Jane Lindskold’s Legends Walking

Lindskold-Legends WalkingJane Lindskold has followed up Changer with Legends Walking, which opens a few weeks after Changer closes. The same characters appear, many in expanded roles, new athanor characters participate, and the story takes on added complexity as several plot lines develop.

For those who have not read Changer, the athanor are immortal beings who have shown up in myth and legend throughout ages past: unicorns, werewolves, sasquatch, fauns, satyrs (all known among the athanor as the theriomorphs) and, in human form, many of the gods and heroes of ancient legends and even history. There are many athanor and they take many forms, which means the following may be confusing, but I will do my best. The Changer is possibly the oldest of the athanor; his memory goes back millions of years, and he has an almost unlimited repertoire of shapes. He is also the character who weaves these various plot lines together.

In one story line, Changer’s daughter, the coyote pup Shahrazad, is being taken to Frank MacDonald’s ranch to be socialized with other athanor (yes, that’s Old MacDonald, also known as St. Francis of Assisi). There she becomes intimately involved in Louhi Maki’s escape from her confinement (she had been transformed into a small white mouse with pink eyes at the end of Changer – Shahrazad’s doing, although that fact is unknown to the rest of the athanor). The chase leads back to Arthur Pendragon’s hacienda in Albuquerque (yes, that Arthur Pendragon). Louhi, one of the villains of Changer, believes she is the Changer’s unacknowledged daughter and resents him and Shahrazad quite a bit; the development of the relationship between Louhi and Shahrazad, under these circumstances, is a bonus.

Arthur, meanwhile, has his hands full: Tommy Thunderburst, rising rock star and current incarnation of Dionysus, Orpheus, and Elvis, has decided that the fauns and satyrs (some of the non-human form athanor, the theriomorphs) would be the ideal backup singers and dancers for the tour promoting his new album, Pan. The sasquatches, yeti, pookas, and other theriomorph athanor all want concert tickets. Since Arthur has devoted most of his time in the past hundred years or so safeguarding the secret existence of the athanor, you can imagine his reaction.

In the third major plotline, Eddie Zagano, who has played Enkidu to Arthur’s Gilgamesh for milennia, takes a vacation, heading for Nigeria in the company of his good friend, Anson A. Kridd, whose identities include Anansi the Spider and Eshu, Yoruba messenger god. There is serious trouble in Nigeria: smallpox, believed extinct, has broken out in the city of Monamona – Eddie and Anson’s destination for this trip. The epidemic turns out to be the work of a power-hungry madman who has been culturing and disseminating smallpox and perhaps other diseases, and who, among other things, has made the mistake of capturing Katsuhiro Oba, the Swift Impetuous Male of Japanese mythology, who had journeyed to Nigera to meet with Kridd and Dakar Agadez (whose local history has been as the god of war and iron – and currently patron of taxi drivers — Ogun) to negotiate an oil deal that will provide Japan with a reliable source of energy and, Kridd hopes, will help pull Nigeria out of its current difficulties and provide some stability for that very important African nation. They are joined by Percy Omomomo (Shango, god of the lightning); the mysterious woman, Oya, whose name is that of the Yoruba goddess of the wind, and who is more than a little reticent about her true identity; and a human woman, Aduke, who has lost her baby to the epidemic. These stories, woven together as they are, provide enough suspense and surprises to keep almost anyone happy.

Linskold has a gift for characterization, and this is a character-driven book. Imagine trying to make real people out of a shape-changer who is millions of years old (and consequently, has not even been human for most of his life), a six-month-old coyote pup, Merlin, a wind elemental, a whole raft of African gods and goddesses, a sasquatch who, with her husband, runs a mink farm in Oregon, and a sex-crazed satyr who works as a computer programmer (he telecommutes). She does it. Changer is not an easy person: he is undemonstrative, abrupt, demanding, but he knows exactly who and what he is and possesses a vast understanding, which shows itself as a kind of compassion that is all too easily misunderstood: Life is not an easy business, and you are not doing anyone any favors by overprotecting them. His actions in raising Shahrazad, his attitude toward Louhi, his growing relationship with Vera Tso (Athena), all grow out of this fundamental understanding.

The author seems also to have done her homework on the African portions of the story. She provides a wealth of detail about the life and customs of the Yoruba, and gives us a real feel, on a personal level, of the costs of modernization, including the conflicts between western values and priorities and the traditional cultures on which they have been imposed. Fairly early in the book, Oya says to Aduke, who has been to college and is herself the daughter of highly westernized parents, “ . . . [Y]ou don’t understand that being a mother is more than wombing a child. You had only one mother yourself.” So much for the Western idea of the nuclear family.

This is a rich and sometimes very funny, sometimes very serious book. If you have read Changer, you will want to read Legends Walking. If you haven’t read Changer, I suggest you read it first, because it will help a lot in figuring out who is who, and in setting the stage for a good read.

(Avon Eos, 1999)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

You may e-mail him, but include a reference to Green Man Review so you don’t get deleted with the spam.