Friday, July 1, 2022

R.I.P. Patricia A. McKillip

NOOOOOO!! I cannot believe this happened nearly two months ago and I missed it! 😭 Once upon a time my father and I never thought we would find another author worthy of standing beside J.R.R. Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, and J.K. Rowling. But we did. Her name was Patricia A. McKillip and we fell in love with her books in a way we never believed we ever would with any Fantasy again. How many can truly stand besides Jones and Rowling as an equal? How many can be judged of skill approximate to Tolkien? So few, and my father and I call them First Tier authors those Fantasy Masters who break beyond the ordinary conventions of the genre, possessing a unique skill and writing style that regularly shocks and delights even veterans of the Fantastic.

"Just begin at the beginning and proceed whichever way you can into hope." - Vevay, from Patricia A. McKillip's Alphabet of Thorn.

I will start from the beginning. When Dad and I finished, after a decade of sheerest delight, the last of the Many Worlds of Diana Wynne Jones, we were at a loss. We had read the best of the best and, though we knew that plenty of excellent Fantasies remained, resigned ourselves to never again reading a true, new, Top Tier Fantasy those magic was comparable to that of J.R.R. Tolkien. Then we found a single-standing Fantasy book called The Bards of Bone Plain. Well, he found. I had actually been vaguely aware of it for some time, but Dad and the lack of Jones brought it to our serious attention. Knowing good Fantasy when we see it, we read it... and loved it. So we bought other McKillip books, knowing that while she could not be another Jones she at the very least was a deeply skilled author who had written a host of one-volume works. Still a little uncertain of this new (to us) author, we picked for our next McKillip book one that looked akin to Bone Plain. That book was Alphabet of Thorn.

When we finished it I wrote the following on facebook (for though this was in 2014, two years before I began Stars Uncounted, I posted on facebook when I started and finished books in the exact same way):

"I am in awe. I never thought I would find another author worthy of standing beside J.R.R. Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, and J.K. Rowling. But I have. Her name is Patricia A. McKillip.

My father and I just finished Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip. In realm a between sea and sky I have seen legends shape themselves of fish and thorns. I have been through the Gates of Nowhere and back. I saw the Dreamer wake and a Lion turn heel. I saw a transcriptor, a sorceress, and the Queen of Raine make the right choice.

Well met, well done, and do well Nepenthe, Tessera, Bourne, Vevay, Felan, Laidly, and Kane. I will think of you whenever my thoughts stray over sea and under stone."

The book was Gilgameshian in Epicness. We were, utterly and truly, in awe. Just as we finished Diana Wynne Jones we had, against all odds, found an author who could fill the void she left.

"The odd thing about people who had many books was how they always wanted more." - Judd, from Patricia A. McKillip's The Bell at Sealey Head.

And fill it she did, for Patricia A. McKillip was and still is like no author we had ever read. Her books invoke, in old sense of the word, awe, for has a way with words similar to Tolkien – who was a linguist himself – but different in that she glories in their sounds as well as meanings; to the extent that I call her a word-jeweler as opposed to wordsmith. While reading her books one feels the instinctual need to read more slowly, and do not be deceived by the short length of her works. For with McKillip "short" is a relative term as each sentence feels like it carries the weight of centuries, words spoken from myths echoing across the ocean of potential and Faerie into the subconscious part of us where dragons sleep. A word-jeweler who crafts worlds as natural as blooming flowers and more ancient than the first tree whose roots dug deeper than any plant before it. A distant voice is calling across time from beyond a fog-shrouded sea speaking of realms between sea and sky where legends shape themselves of fish and thorns and lettering.

"At its best, fantasy rewards the reader with a sense of wonder about what lies within the heart of the commonplace world. The greatest tales are told over and over, in many ways, through centuries. Fantasy changes with the changing times, and yet it is still the oldest kind of tale in the world, for it began once upon a time, and we haven't heard the end of it yet." - Patricia A. McKillip

This may sound like an exaggeration, so trust me when I tell you it is not. When Dad and I began The Changling Sea we were within four pages enchanted as if by a siren; unable to believe that it was four pages instead of forty and ten minutes as opposed an age of the world. Truly we wandered around for the rest of the evening, clutching our heads, pretending like we had aged a millennia, feeling almost truly as if world history could be divided into two epochs: before and after those first four pages. And the remaining pages were just as good. Long had I sought a book that captures all the wonder and power of mystery of the sea. This book ended that search. 

