When the Nostalgia Glasses Come Off

When I started this blog, one of the books I cited as something I love was 1996’s The Golden Key – a collaboration piece written by Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliot. Amongst the many reasons I adored it was the rather innovative notion that magic could be wielded through the media of art – an idea that still seems rather unique today nearly two decades later. As I mentioned in my recent Stacking the Shelves post, I picked up a used copy to see how the book held up.

The result? Disappointment and this post. Spoilers for The Golden Key ahead.

That magic that I so loved initially?

Wow was there a ton of hand waving in this book. The book establishes early on that Gifted artists in the family can basically weave their will into their painting. For example, paint a plum (a symbol of loyalty) into a portrait and that person will be come more loyal, you get the idea. There is an extension of the magic however, that can run especially dark: mix up the right concoction and anything done to the painting will be reflected in real life. That is, slit a person’s throat in the painting and you’ll slit it in real life. Neat, huh? Well, at the very end of part I we know that the main character is planning something and the chapter and part ends with him apparently taking on an apprentice. Skip over to the first page of the next chapter/part and all of the sudden it’s 300 years later and the book casually implies that the characters has been body hopping to keep himself alive, his spirit animating the body of another.

You are forgiven if your response to this is “what the fuck?”

I get it, it’s fantasy and there are some conceits you just have to go with and accept. I clearly did back in the day, but nowadays I can’t help but feel this a giant cheat. How the hell do you paint a soul transferring bodies? It’s not even one of those things that falls apart if you think about it too hard, it falls apart if you think about it at all.

There are other issues that I’m having and I’m likely not going to finish my re-read and that’s quite honestly a shame. I genuinely wanted to fall in love with this book all over again. I genuinely wanted to be able to sing its praises. I genuinely wanted to have a desire to then move on and read the first (and what wound up being the only) in a prequel series set in the same world. Instead, I’m left with a sense of vague dissatisfaction and regret that I went here because I’ll never quite get that love back. And to be honest, it’s now making question whether I should go back and revisit other series I’ve loved in the past (thinking most notably C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy) because I don’t want to lose that love if it doesn’t hold up now. These are the books that gave me a love of the genre I still love today.

On the other hand, it can be interesting to see how your tastes or how you read has changed. There’s something to be said for that. It’s just that question of is it worth the potential cost of a warm memory being somewhat dimmed.

So this will be something I continue to grapple with going forward because I’m not sure there is a right answer for this. What about you though? Have you ever gone back that far? Were you glad you did or did you wish you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


2 thoughts on “When the Nostalgia Glasses Come Off

  1. Re-reading stuff you loved back in the day is always tricky business. I read Dracula every couple of years, and it’s never disappointed me yet. But by the same note, I refuse to touch Eragon with a 10-foot pole. I rather just keep my good memories of it. I guess you gotta know what you like as a reader now as compared to what the book does.

    • It was so long ago I just assumed it would hold up, especially since it ticked the box most important to me: the clever magic. I’ve just lost my tolerance for hand waving! I’m definitely not planning on going back for anything else right now for sure.

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