The Hound and the Falcon [The Isle of Glass(1) The Golden Horn(2) The Hounds of God(3)] (1985(1)(2) 1986(3))
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Judith Tarr
Publication Date 1996
Format Leather-bound (225 x 145 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 688
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 9
No. of Reviews 2
Frontispiece/Illustrator Walter Velez
Original Details
Original Title The Isle of Glass(1) The Golden Horn(2) The Hounds of God(3)
Original Publisher Bluejay Books
Original Publication Year 1985(1)(2) 1986(3)
Comprises all the original volumes from the original trilogy: Isle of Glass, The Golden Horn, The Hounds of God.

The first two volumes of Tarr's "The Hound and the Falcon" trilogy introduced elf-born Brother Alf, whose desire to serve man and God is thwarted by the prejudice and politics of the medieval world. In this concluding book, Alf has reconciled himself to his human side sufficiently to start a family with his beloved Thea. But his refuge in Rhiyana, with its elven king, is invaded by the Inquisition's Hounds of God, who see Alf as inhuman and the country as heretical. After Thea and her twins are kidnapped, Alf traces them to Rome, where he ultimately confronts the Pope. For his efforts, he is once more exiled and now also excommunicated. This is the most conventional and, on a narrative level, most confusing entry in the trilogy. Still, like the others, it possesses a melancholy charm and a delicate touch for fantasy growing out of history.

One of the Challenges the fantasy writer must accept is how to explain away the apparent absence of supernatural phenomena in the contemporary world. One strategy is simply to ignore the need for explanation: to suggest that the supernatural is and always has been a part of existence and only uninformed skeptics refuse to recognize it. But many readers are informed skeptics and must be persuaded to "a willing suspension of disbelief." For them other strategies must be employed.

Some fantasies suggest that the supernatural reveals itself only to the gifted - or the accursed. Others, that the supernatural can occur to anyone but only in unusual circumstances. Anecdotal accounts may support such beliefs while avoiding the necessity for average readers to have encountered supernatural phenomena themselves. Another explanation is that the supernatural happens to everyone, but we ignore it or refuse to recognize it, or we forget or are forced to forget.

A third strategy is to suggest that magic or witchcraft or gods who walked among humans or demons who threatened their bodies or their souls once existed but no longer can be found in today's world. In a story titled The Magic Goes Away, Larry Niven suggested that there was only a limited amount of magic, and it all got used up. Some stories about the disappearance of magic center their plots around the reasons why the supernatural has disappeared; sometimes the characters struggle to bring it back, either for good or, more often, for evil. But usually the explanations are only the entering wedge of plausibility, and through the gap cascades a story of days when the world was newer and brighter and more wonderful, or more filled with terror and the consequences of being talented.

Such considerations lead us to the question of where to locate our fantasy. It can, of course, be situated in the future, when Clarke's Third Law, "a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," may remove all the limitations on what is possible. Examples of this are Fritz Leiber's Gather, Darkness, which is science fiction in the guise of fantasy, and Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, which seems like fantasy but eventually transforms itself into a kind of science fiction. Alternative to these kinds of transformations are futures in which humanity's latent psychic abilities become realized, or humanity encounters alien or godlike forces that seem supernatural and whose reality might support the creation of humanity's myths and legends.

But the future is the natural home for science fiction, and, as a consequence, fantasies set in the future tend to imply the possibility of rational explanations. In Judith Tarr's The Hound and the Falcon, for instance, the ability of The Elven Folk to perform magical feats, from telepathy through precognition to shapechanging, have all been encountered in science-fiction stories. But when they are encountered in science fiction, such abilities lead to questions about how they work and what are their limitations and their consequences, and whether anyone can learn to do them, and ultimately what will be their impact upon society and how will they be worked into the fabric of human social structures. The Hound and the Falcon, on the other hand, is about the impact of such abilities on human, and elven, relationships.

The more natural place for fantasy is the past. In some historical periods, most people believed in the everyday presence of the super natural; their faiths have been handed down to us in myth, legend, epic, and even contemporary records. Gilgamesh, The iliad, and The Odyssey are examples of these ancient times when gods ruled the world and determined the fates of individuals and of peoples; even today, myths and fairy tales, and their reliance on the supernatural, are part of everyone's childhood. Some historical fantasies are placed in Greek or Roman times, or even earlier, in Babylon or ancient Egypt, or in such prehistoric periods as those inhabited by Robert E. Howard's Conan and Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

But myth can be found in other cultures than those that led, in one way or another, to western civilization, and a number of authors have reinvigorated the themes of familiar fantasies by placing them among less well known cultures and their legends: ancient Ireland, for instance, or Wales, or farther afield, the far East, pre-Colombian America, or Africa. Another fertile area for fantasy is the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, that period when the first seeds of science were being planted but belief in magic and alchemy and witchcraft was still strong and when tensions were beginning to grow between mystical and rational ways to knowledge.

