THE LAST RAINBOW
by Parke Godwin
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
One of my favorite fantasy novels of recent times is Parke Godwin's wonderful examination of the Robin Hood legend, Sherwood, in which Godwin jettisoned much of the story's baggage, such as its associations with Prince John and Ivanhoe, and tried to find a more fitting context, the years immediately following the Norman Conquest. Sherwood's sequel, Robin and the King, may not have lived up to Sherwood's promise, but it was nearly as well written and enjoyable. Unfortunately, Godwin's portrayal of the story of Saint Patrick does not live up to the level of story-telling or writing in either of the other novels.
The Last Rainbow attempts to marry the legends of pre-Celtic faerie with the coming of Roman Christianity into the British islands. The faeries, or Prydn, are in decline, fewer of their numbers are being born each year to replace those who are killed. They, through their gern, Dorelei, look to Padrec, or Patrick, as a source of salvation. Unfortunately, Godwin has elected to invent an archaic form of speech for the faerie which makes their dialogue difficult to understand.
Godwin also misses several opportunities in The Last Rainbow. Patrick's period of enslavement in Ireland, when his faith and desire to return as an apostle were born is glossed over in a couple of sentences. Although Godwin shows a couple of Pelagian Christians, he fails to deal with the question of Celtic Christianity which was spreading from the North and which would have been more prevalent in the Pictish domains Patrick spends time in. Eventually, of course, Godwin turns his attention to the time Patrick spent in Ireland converting the Irish to Christianity.
Godwin does a great job of showing the flexibility of the Roman Church during this period. In general, Patrick is accepting of the practices of heathens and understands the importance of absorbing their practices into Christianity, a practice which was originated in England by Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Patrick grows into this acceptance, as Godwin shows in an early mission Patrick undertakes among the Venicones.
Although written after his two Arthurian novels, Firelord and Beloved Exile, The Last Rainbow is a prelude to those later novels. Godwin even goes so far to mention that one character is an ancestor of Guinevere's in a passage which seems out of place in the narrative of Saint Patrick.
Perhaps one of the reasons The Last Rainbow is not as compelling as the Robin Hood books is the fact that Godwin is dealing with a period which is all but lost to illiteracy. Little is known of the daily life of the late Romano-Celts, and so Godwin is forced to resort to a mixture of imagination and conjecture to create his society. In the Robin Hood books, Godwin was able to rely on a (relative) wealth of sources.
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