The Fionavar Tapestry was one of the great reads of my high school years. It spoke to me in ways that Tolkien didn't and in a grand style that was very different than, say, George R.R. Martin's. Reading it again as an adult it holds up very well, but not without some problems.
'The Summer Tree', after some mythic foreshadowing, begins with five college students at the University of Toronto attending an after-term lecture by a famous and reclusive expert on Celtic culture. Dave Martyniuk is a loner who is slightly dismayed to see fellow law student Kevin Laine, and his sparkling personality, coming into the crowded lecture hall. With Kevin are Paul Schafer, Jennifer Lowell, and Kimberly Ford. It soon turns out that the lecturer is more than he appears and after some intense eye contact and reception-dodging he reveals that he and his associate are actually from the world of Fionavar - the center of the universe and the bright light that every other world reflects imperfectly. The five of them are invited to the High King's Jubilee and will be returned to their world with no time lost.
Of course the offer is too good to be true and the Five are drawn, one way or another, into the complicated, dangerous, and beautiful world of Fionavar.
Kay's writing is beautiful and he uses many narrative tricks that make the novel seem like a legend from the oral tradition. There is foreshadowing aplenty and myth-lovers will see the roots of many myths from the Nordic, Celtic, and Romantic traditions in these stories. Unfortunately, as you may have already guessed, there is no reference to mythology from other cultures - except maybe a bit of 'Arabian Nights' and the American plains - that can't be found in 'Bulfinch's'. This isn't really a problem until you think that the main conceit of this world is that it is the center of all things, so we're left with the implication that most if not all of the cultures of the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, India, the South Pacific and-and-and are all reflections or aberrations so imperfect they don't merit a place in main pattern of the Weaver's tapestry. That takes some of the enjoyment out of this 1980s fantasy trilogy.
Obviously, this was not Kay's intention. At worst this is the result of thoughtlessness. I won't blame him for it, especially as later books of his have drawn from a global and deeper historical perspective. I've written a lot and I'm just realizing I should write about the place of women in this universe, which in many ways is far less excusable than the above - next time!
This is a grand adventure story that doesn't flinch from having its characters take part in the darker elements of our folklore. Poor, benighted Jennifer has the worst of it (more on that in 'The Wandering Fire'), but the other characters suffer for a world they barely know and this continues as they become more entrenched in Fionavar. There are many other characters as well, archetypical fantasy types that refuse to be diminished because of their roles. This is a wonderful series and is a great, if flawed, beginning to Kay's mastery of the fantasy genre.
The Fionavar Tapestry
Next: 'The Wandering Fire'