Randy Lee Eickhoff,
The Sorrows
(Forge, 2000)

Randy Lee Eickhoff continues his retelling of grand Irish lore in The Sorrows, the third in a series following The Feast and The Raid. Once again, he has managed to capture the earthy, magical flair of the ancient Celts in their grandest settings.

The book is actually a collection of three stories, each set in very different periods of Ireland's mythological cycle. The first is "The Fate of the Children of Tuirenn," the only of the three I hadn't read in some form before. And, I confess, it gave me a different perspective on some of the great figures of Irish legends. Both the hero, Lugh, and the king, Nuada, come across as less than noble in some passages here. The physician Diancecht slaughters his son, Miacht, because the boy grew up to be the better healer. And the Tuatha de Danann -- who would become the gods and heroes of later generations of Celts -- are presented as somewhat cowardly in the face of their vile Fomorian foes.

This section includes the great battle and defeat of the Fomorians, led by the evil Balor. The major protagonists of the story, however, are actually a trio of disgraced brothers, Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba. They are charged by Lugh with a series of quests after the battle for ignobly murdering the hero's defenseless father, and so they set out to various parts of the world to gain by any means several magical treasures. And, while they acquit themselves well in typically heroic Irish fashion, it's disturbing that several quests are achieved by deceit and murder, despite friendly welcomes in many foreign kingdoms.

The second and third stories are more familiar: "The Fate of the Children of Lir" tells how a second wife's jealousy of her stepchildren leads to a magical transformation and a 900-year curse. (Eickhoff deserves credit here for providing two endings to this story; one is the better known conclusion involving the coming of Christianity to Ireland, while the other is the original, but rarely seen ending which predates that occurrence.) "The Exile of the Sons of Usnech" is perhaps Ireland's greatest tragedy -- the beautiful Deirdre, her love for the handsome warrior Naisi, the loyalty of Naisi's brothers Ardan and Ainle, the jealousy of the Ulster king Conchobor and the duping of the mighty Fergus. The story ends in deceit, betrayal and death, and Ulster's famed Red Branch warriors are forever divided because of it.

The book is liberally sprinkled with end note references -- easily ignored, but a valuable resource for readers not intimately familiar with the specifics of Irish legends. I skipped over them while reading the tales, but then spent a pleasant while just paging through the end notes for details on various stories not told in this book.

Eickhoff is a welcome addition to the ranks of modern Irish storytellers. His earthy, witty translation of these sagas is a joy to read, and should appeal to fans of Irish culture as well as those who like a good adventure and/or tragedy. I hope we'll see more from Eickhoff soon!

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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