McKillip, Patricia A. 1948–
McKILLIP, Patricia A. 1948–
(Patricia Anne McKillip)
Born February 29, 1948, in Salem, OR; daughter of Wayne T. and Helen McKillip. Education: San Jose State University, B.A., 1971, M.A., 1973. Hobbies and other interests: Music.
World Fantasy Award for best novel, 1975, and American Library Association Notable Book selection, both for The Forgotten Beasts of Eld; Hugo Award nomination, World Science Fiction Convention, 1979, for Harpist in the Wind; Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for adult literature, 1995, for Something Rich and Strange; World Fantasy Award for best novel and Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for adult literature, both 2003, both for Ombria in Shadow.
The House on Parchment Street, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1973.
The Throme of the Erril of Sherill, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1973.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1974.
The Night Gift, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1976.
The Riddle-Master of Hed (first book in trilogy), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1976.
Heir of Sea and Fire (second book in trilogy), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1977.
Harpist in the Wind (third book in trilogy), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1979.
Riddle of the Stars (trilogy; contains The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1979, published as Chronicles of Morgan, Prince of Hed, Future Publications (London, England), 1979, published as Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The Changeling Sea, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1988.
The Sorceress and the Cygnet, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1991.
The Cygnet and the Firebird, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Something Rich and Strange ("Brian Froud's Faerielands" series), illustrated by Brian Froud, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
Winter Rose, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Song for the Basilisk, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1998.
The Tower at Stony Wood, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Ombria in Shadow, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2003.
In the Forests of Serre, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Alphabet of Thorn, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Od Magic, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Harrowing the Dragon: Collected Tales, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Solstice Wood, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Moon-Flash, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984, reprinted, Firebird (New York, NY), 2005.
The Moon and the Face, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985.
Fool's Run, Warner (New York, NY), 1987.
The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Stepping from the Shadows (young-adult novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982.
Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including Xanadu 2.
Patricia A. McKillip is a critically acclaimed author of works in a variety of literary genres. "Ranging from fairytale to young adult realistic fiction, from high fantasy to science fiction to adult contemporary fiction," McKillip's "sweeping vision focuses on elemental themes unified by love, power, and magic," noted an essayist in the St. James Guide to Science-Fiction Writers. The concentration on basic human traits and themes is a characteristic common to all McKillip's works, which include such novels as The Cygnet and the Firebird, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and Solstice Wood. Noting that McKillip imbues her fantasy worlds with music and a "sense of history and culture," an essayist in Children's Books and Their Creators added that "the main attraction to [her] … books … remains the irresistible and timeless combination of adventure, magic, and romance."
McKillip was born in Salem, Oregon, in 1948. The second of six children, she developed a talent for storytelling because, as she recalled, "the baby-sitting duties were pretty constant. I don't know how old I was when I started telling stories to my younger siblings to while away the boredom of sitting in a car waiting while our parents shopped." McKillip began working on her first novel, The House on Parchment Street, as a teenager. "I started to write when I was fourteen," she once stated, "during one of those 'moody' periods teenagers have when they know they want something, but don't quite know what it is. I was living in England at the time (my father was stationed at a local air base) in a big old house facing a graveyard: the 'house on Parchment Street.' The countryside was very peaceful, and evocative of all kinds of tales. I spent that summer, between eighth grade and high school, writing fairy tales, reading them to my younger brothers and sisters, and feeling that I had at least found one of the things I didn't know I wanted."
McKillip wrote constantly after that discovery, "all through high school and college—anything and everything—poems, plays, novels, short stories, fantasies. What I really wanted to be was a musician, a pianist, but I realized finally that I was far better at writing. Since I didn't think I was capable of holding down a full-time job, I thought I'd better get published before I left college, so I could support myself." As she recalled, "no one discouraged me, and I rarely made writing as a career a subject for discussion. I knew the kinds of things I'd hear, so I just kept quiet about it and wrote. My parents never chased me outside when I wanted to write—which was most of the time. They let me grow at my own speed, which strikes me now as an extraordinary way for modern parents to behave."
Although she was determined to be a writer, McKillip did not initially plan to become a children's author. "I never deliberately decided to write for children," she once explained; "I just found them particularly satisfying to write about, and The House on Parchment Street happened to be the first thing I sold."
