'I thought I knew what cold was, before cold stripped me bare of thought, then blinded me and froze my heart. I could not feel such cold and live; cold forced me into something other, something not quite human, who held a dream with bones of ice, and did not remember names, only what we once had been -- a flower on a vine, a fall of light.' -- Winter Rose, Patricia McKillip
Deborah Brannon here, with a special edition of Green Man Review.
Often, when I think of Patricia McKillip, this passage from Winter Rose shapes itself in my mind without any need for reference to the pages that bore it. This is for two reasons. One, it is because I performed this and the following passages in high school, unabashed before a roomful of strangers in regional forensics competitions. I'm not made for acting, I don't think, but I am made for telling fairy tales. So I did. When searching for texts to fit this bill in dramatic interpretation, McKillip's prose, with its oral rhythm and evocative imagery, was a natural choice.
The second reason, the deeper reason, is that this describes what McKillip's fiction meant to me. Oh, not literally, for this paragraph is full of loss and pain -- but in its transformative sense, in its crystallization of knowledge -- yes. I thought I knew what fantasy and science fiction novels were before I read Patricia McKillip, before she stripped me of my illusions and demonstrated to me how much more flexible and complex novels of those persuasion could be. And when I began to see again, I saw these genres in a richer light of possibility.
According to David Lunde, Patricia McKillip was born on a Leap Day in Salem, Oregon. She lived abroad in Germany and England as a girl, thanks to her father's career in the US Air Force. As an adult, she received both a B.A. and an M.A. from San Jose State. In 1973, along with finishing her Masters work, she published her first two novels. It was her third book, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, that first won her national acclaim -- it received the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1975. She has gone on to win a Locus Award (Harpist in the Wind, 1980), a Mythopoeic Award (Something Rich and Strange, 1995) and another World Fantasy Award (Ombria in Shadow, 2003). Considering the enchanting quality of her ongoing work (especially her latest novel The Bell at Sealey Head) I can't imagine that she's done yet!
You will find reviews of all the aforementioned works here today in this special edition dedicated to Patricia McKillip and her work. We also have an exclusive interview with McKillip herself, as well as a fine retrospective written by Robert M. Tilendis. The art of Kinuko Craft, often gracing the covers of McKillip's works, is also honored in this edition.
We hope you enjoy this meandering wander through Patricia McKillip's imagination as much as we enjoyed laying the path.
Hello, Mia Nutick, Film Editor and editor for this edition, bringing you two very special features by Deborah J. Brannon. First up is a compelling interview with McKillip herself -- Deborah's thoughtful questions brought forth some fascinating answers from this well-spoken author. 'A novel,' says McKillip '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.' Read the rest of this excellent piece here.
Next, Deborah receives an Excellence in Writing Award for her superb review of McKillip's newest novel, The Bell at Sealey Head. Deborah says that 'Patricia A. McKillip has succeeded in weaving a lovely novel, part mystery, part fairy tale, all flavored by a Jane Austen sensibility' and describes the novel as 'an enchanting waltz through the building of stories.' Just what we've all come to expect from McKillip!
Robert Tilendis also receives an Excellence in Writing Award for his essay Patricia A. McKillip -- The Ways We See Her. His essay is so lovely, in fact, that we're using it as the Book section for this issue, as his fine retrospective of the McKillip books we've reviewed here at Green Man is well worth a place on the front page! Thank you, Robert, for such a great look at McKillip's work.
Robert Tilendis here, with my thoughts on all of the works of Patricia McKillip that we've reviewed here at Green Man.
Patricia A. McKillip has been a favorite at Green Man Review for quite a while now -- for good reason. She is, if I may quote myself, an author who 'displays an unusually strong and consistent voice and has staked out a territory that I don't think anyone else has explored. She has entered the realm of 'literary' fantasy from her own direction, using her own means, and inhabits that place quite comfortably, without the evident artistry that so often seems self-conscious.' That's from my comments on The Tower at Stony Wood, which, while not one of McKillip's strongest works, in almost anyone else's canon would count as a definite plus. (Yes, even McKillip can come a cropper -- our reactions have not always been positive, as witness Cat Eldridge's comments on Fools Run and Elizabeth Vail's thoughts on Od Magic.)
But we love her because she is far more often good than otherwise (and those three books are the only ones that we have counted as 'less than,' and if she weren't so consistently captivating, we probably would not have been nearly so disappointed). For me, it all started with The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, which opened my eyes to a new kind of fantasy -- 'Two things struck me about it -- it was different than any other fantasy I had read to that point, most of which were in the high-minded, seriously heroic mode, but written in 'realistic' prose; and it was funny. I didn't know fantasy could be funny.'
It's that quality, that poetic, immediate, earthy, wryly humorous sort of writing that drew me to The Riddle-Master of Hed, which immediately earned an unchallengeable place on my 'reread frequently' list.
It's not just me. Camille Alexa, who had the good fortune of reading McKillip's young adult novels while still a young adult and who graced our pages with her thoughts on The House on Parchment Street and the duology Moon-Flash and The Moon and the Face, noted something very important in the latter that I think is a key to appreciating McKillip's stories -- curiosity 'is the eternal quest to discover for discovery's sake, to experience the not-yet-experienced purely for the joy and exhilaration of doing so.' It's a key motivation for Sybel, for Morgon, for Kyreol, for most of McKillip's protagonists, and it's one of the aspects of McKillip's work that appeals to the eternally young in all of us.
