The Newsletter of
Writing a Third Pathby Evelyn Perry
Copyright © 1997 by Evelyn Perry
Dance of the Snow Dragon, by Eileen Kernaghan.
Readers of CLF and of Puck will appreciate the liquid prose
of Eileen Kernaghan's Dance of the Snow Dragon, a fantasy novel
which opens with this gentle reminder: No one can know whether the world
is fantastic or real, or whether there is a difference between dreaming
and living (Jorge Luis Borges). With such a suggestive reminder held
between its covers, the novel promises to--and does--encircle the
shattering of the perception of reality. But most importantly, it begins
to describe how we might read this fantastic dream. For Dance of the
Snow Dragon should be read as a series of concentric circles which,
like the dance featured in the novel, work independently--and
cooperatively with--each other in order to communicate one essential
Kernaghan's novel encircles three books and many stories: the story
of the dance, the story of a world without empirical hierarchy, but most
ostensibly, the story of the heroic journey of Sangay Tenzing, an
eighteenth century Bhutan boy who ultimately chooses a third path, a
high and dangerous road over many mountains, into unknown lands. In Book
One, "The White Leopard Dzong," Sangay (and the reader) learns what he
must know as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, to write, to read the scriptures,
to recite the litany, and the Steps of the Eightfold Path (the longer,
slower, safer Middle Way). But though he learns much, Sangay finds
himself unable to embrace some of the more arduous requirements of
monastic life, namely a sense of selflessness and the letting go of the
need for worldly acclaim. Sangay's work begins to suffer, and he becomes
restless and unhappy at the Dzong. He is sent to meditate upon his
future and, in the depths of a pitch-black cave, is given a vision, an
intricate dance of gods and demons that forces him to question for the
first time the difference between truth and illusion. Book One closes
with Sangay's decision to embark on a mystical journey to Shambhala, the
Book Two, "The Road to Shambhala," further questions the boundaries
between the real and the fantastic. Sangay meets his guide, a sorceress
named Jatsang, who delights and exhausts him with her magic, and who
challenges Sangay to persevere--thus teaching him to place the object of
his quest before his physical and worldly needs. It is in Book Two that
Sangay begins to take on a more heroic persona, and he is rewarded by
gifts of knowledge and by a surrendering to the belief in the transient
and illusory nature of all that he is and all that surrounds him.
Sangay not only accepts his world as illusion, but begins to shape
and to change that illusion in "The Dance of the Snow Dragon," Book Three
of the novel and easily the most exciting. It is in Book Three that
Sangay meets his greatest challenge, To dream a dance and make it
real...when all the dancers and musicians of Shambhala lay in a charmed
sleep from which the dance alone could save them...
Sangay Tenzing's heroic journey is ultimately an inward one. The
knowledge that he gains has been with him all along, he simply needed to
believe. Easier said than done. For the intricate unfolding of that
truth, pointing the way from simplicity to complexity is an exact
reversal of what Sangay understands to be the truth of the dance, The
dance is the mandala and the mandala is the dance. I and the dance and
the universe are one. It is this clockwise-counterclockwise truth, this
endless cycle of death and birth, the circle of time and the patterns of
all the circling worlds in immeasurable space, that permeates
Kernaghan's Dance of the Snow Dragon, finally enveloping the author--who
is, like Sangay, the choreographer of a universal dance--and the
reader--who cooperates in the making of meaning.
In a world--fictional or otherwise (for, as we have seen, what does it matter?)--where all is one, Sangay's heroic journey into the heart of all things, and the wisdom that he gains, belongs to all of us. That Kernaghan succeeds in describing such elaborate and complex simplicity shows her, too, as a hero. In the end, the experience of reading Dance of the Snow Dragon is synonymous with its essential truth; it is not only worth reading a first time, but worth promptly reading again.
|The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.|
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