing fox) who people this affecting tale.
Favorite Line/Image: My name is Karsh. I am not a bad man.
I am not a particularly good one, either, though honest enough in my trade. Nor am I at all brave—if I were, I would be some kind of soldier or sailor. And if I could write even such a song as that nonsense about those three women which someone has put my name to, why, then I would be a songwriter, a bard, since I would certainly be fit for nothing else. But what I am fit for is what I am, everything I am. Karsh the innkeeper. Fat Karsh.
They talk foolishness about me now, since those women were here. Since that song. Now I am all mystery, a man from nowhere; now I am indeed supposed to have been a soldier, to have traveled the world, seen terrible things, done terrible things, changed my name and my life to hide from my past. Foolishness. I am Karsh the innkeeper, like my father, like his father, and the only other country I have ever seen is the farmland around Sharan-Zek, where I was born. But I have lived here for almost forty years, and run the Gaff and Slasher for thirty, and they know that, every one of them. Foolishness.
Bottom Line: A fantasy masterpiece that has withstood the test of time, The Innkeeper’s Song is not to be missed.
Coming up next: The Peculiar by Stephen Bachman
Today is not a good day.
Today is my birthday, a special day I shared with my twin brother, Jonathan, for nineteen glorious years.
Jon and I were almost freakishly close. We had our own language, our own special way of speaking without words. He kept me grounded and protected me from everyone who would do me harm, including myself.
When my brother left this earth, he took the best parts of me with him.
And I’m left with nothing but this tedious grief. I can’t stand the monotony of it, every second dragging into the next. Is this why people sing of love, friends, and family? So that we will pin our happiness on something as fragile as a human life?
(Yet somehow, I managed to do just that five years after Jon died, only to lose my fiancé and my child in the same week. But that is a story for another time. If I write about it now, I’ll sink so deep into the abyss that I’ll be lost for weeks.)
It shames me to admit it, but I’m more angry than sad. Angry with the man who murdered Jon for money he didn’t have, angry that God could be so cruel to let me live when my twin is dead. But mostly angry with my brother who — for the first and only time in his life — left me behind and went to a place where I could not follow. (At least, not yet.)
And after all these years, I’m still trying to remember how to breathe, still learning how to live without him. And I never feel this more keenly than on the day we entered this world together.
So you see, today is not a good day.
Since his death, I’ve spent most of my life just trying to be the person he loved. I’ve tried to face the world with humor, honesty, and humility. I’ve tried to do well and good at the same time. And I’ve tried every day to let my friends and family know just how much I love them.
It’s my way of honoring my brother, trying to be worthy of being known as “Jon’s sister,” living in the hope that one day I will see him again on the other side.
I know this grief isn’t good for me. I know I should try to find some kind of peace or comfort, but I can’t.
They’ve lost it, lost it,
and their children
will never even wish for it—
and I am afraid
that the whole tribe’s in trouble,
the whole tribe is lost—
because the sun keeps rising
and these days
My language is dying, and I’m afraid.
Afraid that the world will forget us. That we will forget ourselves. I’m afraid that once we’ve lost our language, we’ll lose our culture. Our identity.
I’m also angry that Fate – and the American government – was less kind to us than it should have been.
But mostly, I’m just sad. Choctaw is my first language. The language of my ancestors. It calls up images of home and family. To lose that connection…well, it breaks my heart to think about it.
We’re not alone. The vast majority of the estimated 300 languages spoken in North American before the arrival of Christopher Columbus are endangered or extinct. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) lists Choctaw as vulnerable. At last count, there are only about 9500 people fluent in it, and the number is dwindling fast.
One question keeps rolling around in my mind: “How did we get here?”
Less than a century ago, Choctaw code talkers helped the US military to victory during WWI. Now, it seems that we’re destined for extinction.
How the fuck did this happen?
I’m not giving up the ghost without a fight. And thankfully, I’m not alone. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has started offering language classes online.
So to do my part, starting this week I’ll be posting Choctaw stories and legends – as told to me by my grandfather – along with a Choctaw Word of the Day.
Will posting these stories and words prevent my language from sliding into obscurity? Probably not.
But, at least I’ll be doing my part to ensure that we are not forgotten.