I think that appeal to our innate adventurousness is one thing that causes McKillip to be regarded in some quarters as a writer of young-adult fantasy, or at least mostly so. There's another dimension to that, though. As Grey Walker noted in discussing The Changeling Sea, 'The story inside is small, but potent, like a well-crafted spell. It makes perfect sense, but it's fairy tale sense, not reasonable sense.' Many of us have noted this poetic quality to McKillip's writing, a poetry of ellipsis, implication, things left unsaid -- 'fairy tale sense.' Sara Sutterfield Winn found it in The Cygnet -- 'As with much of McKillip's work, the meaning in these novels can be obscure. You may occasionally be lost, wondering bemusedly if you missed something along the way.' I know that feeling very well, indeed -- it's kept me coming back to McKillip for over thirty years now.
Maybe that's part of the reason McKillip treats magic the way she does. Mike Stiles, in talking about Song for the Basilisk, noted 'McKillip... writes with a sparse style that evokes great magic with the barest of words.' And yet, magic as an element is seldom given the focus most other fantasy writers would use -- it becomes context, evoked as much by the milieu as by any particular activity on the part of the characters. I noted in reading Solstice Wood, a sequel of sorts to Winter Rose -- 'McKillip has always been a writer whose books can themselves be called 'magical,' and it's even more interesting to realize that she seldom uses magic as a thing of incantations and dire workings, or as anything special in itself. It just is, a context rather than an event, and perhaps that's the way it should be.'
There's a connection there, I think, with the role that music plays in her work, whether it's the omnipresent harping in Riddle-Master, wisps of sound that become fleeting melodies, the clacking of the Fiber Guild's needles in Solstice Wood that becomes a potent musical spell. Jack Merry noted McKillip's affinity for music and musicians in a story he found in Harrowing the Dragon -- ''A Matter of Music,' with its look at bards who recreate epics using only instruments other than voice is my favourite as it's truly stunning in its language. Over twenty years old at this point -- and the second oldest piece here after 'The Harrowing of the Dragon of Boarsbreath' -- its descriptions of the bard playing literally took me breath away! I've have never read such amazing descriptions of a musician playing anywhere else.'
McKillip's writing is also strongly evocative. As Tracy Willans pointed out in her review of Ombria in Shadow, 'I am a visual artist, and when I read I see pictures in my head.' With McKillip, it's very easy to do that -- I do it myself. I don't know if that has to do with my being a visual artist or just a member of a strongly visual species. Grey Walker, in her review of The Book of Atrix Wolfe, pinpointed McKillip's strengths as a writer -- 'McKillip... has the gift of portraying faerie places and people as truly 'other,' mysterious and motivated by desires and needs that are not human. One of the ways she conveys this sense of otherness is through her use of language to evoke beauty, mystery and terror together.' It's not something she does only with 'faerie places and people' -- she has the gift of bringing out the 'other' in the most mundane of circumstances, the most ordinary of personalities.
The 'young adult' classification, I think, has a lot to do with McKillip's recurring themes, which I noticed once again in In the Forests of Serre, one of her more impressive books. 'She brings us her signature themes -- love, redemption, growth and maturation -- with a slightly different slant. Identity, which is always under the surface of her work, here takes a prominent place.' It's the process of maturation, in particular, that recurs again and again in her novels -- her characters not only develop, they grow, and not only do they grow, they grow up.
Grey Walker summed it up as nicely as anyone could when she reviewed Alphabet of Thorn -- 'as odd and lovely as all of McKillip's books are. And as convoluted.'
And that says it.
Mia here again. We here at Green Man Review know that a look at Patricia A. McKillip would be lacking without a look at the illustrator who has come to be most associated with McKillip's work.
As Deborah notes in the opening of her review of The Bell at Sealey Head, 'Kinuko Y. Craft's dream-like cover art, so inextricable from McKillip's writings today, has your hands reaching for the book and your mind already partially intoxicated.' Craft's covers for books such as The Tower at Stony Wood, Song for the Basilisk, Alphabet of Thorn, The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Winter Rose, and The Bell at Sealey Head draw the reader in long before the book is opened. Her work is both ethereal and striking, and few fantasy artists today are as beloved by readers.
In addition to McKillip's covers, Craft has done covers for such authors as Sheri S. Tepper, Robin McKinley, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Tanith Lee. Her own interpretations of fairy tales include her books The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Pegasus, and Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave, to name but a few.
Publisher and Head of All Things at Green Man, Cat Eldridge, reviewed Craft's book Kinuko Craft -- Drawings and Paintings not too long ago. As he said in his review, 'anyone interested in top-notch fantasy illustration should have a copy of this work.' I couldn't agree more. And we here at Green Man would like to encourage you to head over to Kinuko Craft's beautiful website and take a long look at the marvels you will find there!
We hope you've enjoyed this look at the amazing Patricia A. McKillip, and we'll see you back in two weeks for our next regular edition of Green Man where you'll find out why we found the Oak King for this year, Nicholas Burbridge, a red-headed fox of a man, in the Green Man Pub!