Every Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.
This week’s subject is “Bards”:
Ah, the bard. The oft-mocked D&D class, at least until Patrick Rothfuss made him badass (see below). But the bard has a noble history in fantasy, from the folktales of Thomas the Rhymer to Brave Sir Robin’s edible minstrels. Two of my earliest fantasy reads focused on bards, Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle-master of Hed and Anne McCaffrey’s “Harper Hall” trilogy, but in the 30+ years since I’ve read them, I’ve forgotten much of what was written. So here are some other memorable entertainers.
Feldegast — The Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings
We begin, as always, with David Eddings. But this time we’re jumping to his second series, “The Malloreon”. This itinerant entertainer won the heart of the Nadrak woman Vella a as the Belgarion and his company travelled through Mallorea, sharing naughty stories and bawdy songs in a brogue that annoyed Belgarath, as well as magical feats of juggling. Turns out there was more to his magic than just dexterity — Feldegast was the ugly dwarf magician Beldin in disguise.
Kvothe— The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Really, could I do a list of bards and not include Kvothe? He’s cited as the inspiration behind the bard class in 5th Edition D&D, fer chrissakes! He was able to wow the crowds at the Aeolian, earning his talent pipes performing the difficult Lay of Sir Savien Traliard with one broken string on his lute. He was also an accomplished magician, an expert swordsman and apparently quite talented in the sack as well. At least the way he tells it. We’ll find out for sure whenever Doors of Stone comes out.
Beedle the Bard — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
The author of a series of beloved wizarding fairy tales, Beedle the Bard lived in the 15th Century and wrote such stories as The Wizard and the Hopping Pot and Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump, which were collected in the Tales of Beedle the Bard. His most important story, however, was The Tale of the Three Brothers, the moralistic fable that also revealed the existence of the Deathly Hallows, the three magical gifts given by Death to the titular brothers. Hermione Granger used the book to help Harry discover the Hallows in order to defeat Voldemort.
Nameless Bard— A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
No, I don’t mean Marillion, he was a dick, even if he shares the name with my favorite band. Nope, I’m talking about the bard who went into the throne room of newly crowned King Joffrey and sang about the pig that slew King Robert, alluding to Cersei, calling to question the legitimacy of his throne. He sang truth to power and paid the price by having his tongue cut out. Okay, in the TV series it is Marillion, but I’m just focusing on books, so I’ll give a shout out to this nameless tavern singer who was one of the first to stand up to Joffrey’s tyranny, and one of the first to feel his wrath.
Lord Valentine — Lord Valentine’s Castle
by Robert Silverberg
Is he a bard? He’s a travelling entertainer, so that’s kind of a bard. No matter, I love the book so I say he is. Valentine is the deposed Coronal of Majipoor, a distant fantasy planet populated by a variety of aliens. When he is left in the distant city of Pidruid without his memory, he joins a band of itinerant acrobats and jugglers, travelling across Majipoor in an attempt to regain his memory, and then his throne.