The Riders of the Sidhe
Champions of the Sidhe
Master of the Sidhe
by Kenneth C. Flint
Irish mythology is sort of a mess. Before the Christianity reached the island, literacy did not exist, so none of the pre-Christian legends and myths were ever transcribed while paganism was a going concern, unlike the mythology of the Greeks and the Romans. When Irish monks started recording the beliefs of their pagan forebears, it was through a distinctly Christian lens. The gods and monsters of Ireland were transformed, folded into a succession of invaders who colonized the island in prehistoric times. The former gods, now just another tribe of people, just happened to have immense magical powers, wondrous artifacts, and long lifespans. But when the ancestors of the living Irish arrived from Spain (again, this is mythology), the magical people retreated underground and slowly transformed into fairies, elves, and leprechauns.
Which is not to say that Irish myth lacks any of the fantasy and wonder of Greek or Roman myth. There are heroic warriors, magic swords and spears, perilous monsters, wizards and witches, epic battles and all the usual stuff. There’s an earthiness to the personalities of Irish myth that echoes the very human gods of the Greeks as well. The Dagda in particular is a character of great appetites, both carnal and gastronomic, as well as a fan of a good fart joke. So even though they are ostensibly gods, the Irish mythological characters lend themselves to being protagonists in a fantasy novel way more easily than Zeus or Horus might.
Which brings us to the trilogy on the table, which in later years would be called “The Sidhe Legends” but when published had no particular name, by Kenneth C. Flint. The three novels take Irish mythology as a springboard, telling the story of a young man named Lugh and his collection of allies, among them the Dagda, the Morrigan, Angus Og, and Mannanan Mac Lir, all the greats from the Tuath De Danaan, the tribe of godly beings from Irish myth. Against them are arrayed the army of the Fomor, the twisted force of evil in Irish myth, led by the cyclopean Balor of the Evil Eye, Lugh’s grandfather who can kill with a look. You could expect a typical post-Tolkien struggle between armies of valiant heroes and armies of monstrous villains, but inexplicably, Flint feels compelled to include an influence from a more cinematic source. The books, appearing yearly between 1984 and 1986, take a surprising amount of aesthetics and structure from the Star Wars movies.
As can be seen on the covers of the books, Lugh is a young blond guy in a white tunic with a shining sword. Balor, featured on the second and third covers, is a giant in black armor with a glowing red eye, a mix of Darth Vader, a Cylon, and Baron Karza. The familial connection between the big bad and the young hero, while a key component of the actual myths, still plays out within the book very much like Vader and Luke meeting for the first time in Empire. The Fomor, in mythology conceived of as twisted, monstrous creatures with only one leg or one arm or one eye, are presented in the novels as a technologically adept tribe, mutated by radiation perhaps, but with robotic servants, power boats, a huge fortress that looks like a skyscraper (complete with elevators which flummox the heroes), and Balor’s “evil eye” works like a laser beam. There’s an extended sequence with the heroes running around inside the Fomor’s Tower of Glass that is reminiscent of Luke, Han, and Leia in the Death Star.
The story follows loosely the mythical tale of the second Battle of Magh Tuireadh, following Lugh’s ascension from zero to hero, acquiring friends and allies, powers and responsibilities, along the way. Anyone familiar with the mythology will instantly recognize the layout of the land, the names of the characters, and the thrust of the narrative, but there are a lot of important differences, either along the lines of the technological acumen of the Fomor (which is never explained), or to fit things into the three-act structure of the Hero’s Journey as typified in those space pulp movies. For example, Lugh doesn’t trick the Sons of Tuireann into collecting the treasures and weapons needed to defeat the Fomor; he is handed them by his friend Mannanan Mac Lir the way Obi-Wan Kenobi gives Luke his lightsaber. In so doing, almost all the earthiness and complexity of the original Irish mythology is flattened or erased, and we are left with a more or less typical fantasy tale of good vs. evil.
On the plus side, there’s a cinematic quality to the whole thing. Balor is easy to envision, backed up by Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Micronauts. But there’s a formulaic quality that ultimately wears away at any good will the reader might have, especially as threats and situations repeat, and Lugh loses access to his “win everything” powers conveniently so that the plot may play out and we can get to three books, because only good fantasy stories have three parts, right?