Judith Tan located The Hound and the Falcon during the late Middle Ages in the England of King Henry Coeur de Lion, the Constantinople of the Fourth Crusade, and the Rome of Pope Honorius III. More precisely, the time span for Tan's trilogy begins in the five years between Richard's ransom from Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI in 1194 and Richard's death in 1199, extends through the 1202-1204 Fourth Crusade that got diverted to conquering the wealthy city of Greek Orthodoxy, and ends with Honorius's papacy, 1216-1227. These were times when everyone believed in witches and the power of Satan; only a few years later, in 1233, Pope Gregory IX established the Inquisition to combat the heresies of the Albigenses.

Tan has adopted the unusual tactic of telling her story mostly from the viewpoint of the gifted, the immortal, the stunningly beautiful workers of magic. It is unusual and possibly even daring because The Elven Folk seem to have so many advantages over mere mortals. In normal circumstances, the reader might wonder what problems such superior beings might have. What Tan has done, however, is to place her magical characters in a time when everyone watched for the presence of Satanic influence, particularly the church, and the threat of being executed, even tortured and burned at the stake, hung over everyone, even those simply more talented or more fortunate than their neighbors.

Tan also places her protagonist, the beautiful and saintly Alf, in the position of doubting himself, an infant abandoned at a monastery, a monk who does not age, a person of great abilities who hesitates to use his talents for fear of endangering his soul, a magi who fears that he may not have a soul. . . . Through his torments the reader is allowed to share the conflict between magic and orthodoxy, between fantasy and the everyday world.

In the process, Tan allows the reader to participate in the world preceding and following the turn of the 13th century. As much as it is a fantasy novel, The Hound and the Falcon is a historical novel, bringing to life the reality of medieval England, its court, its villages, its castles, and its monasteries; Constantinople at the time of the Fourth Crusade and the terrible reality of medieval warfare and its aftermath, pillaging and rape and massacre; and the Rome of Pope Honorius IlL

The author of this vividly-realized trilogy is no ordinary fantasy writer. Born in 1955 in Augusta, Maine, Judith Tan earned a B.A. in Latin and English from Mount Holyoke, an M.A. in classics from Cambridge, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in medieval studies from Yale. She taught high school Latin in Auburn, Maine, from 1979-81 and became a full-time writer in 1985 with the publication of the first two parts of The Hound and the Falcon The Isle of Glass and The Golden Horn. The final novel, The Hounds of God, was published in 1986.

Since then Tan has published another trilogy, Arayan Rising, composed of The Hall of the Mountain King (1986), The Lady of Han Gilen (1987), and A Fall of Princes (1988). The Arrows of the Sun was published in 1993. Other books include Ars Magica (1989), Alamut (1989), A Wind in Cairo (1989), The Dagger and the Cross (1991), Lord of the Two Lands (1993), His Majesty's Elephant (1993), Spear of Heaven (1994), Throne of Isis (1994), and Pillar of Fire (1995). She has been a busy author.

One of her assets is that she has already done much of her research. "As a writer of fantasy," she has said, "I have found my academic training to be truly invaluable.... Good fantasy requires a knowledge of history, a feeling for language (I have classical and me dieval Latin, classical Greek, Old and Middle English, medieval and modern French, some German, and some Proven├žal).. .

While other fantasy writers are content to use the standard elements and characters of the eras about which they write and the traditional metaphors of fantasy, Tan has tried to evoke the times themselves. "I like writing fantasy," she wrote. "The challenge of historical fantasy is to adhere as closely as possible to historical events, while incorporating elements of fantasy, magical beings and powers, imaginary kingdoms, and straightforward alternate history."

All that sounds like a great deal of work, but Tan says, "The sheer, exhilarating fun of it is worth all the effort." The same might be said about reading The Hound and the Falcon. The densely textured language, the rich descriptions, the problems and situations of the characters, all require participation by the reader. But it is worth all the effort.

James Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas
The Isle of Glass Start Page: 5
The Golden Horn Start Page: 223
The Hounds of God Start Page: 429