Tad Williams is a man of a brilliance I can’t touch. I can write passingly well, I confess that much, but he creates, and does it on a level that is, I think, rare. Lots of people write, many of those tell excellent stories. Tad brings his people and his worlds to breathing life. I don’t know how he does it. There’s magic to it, in an older and more terrible sense of the word than legerdemain and Disney. Alchemy- he turns the lead of letter, syllable and phrase into a golden reality, one accessible only by turning pages and hoping he gives you more once you’ve done so.

It’s that quality that has me excited and more than a little anxious about one of his upcoming projects. He is collaborating with Paul Storey on a novel, written by Tad (er, obviously), illustrated with paintings by Paul, based on Wagner’s Ring cycle. Tad and Paul have me a bit frightened over it. It holds much promise, and more than a little threat, because I know already what Tad can do. Coupling his talent with what Paul is offering… well.

The paintings make me uncomfortable. Paul is a fantastic artist, with the ability to evoke more than any typical “ooh isn’t that a lovely picture” feelings with his work. Tad has been posting on his website sneak peeks of the Ring-based paintings, and I’ve been keeping tabs on them, and trying to articulate what it is they do to me. I’m not entirely sure I’ve managed to do so, but then again, I suspect it may never get clearer than this.

They’re disturbing. I mean that they disturb the equilibrium and give me pause with a little shiver of discomfort. I can’t say it’s a bad thing, but it is a more than a bit off-putting. Think of dropping a stone in a pond: everything moves and shifts and looks different for a minute. The sky’s reflection is broken and scattered, and for a moment you can sort of see what’s lurking under the surface, whether you want to or not. The paintings do this to me. They are very dreamlike in their composition: forms and figures are distorted, stretched-seeming, with muted, muddled colours that here and there are marked with splashes of something more vivid and arresting. His subjects’ expressions are withdrawn, resigned, caught in the story, I suspect, and aware of it. There are subtle references everywhere to things I think I ought to recognise but can’t quite grasp: the linked limbs, for example, especially in Rhine Maidens (there is a symmetry to their linked arms that suggests something to my hindbrain that I cannot catch hold of); the wheel formed by the stretched bodies in The Voyage of Siegfried. I can touch the edges of these things, but I can’t quite grasp them, not awake. The paintings touch something that stays asleep and dreaming once I wake up, and that part of me, I think, recognises the undercurrents and swims in them, whereas the rest of me is floundering on the surface. Is there a significance to the single edged cuff in The Bride? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I want to find out– but then again, I desperately want to know.

These paintings are haunting me.

Just like Tad’s characters.

The two of them… they’ve got me worried. And very, very thrilled.