Monday, March 16, 2020

The Last Legend, by Matthew Hughes

★★★★★ A moving story with plenty of tension and excitement.

(Fantasy Adventure) When young Ardal’s parents die, his future prospects get worse and worse until he flees town with little more than the clothes on his back and a book of children’s stories. (11,226 words; Time: 37m)

Recommended By: πŸ‘STomaino+1 (Q&A)

"The Last Legend," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 03-04|20, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2020.143 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The steady nosedive of Ardal’s fortunes drives the first part of the story, and, to Ardal’s credit, he fights back as much as he can; he’s not a passive victim at all. It stirs a good bit of emotion—when Ardal hits Woznek on the head, we’re ready to cheer it.

It’s worth it to read the story again once we know how it ends because then we can see all the little details that set us up to expect what’s coming. What’s clever about this story is that it reads just fine the first time through when we don’t know what’s coming. That is, everyone’s actions still make sense independent of the ending.

By the end of the story, we know that Ardal is the first quarter of the wizard Albruithine’s spirit: the “best part” of it. From the rest of the story, we see he’s the fair-minded, young-spirited, inquisitive part of the wizard. All the best parts of youth. He’s a really nice guy, and it’s fun to root for him.

Once Ardal hits the road and meets Bitterfell, it becomes a different kind of story. Bitterfell is the suspicious, cautious, amoral part, and although the two are drawn together, Bitterfell instinctively knows the book will make an end of his independent identity, and he urges the young man to get rid of it. Bitterfell might seem like a part the wizard could do without, but without Bitterfell, the wizard would be taken advantage of too easily.

When Ardal flees into the woods, he only finds one track (of course) which leads him to just one destination—and Bitterfell follows right after—even though he’s immediately averse to the fenced house. It’s of some interest that neither ever tries to cross the fence again after entering. This story is full of one-way transitions.

The beastman Firosh is the third quarter of Albruithine’s spirit, and he’s clearly the wizard’s animal nature. This is a part we all have and generally don’t value much, but without it, none of us would be human, and occasionally it serves us when reason fails.

The nameless old man seems to be the reservoir of all of the wizard’s magic. The old man is helpless, but the magic sees to all of his needs, just as Firosh (and the fence) sees to his physical protection.

It is Ardal who drives the merger through his insistence on reading all the stories. He loves the stories—it brings him joy to read them—and the fact that they seem to be helping Firosh just makes it easier for him to continue in the face of Bitterfell’s objections.

Firosh goes into the merger having little say in the matter, whereas Bitterfell goes in complaining to the last, but Ardal enters it with joy, knowing this is what he always wanted to be.

Con: The drunk uncle and the bully are cardboard villains, although, sadly, not unrealistic ones.

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Matthew Hughes Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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