Many reviewers of McKillip's work have noted her ability, regardless of the genre in which she is writing, to touch on basic human traits and themes. For example, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, published in 1974, is filled with the trappings of the fantasy adventure novel: dragons, talking animals, doorless towers, and glass mountains. As New York Times Book Review contributor Georgess McHargue wrote, the novel "works on a strictly human level. Trust, loneliness, love's responsibilities and the toxicity of fate are the themes that underlie the fantasy love story." Published separately as The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind, McKillip's famous "Riddle of the Stars" fantasy trilogy garnered similar praise. The plot follows the fortunes of Morgan from his beginnings as ruler of Hed, a peaceful, sleepy kingdom, to his ultimate destiny as a trained "riddle-master." Referring to the first volume in the trilogy, The Riddle-Master of Hed, Glenn Shea stated in the New York Times Book Review that McKillip "understands that we spend much of our time choosing, not between good and evil, but the lesser of two ills."
McKillip's young-adult novel Stepping from the Shadows is an apparent departure from her usual fantasy adventure format. In terms of its concentration on universal human themes, however, this 1982 novel develops naturally from McKillip's earlier work. The book revolves around the private torments of Frances, a young girl who shares, through conversation and writing, her rich fantasy life with an imaginary sister. "McKillip has put an imaginary playmate on paper and the more sophisticated truth that we all have an outside view of ourselves as well as an inside view," noted Charles Champlin in a Los Angeles Times review. The novelist's "memory of the coming of age of an author is rich, particular and extremely appealing," Champlin added.
In the mid-1980s McKillip turned her attention to science fiction, publishing such works as Moon-Flash, The Moon and the Face, and Fool's Run. She returned to fantasy with the debut volume of another series, The Sorceress and the Cygnet. The story of Corleu, a young man who is different in appearance and interests from his Wayfolk kin, is "a richly imagined tale of enchantment, intrigue, and romance," according to Voice ofYouth Advocates contributor Carolyn Shute. The fantasy world of The Sorceress and the Cygnet also serves as the backdrop for McKillip's The Cygnet and the Firebird. In this 1993 novel a mage's plot to steal a magical ancient key is thwarted after a firebird appears that magically transforms things around it into gold and precious gems. The mystery surrounding the creature grows deeper still when it is discovered to be a young warrior who returns to his own shape under certain circumstances, but has no knowledge of his name or his past. Sorceresses, dragons, and the power of the dead also figure into this story, which a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed "often charming and inventive." "McKillip weaves a magic spell of words almost as intoxicating as a drug," noted School Library Journal contributor Cathy Chauvette, the critic adding the caveat that while some will enjoy McKillip's lush style, others "will be confused and long for a breath of fresh air."
In The Book of Atrix Wolfe McKillip adds shape-shifting, the lust for power, and magecraft into the mix as Prince Talis, a student of wizardry, finds a book collecting spells possessing undisclosed meanings. Returning home, he meets a queen in search of her daughter, Sorrow, and then joins with Mage Atrix Wolfe to discover Sorrow's whereabouts and dispel a dark power that threatens both the world of humans and that of faerie. Praising McKillip's "masterfully evocative" language, a Publishers Weekly contributor maintained that "connoisseurs of fine fantasy will delight in this expertly wrought tale." Song for the Basilisk follows a young man named Rook as he survives the uprising that kills the rest of his family and then travels to another land to lead a quiet life. Haunted by violent dreams, Rook is forced to confront the evils in the land of his childhood. In doing so, he discovers his destiny as Caldrius as well as his fate: to demand justice from the prince who killed his family. While calling the novel "a trifle cerebral" for some fantasy fans, Booklist contributor Roland Green noted that McKillip works her usual magic in Song for the Basilisk, bringing her "archetypal characters and plot … to life with dozens of subtle touches."
In Winter Rose, a young woman who falls in love with a man trapped in a magical otherworld pines away for lack of him, leaving her determined sister Rois to solve the murder that caused the man to become captive in this perpetual dream world. Calling her prose a "delightful, delicate filigree," a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the "frail and undeveloped" plot seemed inadequate by comparison, while in Booklist a reviewer labeled Winter Rose "compelling."
