Nostalgia Lane #1: Ladyhawke by Joan D Vinge

In the late 1980s I came across a book that really enchanted me. It made a strong and lasting impression on my adolescent mind and I’m sure it played no small part in forging an everlasting love for the fantasy genre. The book was Ladyhawke and its author was Joan D Vinge. So, more than twenty years on, I thought I would revisit it and see if the magic was still there.

Back then, should anybody mention the film Ladyhawke, I would be compelled to say “Ah, but you should read the book, it is much better” or “The film just doesn’t do the book justice”. On re-read I find that these comments are at best ill-judged (at worst idiotic) as I found the book to be an expansion on the screenplay. The difference then was my imagination created vivid settings and characters that no film would ever match, hence the reasons I thought the two so different.

I’m sure that you can already tell that the experience second time around was not quite as fulfilling, but such is the curse of nostalgia. But I still found Ladyhawke to be a fun read and the core elements of the story are just as excellent as ever. For those unfamiliar with the story, here is  brief synopsis:

No one ever escapes the dungeons of Aquila… But Philippe Gaston did. The thief known as the Mouse escaped through the cracks where the rats couldn’t run. Running for his life and pursued by the Bishop’s guards, he was saved by the sword-arm of the dark rider on a great black horse… Who was this fearsome warrior, silhouetted against the darkening skyline with the strange and beautiful hunting hawk on his fist… And why did he so fear the black fall of night? Together they must journey towards a day of destiny… A day without light and a night without darkness, when the Bishop of Aquila must face the lovers he has cursed and the Evil One can claim his own…

And it is the curse laid upon the two lovers that made the book so special for me. The curse meant that he, Navarre, was by day a man, by night a wolf. It also meant that she, Isobelle, was by day a hawk, by night a woman. Never could they be together in human form, other than for a split second at dawn and dusk. I’m sure you will all agree that it is a great basis for a story, classic fantasy, and the pain, suffering and hopelessness of Navarre and Isobelle is brought clearly to the page by Vinge’s clever writing.


Picture: In 1982 Richard Donner produced a directed the film Ladyhawke, starring Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick.

Vinge, best known for her Hugo Award-winning novel The Snow Queen and its sequels, already had a fine pedigree in movie serialisations with Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – The Storybook (1983), The Dune Storybook (1984), Return to Oz (1985), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) and Lost in Space (1998) to her name. And she did a sound a thoroughly professional job with Ladyhawke. It is a poignant and moving novel, with a simplicity of narrative that is refreshing.

Did it read as well second time around? Not quite. Although still a very enjoyable story with a great plot it does read more like a screenplay than a story. I would still recommend it though, particularly to young adults and those who like a large slice of romance in their fantasy. As for me, Ladyhawke will always have a fond place on my bookshelf and in my heart.

On March 2, 2002, Vinge was severely injured in a car accident that left her with “minor but debilitating” brain damage that, along with her fibromyalgia, left her unable to write. She recovered to the point of being able to resume writing around the beginning of 2007. At the time of her accident in 2002, she had been working on a new, independent novel called Ladysmith, set in Bronze Age Europe; she resumed writing Ladysmith once she was able to begin writing again in 2007.

I’m pleased to say that Ladysmith will be available in paperback in November 2012.

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