Monday, February 23, 2015

Thomas Burnett Swann

It is often the way in this business that you are vaguely aware of an author's name, perhaps from an article or the internet, or someone has mentioned them to you and then months or years later suddenly you find yourself with a superfluity of their books. This happened to me just after Christmas when these five books by Thomas Burnett Swann (1928-1976) came out of a box I was sorting and I thought, 'ah, I've been meaning to have a look at this chap'.

And one of the silver linings of being unwell for a little while is that I have had some time to read a bit. I am no expert on Swann and for far better coverage I would direct you to the pages that author of gay erotica and Roman historical novels Steven Saylor has put up in Swann's honour. Swann's Wiki page talks a little about Swann's forward thinking approach to sexuality in his books and, although I have so far only read The Lady of the Bees and the title story of The Dolphin and the Deep, there is a very enjoyable frisson all the way through both of these books. 

Swann's main setting across a lot of his books was his own version of classical history in which he chronicled the downfall of the non-human races and the beginning of human 'civilization'. Characters run around in a state of semi or complete nudity much of the time and at the centre of both of the books I have read are same-sex relationships far more real and stronger than the heterosexual love interest. In The Lady of the Bees the abiding relationship is between a faun called Sylvan and a young man Remus (of "Romulus and...."). In The Dolphin and the Deep, despite the fact that the wealthy Etruscan adventurer-protagonist is on a quest to find love in the shape of Circe, a mythical and dangerous beauty who disappeared a hundred years before, he is clearly most smitten throughout the long story with the Merboy Astyanix, his companion on the adventure.

Swann doesn't write in the conventional mode of a psychologically driven novel, his stories are 'Tales' in the old sense, a strong narrative pervades and you feel you might be reading a classical myth rather than a 1960s fantasy novel. But I am finding that the little effort required to adjust to reading a different style is much rewarded. 

Next I shall be reading Green Phoenix, partly because it is in the same trilogy as The Lady of the Bees but mainly because the artwork of George Barr both on the cover and inside the book promises plenty of lissome fey sprites and hunky centaurs!


J said...

Good to see you back in action! I have never read any Swann, either, but I have always loved the cover of THE DOLPHIN AND THE DEEP.

Anonymous said...

Love his stuff. Apparently he was a Professor of Literature at a college in Florida.


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