The Innkeeper’s Song is unique in many ways. Beagle is noted for his ability to write fantasy fiction that is extremely realistic. Indeed, some of his works fit more into the category of Magical Realism than into pure fantasy fiction, and this novel seems to employ aspects of both. Although the events ostensibly occur in a magical world where wizards and other entities can command the natural elements with a single word or sentence, as in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, and other modern masters of fantasy, The Innkeeper’s Song is more realistic than fantastical. All the characters, aside from the fox and the wizards, are true to life. No other life-forms, such as the elves, dwarves, trolls, orcs, and goblins that are the mainstay of much fantasy fiction, appear in this work. The Innkeeper’s Song is, for the most part, a believable tale.
Another unique aspect of this book is Beagle’s use of first-person narrative. Many contemporary works of fantasy fiction employ the third-person, omniscient narrative point of view. This work is narrated by most of the major characters. Each chapter title is merely the name of one of the characters, and that character narrates the entire chapter from his or her own perspective. This narrative technique requires some adjustment on the readers part because he or she misses a single, unifying narrative voice, but the technique ultimately produces an intriguing composite picture of the tale. In this respect, The Innkeeper’s Song resembles some nonfantasy novels of the twentieth century, especially William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930).
The action in The Innkeeper’s Song is more limited than in many other pieces of fantasy fiction. In most works of fantasy, the reader expects arduous quests with plenty of martial confrontations along the way. Beagle’s book, again because of its strong realistic strain, deals more with characters psychological development through interpersonal conflict. A fine example is the relationship that blossoms between Lal and Nyateneri. At first, the two warriors are leery of each other, each seemingly jealous of the others relationship with the old wizard. As they travel together to confront Arshadin, though, they gain a healthy respect for each other and even share some meaningful romantic moments.