Madouc: Lyonesse is Pythonesque

Jack Vance Lyonesse 1. Suldrun's Garden 2. The Green Pearl 3. Madouc fantasy book reviewsfantasy book reviews Jack Vance Lyonesse 3. MadoucMadouc by Jack Vance

Well, here’s the finale of Jack Vance’s Lyonesse, and I’m sorry to see it end. This novel was about Madouc, the changeling princess of Lyonesse, and her interactions with Casmir, Sollace, Aillas, Dhrun, Shimrod, Throbius, Sir Pom-Pom, Umphred, Twisk, et al.

Madouc maintains the quality of this excellent trilogy — it’s filled with clever prose, charming characters, and lots of imagination. Jack Vance’s careful planning produced a tight plot and Madouc wrapped up all the loose ends from Suldrun’s Garden and The Green Pearl.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lyonesse, but it may not be for everyone. It occurs to me that these books are a lot like Monty Python. They’re fast-paced, weird, silly, outrageous, and (somehow) smart.

I’ll give you one example: the magician Murgen realizes he’s being spied on by a man who has transformed himself into a moth, so he sends Rylf to follow the moth and find out who it is. The moth flies away and joins a thousand other moths who are flying around a flame. As Rylf watches, one of the moths eventually drops down, turns into a man, and walks into an inn. But Rylf doesn’t take note of the man because, as he figures, the laws of probability suggest that the particular moth he’s after must still be flying around the flame.

If you don’t find that hilarious, you may not enjoy Lyonesse as much as I did.

Part of what I love most about Jack Vance’s humor is that he doesn’t tell us it’s funny. It’s a completely deadpan delivery. So, when King Throbius (King of the Fairies) assures Madouc that “fairies are as tolerant as they are sympathetic,” there’s no narrator or character who explains to Madouc (and, thereby, us) that this does not mean that fairies are tolerant. I have never read any author who does this as beautifully as Jack Vance does, and I loved it.

I’ve said it twice before, so I won’t say again that Lyonesse ought to be reprinted.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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2 comments

  1. Excellent review. You’ve pretty succinctly summed up one of my favorite points about Vance, i.e. his droll understated humor. As you point out, this may not be to everyone’s taste, but I can’t get enough of it.

  2. Me, too, Steven!

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