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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Patricia A. McKillip: the Hed trilogy

Someone called Nessa, The Smite Faerie, writes brief, but critical, book reviews. Recently, he/she/they have posted reviews of Patricia A. McKillip's Hed trilogy (also known as the Riddle-Master trilogy). The reviews are here, here, and here.

I have stated that "McKillip certainly can't be accused of lacking imagination, or of making the rules of her fantastic worlds explicit. They just are, and the reader will grasp most of the rules by reading."

The Smite Faerie is less generous. The criticisms are, basically, first, that The Riddle-Master of Hed, and the trilogy as a whole, is confusing. Agreed. Second, that Heir of Sea and Fire presents a strong female character, but Harpist in the Wind portrays the same character, Raederle, as weak and dependent. The latter criticism is, in my mind, only partly true.

There is indeed, confusion. McKillip makes up rules, and invents entities, without always making them clear. Reading Nessa's criticisms, I asked myself, "why, then, have you read these books over and over?" (I'm not the only one who likes them. McKillip has won more Mythopoeic Awards than any other author.) Well, I'm not certain, but one reason is because of the plot. Let me just summarize it as rejection of vengeance. Wronged characters decide not to retaliate. (This is a motif of more than one of McKillip's books--see my web page on the matter.) Lest there be any doubt, the plot is more complex than that.

There's another theme: hiding. Several characters conceal themselves for long periods of time, in various ways, generally as a character of seemingly lesser importance, but one as a tree, and another as a vesta.

Another reason that the books appeal is that they have features that are attractive. In the Hed trilogy, McKillip created a new species of mammal, the vesta, roaming in great herds in the northern wastes. Some of her characters have the ability to turn themselves into animals, and even trees. She can describe the relationships between individuals in interesting, yet realistic ways. She can describe aspects of nature in interesting, yet realistic ways. Her prose is well-crafted.

I have decided that I can put up with ambiguity, in order to savor descriptions and plot that are of interest.

McKillip has written other books. She is number five on a recent list of "Great Ladies of Fantasy."

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