Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.
The Drawing of the Dark: A Novel (Del Rey Impact) (original 1979; edition 1999)
by Tim Powers (Author)
The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers (1979)
No current Talk conversations about this book.
Arthur inhabits body of aging Irish mercenary to save Vienna and the beer of the West from the Turks until it is time for the Fisher King to drink
Since I realized that I never reviewed what is probably my favorite Tim Powers novel, The Drawing of the Dark, I decided to rectify my appalling lack. A secret history, written in what has come to be Powers’ defining style, The Drawing of the Dark is a fusion of European myth with the events of the 1529 Siege of Vienna by Suleiman the Magnificent. In accord with my editorial policy, I am going to discuss what makes the book interesting, which may or may not accord with modern notions of “no spoilers”. Since this book is older than I am, I don’t care.
Written in 1979, The Drawing of the Dark is only Powers’ third novel, but there was a notable increase in polish compared to the two previous books, The Skies DIscrowned and An Epitaph in Rust. Unlike his approximate contemporary, Timothy Zahn, Powers usually takes about three years to write one of his novels. That is not pulp speed, but it does allow Powers to do some amazing things in his books that no other author does.
In this book, Powers creates a clash between rival civilizations that has a vaguely Spenglerian cyclicity and also manages to accept and invert Fraser’s The Golden Bough. Balder not only pre-figures Christ, he actively participated in making the future Christendom fertile ground.
Declare is sometimes talked about as Tim Powers’ first explicitly Catholic novel, but like The Lord of the Rings, the structure of the plot in The Drawing of the Dark follows the liturgical year. An example of why it takes Powers so long to write a book is that he makes a plot that not only follows the cycle of major feasts and saint days, but also matches up with secular history.
I assume that Powers took more liberties with history in The Drawing of the Dark than Declare, as the pivotal and unsubtly named Herzwestern Brewery, which the protagonist Brian Duffy is hired to protect, does not actually exist in Vienna, but the major structure of events in the siege is well-attested, and Powers deftly weaves his story around it. Duffy is hired in Venice by Aurelianus, a shifty old wizard, on Ash Wednesday. Duffy spends most of Lent traveling to Vienna, but he arrives before Easter, when the bock beer will be served at the Brewery.
On Holy Saturday, Duffy and Aurelianus travel to the Viennese underworld, following an attempt to destroy the Herzwestern brewery on Good Friday, when God is dead. Much like the period now known as ordinary time, there is an extended pause over the summer, and things pick up again about Michaelmas. The deadline for the eponymous drawing of the dark is All Hallow’s Eve. Nearly everything that happens in the book follows this pattern.
On the other hand, Brian Duffy is a pretty scandalous character, in the technical sense of Catholic theology. A boozy old soldier, Duffy sees things on his journey to Vienna that he might have attempted to pass off as the effects of delirium tremens if not for the repeated way in the which the pious recoil in horror from him and his otherworldly attendants. Duffy oversees a cremation, in an era in which cremation was generally not practiced by Christians. Indeed, on the very day that Aurelianus hires him, Ash Wednesday, a universal day of fasting and penance, Duffy is fresh from a banquet in Venice, and full of victuals and drink.
On the gripping hand, everything that happens to Duffy displays the touch of Providence. Which is not to say he leads a charmed life, precisely. Duffy repeatedly ends up where is supposed to be, whether he likes it or not. Since Duffy participates in the life of earlier heroes of the West such as Sigmund and Arthur, his life is rather more tragic than he would prefer.
I first read The Drawing of the Dark long before King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, but my appreciation for Powers’ work is deeply rooted in that psychological analysis of the masculine archetypes presented in that book. Aurelianus and Duffy very much are archetypes, so this isn’t really surprising, but Powers manages to write the two men in a way that resonates with me.
They instantiate the magician and the warrior, cleverness and action respectively, but at the same time they also seem like real men who somehow manage to be somewhat fond of each other despite frequently being at odds over how to approach a problem. Much like Tyrus and Casper in Galaxy’s Edge, they work best as a team, but sometimes that is difficult.
This book is also quite funny. Powers has an eye for the absurd and strange things that nonetheless actually happen, and he peppers the text with them. Sometimes we get such observations from Duffy’s black sense of humor, or Aurelianus’ waspish one, but we also get the narrator chiming in as well. That a book with such a deep and subtle crafting can also manage to be laugh out loud funny is a remarkable accomplishment.
The Drawing of the Dark has rewarded me everytime I’ve come back to it. I encourage anyone with a love of chanson de geste, adventure, or myth to give it a try. And hoist a beer for Brian Duffy, who saved that brewery.
Not quite what I was hoping (admittedly, I wanted more esoteric stuff on the ale itself!)
Fun, but a bit random. Did not seem to build upon itself very well.
The final battle was too long and quite similar to other stories, but the characters were interesting and likable, and their story was worth reading.
THE DRAWING OF THE DARK is Tim Powers at his most playful.
Sure, he drags a whole bevvy of archetypes on stage as is his wont, with Fisher Kings and wise men to the fore. But we also get drunk Vikings, enchanted swords, wild journeys with high magic through the mountains, more beer, and large-scale battle scenes.
The plot revolves around the secret history of Europe, and a brewery that conjures up the stuff that champions are made of. It's fantasy, Jim, but not as we know it.
It's early powers, so it's not as intricate or tight as his later work, and not as densely lyrical. But it's an awful lot of fun, especially after the Vikings turn up and the mayhem proper gets under way.
And did I mention that Merlin is in there too? And that he has a fondness for smoking dried snakes?
Powers invention is fully to the fore in this one, and also his way with a set piece, with the aforementioned trip through the mountains being a highlight, along with a descent deep into the bowels under the brewery with Merlin, where much that is hidden is revealed and the plot, and the beer, thickens.
A fantasy novel about beer, and Arthurian archetypes by one of the greatest novelists of our time? That'll do for me.
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (1)
"Combining the best of mythology and real history, Tim Powers takes you on a rollicking magical adventure that is both tense and hilarious. You won't read a more plausible explanation for Western civilization, or one that's half so much fun."--David Brin Brian Duffy, aging soldier of fortune, had been hired in Venice by a strange old man who called himself Aurelianus Ambrosius. He was supposed to go to Vienna and act as bouncer at an inn where the fabulous Herzwesten beer was brewed. That was clear enough. But why was he guided and guarded on the trip by creatures from the ancient legends? Why should he be attacked by ifrits and saved by mythical dwarfs? What was so important about the Herzwesten beer to the Fisher King--whoever he was? Why was Duffy plagued by visions of a sword and an arm rising from a lake? And what had a bunch of drunken, ancient Vikings to do with it all? Then there was no time for speculation as Vienna was besieged by the Turkish armies of Suleiman. Duffy found himself drawn into a war of desperation and magic. It was up to him to preserve the West until the drawing of the Dark.
No library descriptions found.
Amazon Kindle (0 editions)
Audible (0 editions)
CD Audiobook (0 editions)
Project Gutenberg (0 editions)
Google Books — Loading...
Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
Is this you?
Become a LibraryThing Author.