In a Booklist review of The Tower at Stony Wood Green observed that McKillip's story retells the medieval fable about the Lady of Shalott. In this tale, a king marries a woman who is an imposter; meanwhile, the woman to whom he is truly engaged and is meant to be his queen is imprisoned. In order to avoid a looming curse, the king must free her. "This is McKillip at close to the height of her powers," wrote Green, "which is to say close to the highest pinnacle in contemporary fantasy." Michelle West, writing in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that each novel McKillip writes is a "cause for celebration," referred to The Tower at Stony Wood as a "a tapestry—a weaving of disparate threads into whole cloth that is greater than its parts, which when seen singly only hint at the finished weave if one is paying attention and dissecting as one goes."
In the award-winning Ombria in Shadow the kingdom of Ombria is in crisis as its prince is near death. Now a handful of treacherous stand-ins are more than willing to assume power—in particular the woman known as the Black Pearl, the prince's mysterious and power-hungry aunt. The eventual death of the prince leads to fighting between those who want the throne for themselves and those who may have it thrust upon them, including an abandoned child who has been raised by a reclusive sorceress. In her review for Kliatt, Deirdre B. Root stated that McKillip's "hallucinatory novel … is wonderful, and fans of historical fantasy will love it."
Also focusing on a prince attempting to retain power over his kingdom, In the Forests of Serre focuses on Prince Ronan of Serre as he struggles to withdraw from the depression that overcame him following the death of his wife and child. Unsuccessful in his attempt to sacrifice himself during battle as a way of avoiding a second marriage arranged by his father, Ronan sees a firebird flying into a forest. Paula Luedtke, writing for Booklist, deemed In the Forests of Serre a "hauntingly beautiful tale."
The fantasy novel Alphabet of Thorn focuses on palace intrigue in the land of Raine. On the day of the new queen's coronation, Nepenthe, a young scribe and translator who works in the royal library, discovers a book written in an unusual language composed of thorn-like characters. Together, Nepenthe and the queen work to solve the book's mysteries, which they believe hold the key to Raine's future. "Those who have bemoaned the death of the true fairy tale will be delighted by this charming foray," noted a contributor in PublishersWeekly. Frieda Murray, reviewing the work in Booklist, called Alphabet of Thorn "a novel that won't in the least disappoint McKillip's loyal readers or their high expectations."
A wizard rebels against a king's strict laws in Od Magic. After saving the land of Numis from ruin, the great wizard Od was allowed to start her own school of magic in the city of Kelior. As the years passed, the school came under the control of King Galin, and wild magic was outlawed. However, when Od hires Brendan Vetch to work as the school's gardener she knows that Vetch possesses amazing powers. At the same time, a wily street magician arrives in town, drawing the king's scrutiny. In Od Magic, McKillip "demonstrates once again her exquisite grasp of the fantasist's craft," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor, while in Library Journal, Jackie Cassada observed that the novelist "finds poetry in every story she tells."
McKillip's 2006 novel Solstice Wood is a "lovely tale of fairy and human worlds meeting and melding," according to Booklist critic Paula Leudtke. After her grandfather dies, bookstore owner Sylvia Lynn returns home to Lynn Hall, a decaying mansion surrounded by thick woods that hide a shadowy Otherworld. Sylvia's grandmother introduces her to the Fiber Guild, a coven of witches whose magical weavings protect the town from the Fay, the evil spirits inhabiting the forest. When the Fay break through the barriers and kidnap Sylvia's cousin, the young woman must venture into the Otherworld to rescue him. "As always," noted a contributor in Kirkus Reviews, "McKillip writes sparely, with elegance and precision, and this time disguises her usual insufficiency of plot behind an annoying and disconcerting succession of first-person narrators."
In addition to novel-length works, McKillip has also proven her ability to master the art of short fiction. Harrowing the Dragon: Collected Tales contains fifteen previously published fantasy stories. Among the works are "Star-Crossed," an investigation into the deaths of Romeo and Juliet; "The Lion and the Lark," about the romance between a young woman and a shapechanger; and "Voyage into the Heart," concerning the hunt for a unicorn. School Library Journal contributor Sandy Freund praised McKillip's "elegant prose," and a reviewer in Publishers Weekly stated that "each of these tales is a gem of storytelling."
