Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Twilight Companions

I may have remarked sometime before that I spent many a rainy wednesday in the local library when I was young. I didn't read books but went through the collection of comics and quickly shifted to the adult section when I was about 10.

One of the comics that made the biggest impression on me was what I thought to be a two part series about two youngsters in the Middle Ages hooking up with a lone knight and wondering into some half fantasy world with kobolds and dreadful monsters. It was pretty dark. The style reminded me of the Passengers of the Wind.

I did try a few times to remember what the name of the series had been but got confused with les Tours de Bois-Maury by Hermann, or de Torens van Schemerwoude in Dutch, which also features a knight and some youngsters. Not a bad series at all of course, but not what I had been looking for.

Then I was in the comic shop on Saturday and I had the insight to just ask the proprietor, who immediately knew what I was talking about. I had been right about the style because it was the same artist: Francois Bourgeon. The series is called The Twilight Companions (De Gezellen van de Schemering in Dutch, no wonder I got confused!) and actually consisted of four books. So much the better!

The series is now sold in a complete edition
The books are still brilliant and reading it had a profound sobering effect on me. The story, set in Hundred Years War France, is of a former mercenary captain trying to make amends for his cruel past. He is accompanied by two survivors, a boy and a girl, he rescues and serve him in return.

There´s lots of bickering between the two kids and all characters have their flaws. But Bourgeon manages to make us care about them: foolish, cowardly or vengeful. Their ultimate fate struck a very powerful chord with me and is on my mind very much still. Likewise, very few of the supporting characters are solely evil, but rather twisted, wounded, corrupted or victims of fate.

The peasants and townsfolk are not hapless spectators or victims, but often willing accomplices and fickle. Most of them are cruel but pitiful survivors of a pretty hopeless age. That fits pretty well with my world view, but given that this is what I read when I was 10 or 11, who knows to what extent these books shaped it?

The main theme in all these books is revenge and redemption. Most characters have devils from their past, and must make difficult choices to accept new ones. The fact that often they have little influence on those decisions, or the outcomes, makes it  a tragic story.

The drawings are stunning. Facial expressions are rich and subtle, the monsters terrifying, the countryside, towns and castles atmospheric. The many 'extra' images, for example the owl in one of the later books, are subplots that effectively convey the atmosphere of the story.

Now I've found them back, Mariotte, Anicet and the knight will forever be my Twilight Companions.

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