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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Bell at Sealey Head, by Patricia A. McKillip

For anyone new to this blog, I read a lot of fantastic literature, and occasionally post on it, often about the religious aspects of such literature.

I have posted several times on the work of Patricia A. McKillip, a fine craftsperson of fantastic literature. McKillip has won more Mythopoeic Awards than any other author. One such post is here. I recently read her The Bell at Sealey Head. (New York: Ace, 2008)

The setting of the book is a community on an un-named ocean, where there is an old hotel on a headland, and other people and buildings, within a mile or so, especially Aislinn House, a decaying mansion. A bell rings every evening, just at sunset. Most people don't pay it much attention. Even those who do do not know where the bell is located, or who rings it.

For a good review of this book, including the plot, see here. The reviewer argues, with reason, that the book is partly about women's roles. I suspect that it was partly inspired by McKillip's residence, which, is now, or has been, on the Oregon coast. McKillip, after all, writes fantasy. She always, for me, at least, leaves major questions unanswered, characters not fully explained. That is part of the appeal for some people, I suppose. She is masterful at descriptions and setting moods, and at placing lots of interesting minor characters in her works. All of these tendencies are found in The Bell at Sealey Head.

Two thoughts on the book:
1) Opening and closing are a major theme. There are doors in Aislinn House which sometimes lead to a parallel world, and sometimes don't. It is dangerous to cross their thresholds. In the end, the villain is trapped by being closed up, in a way that I won't reveal.
2) I read the book twice (I usually do, for McKillip, and learn things that I missed the first time, in the second reading.) and found little or nothing about religion, of any kind. Her characters don't seem to worship, or pray, at all. (Nonetheless, some of her novels explore a theme compatible with Christianity, namely not taking vengeance.)

I liked this passage: . . . following the same impulse the sea has had toward land since tides began, they longed to conquer it, to claim and to possess it, beginning with the rugged rocky shore and crag of stone that was Sealey Head. (162) This is from part of a fictional story within the main one, about selkies, seal-people.

Thanks for reading. Read McKillip.

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