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23 February 2013 @ 11:55 pm
Recent Reads: The Hero & the Crown  

The first several times I read THE HERO AND THE CROWN, I really had barely any idea what happened in the whole post-Luthe tower fight (I said deliberately vaguely, on the off chance somebody hasn’t read the book and doesn’t want to be spoiled).

The truth is, I find that a dozen re-reads later, and with full adulthood under my belt, I *still* think that whole section is like a bad acid trip. And I think it’s supposed to be, but honestly I’m *still* not *absolutely* sure what (or perhaps more accurately, *when* it) happens. I feel like I understand it a little better every time I read it, but the last couple times I’ve read it (admittedly years apart) I’ve been trying really hard to pay attention and understand, and still…yah, no, I don’t totally get it. I’m not sure if that’s a failing in me or the book.

(Also, my God, Robin McKinley has an unholy love of semi-colons. I noticed it reading CHALICE, and upon re-reading HERO, it’s clear it’s not a new affliction. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love me some semi-colons, but wow, it’s like she was one of our group of online roleplayers from the early 90s and she never got over the impulse to punctuate with semi-colons. Wow.)

Those things aside, though…well, I still love this book. Not as much as THE BLUE SWORD, which doesn’t have the bad acid trip problem, but Aerin is…well, she’s a broken hero from the start, in a much more significant way, I think, than Harry. Aerin seems more fragile, and her journey that much greater. I rather think that this book plays up the lie of McKinley’s theory that we all have only one story to tell, as there’s certainly no Beast for Beauty to tame in this story (even Aerin’s own demons can’t be argued as the Beast, and she tames nothing save Talat, who does not play the role of Beast :)).

Does anybody know, BTW, if the Tommy and Leo or the black-haired girl who are referenced in HERO are explained further anywhere? I have the vague idea there’s a book of Damarian short stories, but I don’t know which collection it is, if I’m even right about it existing. I know she doesn’t as a rule write sequels, but man, I could do with a lot more stories of Damar. Of Aerin, in particular, of course–about her life after (I said cryptically, but you who’ve read it know what I mean)–but Damar in general, because it really does remain one of my favorite fantasy settings ever.

I noticed with CHALICE and now with re-reading HERO, that McKinley’s storytelling style has an emphasis on telling, but she does it beautifully, and in a way that still brings the emotional impact of the telling to life. She writes, I think, in the way that stories would be presented by an actual storyteller, as if sitting in the darkened cave listening to the tale by flickering firelight. There’s a rhythm to it that seems to me like the cadence of out-loud storytelling, and I think that’s one of the things I particularly love about her books.

Plus this time I noticed the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES homage in HERO, which is awesome. (Oh. Except Ms McKinley, via Twitter, says it was unintentional. Oh well. :))

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

Ellen Millionellenmillion on February 24th, 2013 12:12 am (UTC)
I LOVE the first 2/3 of most McKinley books. Her endings rarely hold up to that, though sometimes they are enough that the first part will carry them into my favorite books list.
Dreamshadowmorgie on February 24th, 2013 03:14 am (UTC)
I seem to recall there supposed to be some short stories (Maybe The Door Into Hedge? Or something along those lines?) and occasional references, but heck if I can remember them properly. Which sucks, because I'd so read more about Damar!
themysteriousgthemysteriousg on February 24th, 2013 06:38 am (UTC)
There are Damar stories scattered through A Door in the Hedge, Water, Fire, and A Knot in the Grain.

She claims the stories come to her whole, like a download. She doesn't create them and The Black haired boy by the fire hasn't appeared yet and my never.

I read Hero and the Crown first when I was about 12. Read the Blue Sword second cause that's how I stumbled upon them in the library. I re-read both those books every year. Sometimes they fall short but I'll always love them. That scene at the end is extremely trippy and weird and is why i'm not hellbent on handing it too my 7 year old even though she could do it.

