If a reader reads a fairytale once and never picks it up again, need has been satisfied. If a reader willingly reads a fairytale nineteen times, even in that many different versions, I think it’s because the need for that particular tale hasn’t been resolved, deep in the place where imagination and symbols, emotions and experience all speak the language of fantasy. — Patricia McKillip, from her Interview with Deborah J. Brannon
With great ambition comes great risk. Anyone can praise an incredibly detailed, lifelike portrait; but when that artist moves beyond the literal into the abstract, arguments abound as to whether it’s even art at all. The same holds true, I think, of books: the more an author pushes into the deeper areas of the fantastical, the more divergent the opinions of that author’s work become. And, to be entirely fair, there’s liable to be more than a few true misses along the way, spots where vision and skill didn’t quite meet in the middle.
Patricia McKillip is a perfect example. I almost missed finding her work at all, to be honest, because it was shelved in YA–and by the age of fourteen I considered YA to be “kid’s books”. I scrounged relentlessly through the adult shelves, much to the dismay of the librarians, who kept trying to gently lead me into the more “appropriate” section of the library.
At last, one of them–probably exasperated beyond endurance at that point–stuck The Forgotten Beasts of Eld into my hands, and a whole new world opened up in front of me. I’ve been a McKillip fan ever since; I squealed with delight on acquiring a copy of Od Magic last year, for example, and stayed up all night reading it–then re-read it the next day, to just as much delight.
Fast foward to today, and a review copy of Wonders of the Invisible World on my desktop. Now, a writer with one or two books under their belt can be comfortably reviewed with a relative minimum of backchecking, but McKillip has published well in excess of twenty novels at this point in her career, and over thirty short stories. Several of those have already been reviewed by Green Man Review; there’s even a special edition covering those reviews, to save you the trouble of searching them out individually.
So I took a stroll through the archives–and was astonished. Od Magic, which I had adored so much, got a “meh” from Elizabeth Vail. Cat Eldridge proffered a firm thumbs down to Fool’s Run. Robert Tilendis gives a mixed reaction to The Tower at Stony Run.
And yet, she’s a proclaimed “favorite at Green Man Review“–and for good reason. No matter that on occasion her vision and her writing don’t quite match up; McKillip herself admits to that in her interview with Deborah J. Brannon:
A novel is bigger than you are, it’s bulky, it’s hard to grasp, it threatens to fall over on you, it doesn’t go where you want it without shoves, prods, kicks and swearing. The joy might come when you’ve finally got the unwieldy thing where you want it. Or it might come much later, when you finally realize how close actually you came to doing what you set out to do. Most of the time, for me, it comes with the idea — the wonderful vision in my head, the moment of falling in love with the possibility of what I can create. After that it’s pretty much uphill all the way to the end, when I’m never quite certain I’ve actually gotten there, except that I don’t have anything left to say.
That approach is bound to leave gaps along the way, and as other reviewers here at Green Man have remarked, her “meh” work is still on par with the better offerings on the average bookstore shelf–it’s only “meh” by comparison with her best work. Up to bat at the moment is her latest offering, Wonders of the Invisible World; click here to see how it stacks up compared to previous works.