Volkhavaar Critical Essays

Tanith Lee


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In the tradition of high fantasy, Volkhavaar portrays the struggle between good and evil on a grand scale. The book begins with a proverb: “Love is a ring, and a ring has no end.” This proverb suggests the cyclical nature of this cosmic struggle. Although evil may triumph momentarily, good eventually will win out. On the other hand, evil cannot be completely destroyed by good and will return. In the final lines of the book, Tanith Lee returns to the image of a ring: “For day follows night, night day; then comes day again. The apples ripen, the apples fall, the birds peck them; seeds drop from their beaks—and somewhere new apple trees begin to grow. That is how it is, a circle, a ring. And the world turns.” As night follows day, and as decay and death lead to new birth, good will follow evil, and evil will follow good, in an eternal cycle.

Although this tale is about particular people—Shaina, Dasyel, Kernik—in a particular time and place, it takes on the characteristics of myth, becoming part of the recurring story of the struggle between good and evil. This mythic struggle is played out on a smaller scale within other episodes in the book. The play that Kernik stages portrays the rescue of a beautiful young girl from a dragon by a handsome hero. He stages it on two occasions, once in Shaina’s village, and again for the duke. This mythic struggle is also apparent when the young man from Svatza destroys Kernik’s power by hurtling himself and Takerna’s idol off a cliff.

Volkhavaar also illustrates the power of language and naming. In the beginning of the story, the people of Shaina’s village are afraid to speak Barbayat’s name because doing so would give her power. In addition, Kernik gained his power by renaming the god Sovan Tovannazit and by speaking Takerna’s name. When Kernik gains his greatest power from Takerna by sacrificing himself, he receives his new name, Volkhavaar. Shaina ultimately gains power over Kernik and changes the nature of Takerna by giving the god his original name.