It’s an odd thing, happiness. Some people take happiness from gold. Or black pearls. And some of us, far more fortunate, take their happiness from periwinkles. - Lyo, from Patricia A. McKillip's The Changling Sea

And she wrote SO MUCH, each and every one a finely wrought gem in a Dragon's hoard sparkling with the distant light of far-off stars and deep as the fathomless depths of the sea. Need more proof? Well, she still holds the record for most Mythopoeic Fantasy awards and nominations (at four and fifteen, respectively). Makes sense seeing as Mytho-poetic captures the essence of McKillip novels to the core.

"My father and I just finished Harpist in the Wind, the final book of Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master Trilogy. In a realm of riddle colleges and wraiths, harpists and wizards, I have seen an ancient war between order and chaos unravel and conclude within the strictures of Riddlery and three stars upon a Farmer Prince's face. I have seen monarchs and the living and dead unite under a single love of the land...and win.

Fair winds to you Morgon of Hed and Raederle of An and Yrth who knows "even death is a riddle", to Danan of Isig, wolf-king Har, King Astrin of Ymris (I am sorry), Mathom and Rood of An, the Morgol and Lyra of Herun, to Eliard and Tristan of Hed, to the wizards of Lungold and the Masters at Caithnard - College of Riddle-Masters. I will never look at Riddles the same way again.

Beware the unanswered riddle. Beware another riddle-master. The wise man knows his own name."

 - What I wrote on facebook when we finished the Riddle-master Trilogy. (Here is my blog post from recently finishing it a second time.)

"My father and I just finished In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip.

As Brume is the Mother of All Witches, so this was the mother of all fairy tales and further proof that McKillip ranks alongside J.K. Rowling and Diana Wynne Jones in the tier below Tolkien. Why? Because in an Enchanted Forest a Prince killed the favorite hen of a witch and got cursed and lost as his unwilling bride, a foreign Princess, approached with her wizard bodyguard.

What happens next is a secret I shall leave with the Firebird, but I have always said that Heart is the most important aspect of a person and that without its unwritten language singing within you, one is lost; a fact this tale proves most aptly.

May you live happily ever after Prince Ronan of Serre & Princess Sidonie of Dacia, Wizards Unciel (hopefully now you can rest) and Gyre, scribe Euan Ash, and the rest.

And if you see a white hen and/or cottage made of bones, steer clear. Seriously."

 - What I wrote on facebook when we finished In the Forests of Serre.

"My father and I just finished The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip.

Inspired by Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott, this book takes the tale to truly mythopoetic heights. A mystery woven in fine thread between several towers, we walked with valiant yet impoverished islanders desperate for freedom from their overlord, a knight journeying through a land of subtle magic and beauty, and a seal-like baker and her children seeing and weaving stories from a mirror in the tower at Stony Wood. And we met three fey sisters who know that an outwardly simple mission can weave the tangled threads of fate and chance together to restore magic and peace.
Happy days to Cyan Dag & Cria Greenwoode, King Regis Aurum of Yves & Gwynne of Skye, Thayne and Craiche Ysse, Sel and Melanthos of Stony Wood, and Idra, Sidera, and Una."
- What I wrote on facebook when we finished The Tower at Stony Wood.

I could go on and one. Could and have, for searching "McKillip" on the searchbar here on this my not always entirely humble blog will reveal all I have said on her since 2016. So I will end by stating the obvious: the world of literature, Fantasy in particular, is a lesser, dimmer place without Patricia A. McKillip and she will be deeply missed. Indeed, I learned about her death because ever since her last book, Kingfisher, was published back in 2016, Google search her every few months hoping few news on a new book. Except this time I learned that there will be no new book.

Rest in peace, Riddle-Master of Caithnard and Weaver of mytho-potic Words. You are already deeply missed.

“I think readers like faerieland because it is a source of power, a source of imagination which becomes a very powerful tool.  Maybe that’s why I keep digging into it, because it is something that’s totally imaginative, and yet it’s also a very ancient way of looking at the world. Maybe people look at these characters as symbols of something they want to be or to have. It’s also a way of looking at real people. If you look at a person that way, they become more powerful because you don’t know them; all you can see of that person is something that you want to be or to possess. Maybe that’s partly where faerie comes from.” - Patricia A. McKillip

"The idea of fairyland fascinates me because it's one of those things, like mermaids and dragons, that doesn't really exist, but everyone knows about it anyway. Fairyland lies only in the eye of the beholder who is usually a fabricator of fantasy. So what good is it, this enchanted, fickle land which in some tales bodes little good to humans and, in others, is the land of peace and perpetual summer where everyone longs to be? Perhaps it's just a glimpse of our deepest wishes and greatest fears, the farthest boundaries of our imaginations. We go there because we can; we come back because we must. What we see there becomes our tales." - Patricia A. McKillip

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