"I started writing because I was too young to know better," the prolific McKillip stated in a Locus interview. "And I had an imagination, and I had to do something with it. It's still there—it doesn't grow less with age. In fact it seems, the more you use it, the more you have of it." Charles de Lint, writing in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, has suggested that McKillip is one of the few fantasy novelists still able to create an original story. As de Lint commented, "My only comfort lies in a small handful of authors who do what fantasy is supposed to do: kindle our sense of wonder with novels that tell their own stories, rather than retelling something we've already been told. Patricia McKillip does this for me, and has been doing it for years."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.
Perret, Patti, The Faces of Fantasy, Tor (New York, NY), 1996.
St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
St. James Guide to Science-Fiction Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Analog, January, 1980.
Booklist, August, 1995, Sally Estes, review of The Book of Atrix Wolfe, p. 1936; January, 1997, review of Winter Rose, p. 763; August, 1998, Roland Green, review of Song for the Basilisk, pp. 1978-1979; April 15, 2000, Roland Green, review of The Tower at Stony Wood, p. 1534; May 15, 2003, Paula Luedtke, review of In the Forests of Serre, p. 1652; January 1, 2004, Frieda Murray, review of Alphabet of Thorn, p. 840; November 1, 2005, Roland Green, review of Harrowing the Dragon: Collected Tales, p. 32; February 1, 2006, Paula Luedtke, review of Solstice Wood, p. 38.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1975, p. 82; July, 1979, p. 196; September, 1984, p. 10.
Christian Science Monitor, November 2, 1977, p. B2.
Fantasy Review, November, 1985.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1993, review of The Cygnet and the Firebird, p. 898; May 15, 1996, review of Winter Rose, p. 718; April 15, 2005, review of Od Magic, p. 456; December 15, 2005, review of Solstice Wood, p. 1304.
Kliatt, May, 2003, Deirdre B. Root, review of Ombria in Shadow, p. 26.
Library Journal, May 15, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of In the Forests of Serre, p. 131; June 15, 2005, Jackie Cassada, review of Od Magic, p. 65; November 15, 2005, Jackie Cassada, review of Harrowing the Dragon, pp. 64-65; January 1, 2006, Jackie Cassada, review of Solstice Wood, p. 105.
Locus, January, 1990, p. 52; August, 1992, "Moving Forward" (interview); July, 1996, "Spring Surprises" (interview).
Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1982, Charles Champlin, review of Stepping from the Shadows.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October, 2000, Michelle West, review of The Tower at Stony Wood, p. 44; May, 2002, Charles de Lint, review of Ombria in Shadow, p. 27.
New York Times Book Review, October 13, 1974, Georgess McHargue, review of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, p. 8; March 6, 1977, Glenn Shea, review of The Riddle-Master of Hed, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, October 3, 1994, review of Brian Froud's Faerielands, p. 54; June 26, 1995, review of The Book of Atrix Wolfe, p. 90; January 19, 2004, review of Alphabet of Thorn, p. 58; May 2, 2005, review of Od Magic, pp. 181-182; September 19, 2005, review of Harrowing the Wood, pp. 48-49; December 12, 2005, review of Solstice Wood, pp. 42-43.
School Library Journal, October, 1991, p. 160; May, 1994, Cathy Chauvette, review of The Cygnet and the Firebird, p. 143; March, 2006, Sandy Freund, review of Harrowing the Dragon, p. 255.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review, May, 1979, Roger C. Schlobin, review of "Riddlemaster" trilogy, pp. 37-38.
Science Fiction Chronicle, July, 1991, p. 30.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1982, p. 32; June, 1991, Carolyn Shute, review of The Sorceress and the Cygnet, p. 112; December, 1993, Esther Sinofsky, review of The Cygnet and the Firebird, p. 311; April, 1999, review of Song for the Basilisk, p. 14.
Washington Post Book World, January 9, 1986; October 23, 1994, Gregory Feeley, review of Something Rich and Strange, p. 6.*