So, this past week, I’ve been going through Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m not done with it yet, but one of the things that has really struck me so far is how Rothfuss has treated music in his novel. My train of thought went on to consider which other fantasy novels have included music as a theme or a tool for storytelling, and I thought I’d share some other novels that I believe have handled it well.
Let’s start with Name of the Wind. The language Rothfuss uses to describe music is simple and elegant, and it conveys the feeling of music better than if he had used actual musical language (forte, major/minor, etc.). There is a brief section fairly early in the novel where the main character considers how to convey “wind turning a leaf” in music. I’ve never thought about what that would sound like, but when I read that passage, I can almost hear it. In showing characters’ responses to music, Rothfuss invites the reader to participate in the emotion and experience.The Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey also does a fabulous job conveying emotion through music. The main character (in the first two books) is extremely musically –gifted and –minded. Not only is music her solace during her trials, she experiences the world through a filter of music and expresses herself in the same way (so much so that her sort-of-telepathically-bonded animal companions learn to sing, both singly and in harmony). McCaffrey uses music to enrich an already-engaging world, and carries it off excellently.
I’m trying to think of one of Mercedes Lackey’s books that doesn’t incorporate music in one way or another, and I’m coming up blank… her fictional country Valdemar has four main ‘special’ groups of people: Heralds, Healers, Mages, and – you guessed it – Bards. Outside of Valdemar, she has an entire series dedicated to bards: her Bardic Voices series, starting with “The Lark and the Wren”. Lackey utilizes a little more music theory to convey her ideas to the reader, but it’s still easily accessible and very enjoyable.
This list wouldn’t be complete if I failed to mention the Chronicles of Pellinor by Alison Croggon – the overarching plot is literally (SPOILER!) a quest to complete a song that saves the world. Music and poetry are integral parts of the world and are strongly connected to magical ability; musical skill is highly valued in the culture. This is especially true of the main characters, who don’t feel as though they really belong anywhere, to the point that one of them un-ironically states, “Music is my home.” The last book in the series (The Singing) has some exquisitely eloquent descriptions of music and its effects on the characters.
I’m not a musician. I’m mostly unfamiliar with musical lingo and terminology. These books – among others – have managed to use music in such a way that even I, as ignorant as I am, can be swept away by the music. There were some close contenders to make this list, including “Seraphina” by Rachel Hartman, “The Chanters of Tremaris” series by Kate Constable, and “The Summoning” series by Robin D. Owens. If you have any more recommendations for me, please let me know in the comments!