A Forgotten Realm: James P. Blaylock

These days, “urban fantasy” is all the rage. From Anita Blake and Carrie Vaugn, to (yes) Stephanie Meyer and local Maggie Steifvater, writing modern fantasy, set in the here and now, usually in our own world complete with internet porn and fossil fuel eating cars. But what folks often forget is that urban fantasy isn’t new, and I intend to showcase two authors that exemplify that. This month, I’ll be covering the forgotten realms of James P. Blaylock.

My first introduction to Blaylock was with his 1991 novel, The Paper Grail. I was working at the North Stafford library at the time, and the title intrigued me. In reflection, it probably isn’t the ground breaking work that I remember – everything new when you’re in high school will seem like its a ground breaking, never before appreciated work. The grail in question is, of course, The Grail, but this one is an origami cup who, depending on how its folded, gives its owner fantastical powers.

Blaylock’s appeal is that he start with such an ordinary version of our world, and so quickly devolves into a story where the magic can – and does – happen. Perhaps not the best known of his contemporaries (I’ll touch on another of the original urban fantasy authors another month), I would still say he’s worth the read if you can find a copy at your local library or used bookstore. Other books that I recall leaving a good impression with me were The Last Coin, a story about the dangers surrounding the collection of all 30 of Judas’ coins; Winter Tides, a haunting ghost story; and All The Bells on Earth, my favorite, which starts out with a pickled bluebird of happiness and just dives into the fantastical from there.

As it turns out, Blaylock appears to still be publishing as of 2008, but take my word for it and check out some of his older works. The magic is there even if it isn’t cast by incantation or read from a grimoire. Of course, it’s only in recalling the plots of each of these books that I realize the heavy Christian element (Holy Grail, coins of Judas, demons, etc.), but I hope you’ll still take these from an open perspective (and believe me, I hardly qualify as a religious zealot). While some of his novels stem from this source material, the stories they tell are still fun to read.