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     Volume 4 Issue 43 | April 22, 2005 |

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Book Review

A Good Dose of History


In the fifth century, Huns and Romans vied for power in Europe, making subjects and slaves of all in their paths, including, according to Joan Schweighardt in Gudrun's Tapestry, the Burgundian Thuets, a tribe to which the novel's heroine, a chieftain's daughter, Gudrun, belongs.

Gudrun, who lives among the Huns with the spiritual presence of her dead Frankish lover, introduces herself as a Thuet "valkyria [valkyrie] with the power to alter events." Nordic gods and other supernatural creatures had been present in the Thuets' daily life at Worms. The story of the mistletoe hitting Balder through the connivance of Loke [Loki] was one that Gudrun related frequently to her silent, innocent youngest brother, Guthorm -- sadly without its moral striking home. Gudrun had had trouble understanding how the Romans could believe in other gods since her gods created the world. Gudrun asked one of her older brothers when she noticed a Roman soldier praying to what her brother said was a Roman god:

"But how is it possible that our gods created the world for man to live in it?"
This disturbed her:
"But the thought of the Roman gods looking down from Valhalla, mingling with our own gods, or perhaps warring with them, began to frighten me."
But she made a place for it in her mind so that she can later understand when her only friend, a Christian, talks about her forgiving god.

Well before her journey to reach the Huns, Gudrun's lover Sigrun had wanted to produce an adequate bride price for her. Following the path of a dwarf dragon, Sigrun found a cache of the gods' gold and a Wodan-forged, cursed, but all-powerful sword. Carrying the cursed gold and sword, Sigrun ran into another self-styled valkyrie, Brunhild, with whom he formed a tragic alliance. When Guthorm, persuaded by his big Loke-like brother (who had taken possession of the cursed sword as part of Guthrun's bride price) that he's just playing a game, hurls a real sword at Sigrun, Sigrun retaliates instinctively and just as fatally. After the death of her lover and favorite brother, Gudrun falls into a trance. When she recovers she takes it upon herself to present the sword to the person in the world most deserving of its curse, Attila.

While most of Gudrun's plan goes less than smoothly, Attila is pleased with the sword, which, for a time, appears to make him invincible.

When Attila's fortunes begin to change, he decides to marry the person who had brought him so much military success, his prisoner Gudrun. This puts Gudrun right where she wants -- alone in the dark with the detested, most cruel monster who is also responsible for the death of her remaining brothers.

Gudrun's Tapestry flows gracefully from present to past instead of leaving glaring cliffhangers to mark each transition. Yet the reader is eager to see where each step in Gudrun's journey will lead. Dealing with Nordic legend as part of life leads the author occasionally to use a mystical or mythical reality instead of rigidly scientific explanations for events -- like Gudrun's sight. This gives Gudrun's Tapestry a poetic beauty. The tapestry of the title is 25 stitched frames depicting the major events in Gudrun's pre-Attilan life. Love and self-sacrifice are twin themes of the tapestry as well as being Gudrun's own heroic attributes.

Not being an expert in the Norse Eddas or the Huns, my pleasure in reading Gudrun's Tapestry was unclouded by worries about accuracy and anchronism.

That Attila was said to have died of a nosebleed on his wedding night, but here dies of poison, seems well within the realm of the possible, as does the leg-up Gudrun gives to the future Germanic usurper Odoacer.

Good triumphs over evil. The Burgundian Thuets survive with the help of the Franks, and, as we know, the Thuets' remaining enemy, the Romans, will face their own downfall in a few years.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2005