Review of Samuel R. Delaney's Tales of Nevèrÿon

by Graham Sadtler

Samuel Delany’s novel, Tales of Neveryon , is a wonderful collection of fantasy stories set in civilization that is somewhat mysterious, but full of magic and surprise. Delany’s work explores such ideas as the power of language, sexual and social behavior, and the influence of money. Tales of Neveryon combines adventure and intrigue with intellectual stimulus to provide a great work of writing.

The book includes "The Tale of Gorgik," which is the story of a boy who is taken into slavery. Gorgik is freed by a rich noblewoman who fancies him and is given a second chance [subject unclear]. Gorgik must adapt to a life of freedom and soon changes his naive view of the world. In the end[,] he becomes like the very slave traders who captured him and makes his fortune in shady and illegal dealings. "The Tale of Old Venn" is about a wise old woman’s influence on a little girl. Venn teaches Norema that the world is not always as it seems and how such things as language and money influence culture. "The Tale of Small Sarg" is about a prince who is taken as a slave and eventually bought by Gorgik. In this tale, it is shown how sex can replace love for some people. "The Tale of Potters and Dragons" is about two young peoples’ first adventure out of their home town, and their quest for wealth.

The first story, "The Tale of Gorgik" explores the issue of slavery literally and metaphorically. Gorgik is [a] slave in the literal sense until he is freed by the Vizerine Myrgot. Slavery changes Gorgik. It teaches him to survive at any cost, but it also takes away his compassion for other people. When he is freed he can not [one word] truly love anybody because he only understands owner and property as the relationship between people [he only understands the relationship between people as one of owner and property]. He is a slave to his beliefs. The Vizerine is also a slave. Even though she is a rich Page 2 noblewoman she cannot do whatever she wants. She is confined by the expectations of her social class. She must look and behave as they [unclear antecedent] want her to. Also she must bow down to those of higher rank. Myrgot also [too early repetition of this word] cannot love a person. If she marries someone[,] her title and lands would go to the male because of the customs of her culture. This is why she only has sexual relations with slaves such as Gorgik. [Good] Many people are confined like Gorgik and Myrgot by the customs of their culture.

"The Tale of Old Venn" shows the power of language and the influence money can have on a culture. In the story, Venn tells Norema about the Ruvlyn culture and how language affects their society. In the Ruvlyn language, unlike most other languages, the same word is used for both the male and female genitalia. This causes the gap between genders to be smaller than those in other cultures. The men and women are more equal. They are more at ease with their sexuality. On some special occasions[,] they even switch roles as the men dress up as women and the women dress as men. Venn also talks about the influence that money has on the Ruvlyn. As the Ruvlyn change from a bartering system to a currency system, their social structure changes. The men become the handlers of money. The women compete with each other to marry a man with money instead of living in harmony with a man that can hunt. This change causes the Ruvlyn to lose very important cultural values and customs that used to form the binds of the tribe. [Why is this significant?]

"The Tale of Small Sar"g shows how some people try to use sex to fill the hole where love is missing and talks about homosexuality [subject unclear]. Gorgik purchases Sarg as a slave so he can have sexual relations with him. Gorgik was a former slave himself and was purchased by Myrgot so she could have sexual relations with him. Gorgik does not Page 3 understand love because no one has shown him love. He still wears the slave collar when he engages in sexual activity even though he is a free man. This symbolizes how he is not free to love. He can only possess, and this is what he does with Sarg. The relationship between Sarg and Gorgik also brings up the issue of homosexuality. Gorgik does not necessarily seem to be a homosexual. He has relations with women as well. Gorgik simply does not care who the person is. He only wants the body so he can fulfill his needs. This story is very relevant to today’s society where sex is seen everywhere and homosexuality is a major controversy. Delany’s comments on these subjects provoke interesting thoughts. [rather vague; elaborate]

In "The Tale of Potters and Dragons," the woman warrior, Raven, tells the creation myth of her culture. In the myth, God, who is feminine, creates two women. The second woman offends God and is turned into a man as punishment. This story is very contrary to most peoples’ beliefs. In the Christian religion, God is masculine. Also, man was created first. It is evident from the story that Raven tells that her culture is a matriarchy. Also the fact that she carries a sword shows the gender roles of her society. [How so? Needs further explanation.] In this tale, Delany shows how different cultures have different myths and stories and how these myths affect their culture.

Delany’s novel is overall a good book, but information about the setting and backgrounds of the different peoples of Neveryon is somewhat lacking. There are many places in the story where it is unclear as to where the different cities are located and to what country they belong. Norema is apparently from an island far away from Neveryon, but Delany does not say exactly where. Raven is from a matriarchy, but Delany does not Page 4 say where exactly she is from or tell much about this matriarchy. The fact that the book is told in several interlocking stories also adds to the confusion about where and when the events take place. Delany could have provided more background information for his settings or at least provided a map of the different places.

Tales of Neveryon deals with a wide range of social and ethical issues. The novel is extremely well written and is worth reading. The stories it contains are so fascinating because they contain the adventure and magic seen in most fantasy works plus deeper ideas for the reader to ponder. I would recommend it to all fans of fantasy.

[Final comments: Graham, this is a strong review for the most part (good, concise renditions of plot and the beginnings of a strong analysis); however, I do feel that you could have gone further in your analyses of the individual tales. Although quite good, these analyses feel somewhat abrupt. Still, I enjoyed reading this review and I'm sure the class will too.]