Thursday, February 19, 2015

Peregrine: Secundus, by Avram Davidson

I recently re-read Peregrine: Secundus, the second book in what seems like an unfinished series by science fiction and fantasy writer Avram Davidson.  Davidson, who seems to have been a classically-educated eccentric, judging by what he chose to write and what he actually produced, delights me.  The blurb on the Berkley Fantasy edition (above, 1981) is for once fairly accurate, "[a] journey to the lighter side of the Dark Ages," though it understates the comedic effects that Davidson achieves.  He knew a tremendous amount about late antiquity and poured it all in to this book, creating a world which is not quite our own past, one  with dozens of small-time Roman Emperors, a plethora of  fiercely competing Christian sects, and such remnants of the pagan past as the Sphinx outwitted by Theseus, now down on her luck.

Is this  book worth your efforts to hunt it (and its prequel Peregrine: Primus) up?

Some samples:

(A member of the Weefolk explains their situation.)

A Weewoman was speaking now, speaking soft and low: he listened. Och, the Gotha push down the Roma and the Roma push down the Kelta And the Kelta push down the Weefolk; thu knowedd this; thu knowedd the Weefolk be we. Indeed they were wee, though scarcely hop-o'-my-thumb wee; Perry realized that if one had to live in holes in the rock, it was a great help to be wee… We study, och, what arts we may, here in the greeny wood… We ferm not for why would we ferm? So they 'ould take our crops, och, and ot last, our lahnd? If we didt ought in metal 'ork, 'ould they not see and smell the forge-smoke and hear the clong of metal, metal-on? We gather the small fruits o' the soil, the thucket, the forest and the fens… The scronnel herbs ond the rune-thorns, the rune- roots ond the magic mosses… and we 'ork and that sort of wise… We spin spells, we weave webs, we moil in magic; these be our arts, such are our crops, in this wise 'lone do we ferm and delve and forge… 
(Christian sectaries react to apparent pagan magic.)
The Neognostic Heterodox Heretical Church thought of almost everything.
What was left of the congregation by this time (a part it had already fled) uttered sundry small anathemas (major anathemas, as was well known, could be issued only by members of the episcopate or by lower clergy under special episcopal license), made the sign of the cross in every conceivable manner, and in some few cases stooped to pick pebbles which they tossed up as a sort of surrogate stoning (indeed, only fairly recently, a sect in Syria had advanced the doctrine that stoning itself might be considered in itself a Sacrament; but they had all been stoned); these congregants may or may not have heard of the law of gravity under that or any other name but there were, very, very shortly, irritated little yelps in various regional accents, of, "Dawn't play the fool, now, I a'n't no fooking eretic, bounce another o' them off me pate and I'll have at yez, see if I dawn't;" and very similar disaffected outcries.
(The hero rides through a forest.)
Forests of oak, forests of pine, oak for goodly furnitures and the keels and timbers and the great ribs of ships, oak for wine barrels. Pine for tar and planks for said ships and pitch to caulk them with. Pine for resin to pour into the oak barrels to keep the air from the wine and so keep the wine from souring. Pine for kindling for a quick flame; oak for the great glowing beads of coal like lumps of amber, beds of glowing coals to last the night and Roast the ox. A many generation of pine planks would come and go in any one boat and ship, but the oak timbers were forever. Well, almost forever: when the oak went, the vessels went, too. For quickness and haste in rapid service: pine. For endurance, oak.
(One of the augurs makes a mistake.) 
 Very bad form, and enough to have softened the hard heart even of Cato of the Elder, whose coarse comment that "he did not understand how two augurs could pass each other without bursting out laughing," had never been forgiven by them: and never would.

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