I'm in re-read mode right now too. No good reason except I am. I'm about to do all the Walker Papers again because it's time. And hey - trippy endings? I think you can lay claim to at least one of those:)

While you were poking about did you find out if the second half of Pegasus is ever being released? *heads off to do some research.

kitmizkit on February 25th, 2013 08:57 am (UTC)
Even for a precocious reader, 7 might be a little young for HERO, yeah. :)

I'm in re-read mode because I'm writing a book, and it's very difficult to read new material when I'm already invested in the plot and story of a book. Re-reading is easier, since I already know what happens, although I note that already knowing what happens doesn't seem to stop me from staying up too late finishing the books... :)

I haven't even read the first half of PEGASUS, so I haven't looked for the second half, no. :)
Fighting Crime with a Giant Dandelion Since 2013: Gentianpameladean on February 24th, 2013 07:57 pm (UTC)
You are so right about the telling, and how she does it. Pegasus is FULL of telling, and while occasionally my writer-brain would notice this, the rest of me would say, "Shut up, she knows what she's doing." And the writer-brain had to agree with that. It's practically miraculous.

kitmizkit on February 24th, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
Yes! The writer-brain has done that a couple of times, sort of like, "You know, this *shouldn't* work..." Except it does! It works brilliantly, and then the writer-brain goes "but HOW does she do it?! *I* want to make that work!"

Because the writer-brain is never satisfied. :)
Fighting Crime with a Giant Dandelion Since 2013pameladean on February 25th, 2013 07:56 pm (UTC)
No, it totally never, ever is.

Mine has to begin by sulking and denial, which may be one reason I have to reread so very many books. Poke, poke, prod prod, I want to see how she did it. We just read that. I didn't see how she did it. Poke poke, prod prod. ALL RIGHT, QUIT THAT.

kitmizkit on February 26th, 2013 07:59 am (UTC)
*laugh* There's a bit in one of dancinghorse's books where basically it says "and then five years went by," except...except it's GENIUS. And I was actually sort of left staggering as I read it going, "THAT'S HOW YOU DO IT!!!"

I cannot, of course, remember how she did it. I do remember what book it is, so I can always re-read to find out. :)
Lauratavella on February 24th, 2013 08:11 pm (UTC)
Does anybody know, BTW, if the Tommy and Leo or the black-haired girl who are referenced in HERO are explained further anywhere?

That is the thing that drives me crazy about that scene -- those little flashes of image or scene that are so specific and unrelated to the book at hand that they seem like they *must* be a reference to another book or story by McKinley, but as far as I know they are not. At least nothing published.
kitmizkit on February 25th, 2013 08:58 am (UTC)
It seems like maybe I read the Tommy and Leo story at some point, although it is equally possible I dreamed it, because that happens sometimes...
Lauratavella on February 24th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
As for _The Blue Sword_ vs _Hero and the Crown_... I think, especially as I get older, that I really like the latter more, because Aerin works so damn hard for what she gets. The endless experimentation to get the dragonfire ointment right, the determination to drag herself onto her horse and make it home after she's so badly injured, going off alone to get the crown.

I love the romance-y quality of _The Blue Sword_ too, but well... Harry is really passive compared to Aerin. She doesn't seek adventure, she's sent off to the outpost, then she's kidnapped. Aerin shows up and says "yes, you", she's so magically gifted that she picks up the sword and horse skills to make her the best young warrior in a few weeks, she's handed the blue sword through which she can channel power sufficient to drop a mountain on the bad guys, she marries and lives happily ever after. It's saved from being totally annoying by the fact she does have to make the choice to defy her romantic interest and go off to the pass and hold it for a day, but even there she has friends and allies with her from the start.
kitmizkit on February 24th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
A clear case of firstnovelitis. I'm re-reading BLUE SWORD right now, and suspect you're probably right about HERO being the better book, but I just can't quite get past the bad acid trip part of HERO. It's enough to demote the book, even if it's generally superior.
Chrysoulachrysoula on February 25th, 2013 12:10 am (UTC)
Reading The Blue Sword for the first time as a writerly adult was almost certainly a bad idea, *sigh*. I had a lot of the same problems re: her passivity. I haven't read The Hero and the Crown in years either; I wonder if I shouldn't, just to preserve my good memories.
Lauratavella on February 25th, 2013 12:51 am (UTC)
I've read it fairly recently, and I think it still holds up. I find the 'acid trip' bit frustrating as well, but not for the same reason as Kit, I think. It's because you get tiny glimpses of other stories, which you never get resolution for either in the novel or outside of it.
Mary Anne: pixelpers1stence on February 27th, 2013 04:20 am (UTC)
The Blue Sword remains my favorite of the two, but that's partly nostalgia giving it a slight edge. I think Aerin's just a more sophisticated character all around, which would probably make her story my favorite if I were to come to them as an adult. I like that she kinda gets to have her cake and eat it too at the end, although more by implication.
kitmizkit on February 27th, 2013 09:09 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's it. I think HERO is the superior book with the superior heroine, but Blue Sword wins by a nostalgic nose. :)

And I always liked that she got to have her cake and eat it too. Lucky girl!