Best Love Story: Patricia A. McKillip

For all that I am a person with, at times, very mushy romantic sensibilities, I was at a loss for some time as to how I would answer this question.  I really like books to have a romantic element to the story, but usually, I don’t want the romance to be the main point; there should be some other adventure going on that involves both of the romantic leads.  Thus, I really couldn’t think of many books in which the romance is the main draw of the story.  Perhaps Pride and Prejudice might count, though I’ll be among the first to insist “Austen did not write romance novels!” (Also, I thought of Robin McKinley’s Sunshine as a favorite (anti)hero/heroine relationship, though while it almost could be a romance, it really isn’t.  I’m still kind of in love with Con, though.)

And then I was reminded of a lovely book written by an author with whom I have been carrying on my own little reader romance: anybody who talks to me about books will figure out pretty quickly that I adore Patricia A. McKillip’s fantasy.  One thing I love about her books is that she works with a wide cast of generally likable, sympathetic characters, all situated in varying points about the periphery of some mysterious, magical happening that is the heart of the story.  Or perhaps I should say, the heart of the plot.  Because the heart of McKillip’s stories is always situated squarely in her characters.

So, for best love story, I choose that of Gwyneth Blair and Judd Cauley in The Bell at Sealey Head.

The mystery at the center of their book is the unknown bell that tolls once each evening as the sun sinks beneath the sea.  While Judd, an avid reader, and Gwyneth, an ardent storyteller, are both curious about the answer to the riddle of the bell, throughout the the book, each seeks the answer to a more important question: “Do you love me?”  And that’s what I like about their story.  The fulfillment and excitement of their lives isn’t derived from a magical adventure.  Magic indeed touches and colors their lives, but ultimately, they’re much more interested in each other than in a world of fay enchantment.

The Egotists' favored floral arrangement (gentlemen, take note)

The other aspect of their love story that I like is that it’s not contrived or overly melodramatic.  While I will vouch for the fact that Jane Austen doesn’t lie (romance really can get crazy), there is something comfortable and reassuring about a love story in which nobody drastically misinterprets the other or spends chapters pining in agonies of love.  It’s not that Judd and Gwyneth don’t have obstacles to surmount: he’s a humble innkeeper’s son and she’s the daughter of a well-to-do merchant and courted by a ridiculous, though surprisingly not-entirely-hatable, suitor named Raven (who, I might add, nicely defeats the cliche of his name).  But their romance progresses in a rather steady, reasonable, and realistic fashion.  It really isn’t a spoiler to tell you that they end up together; you know from the first that they belong together because they love the same things and have been friends since childhood.

 “He was most reluctant to give up his beloved daughter,” Judd told her, “but could not deny her what she seemed, so peculiarly, to want.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said, taking his arm.  “He’s relieved that anybody at all would want a woman with such a deranged imagination and abnormal sensibilities.”

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12 thoughts on “Best Love Story: Patricia A. McKillip

  1. You are all very bad for me you know. With all these suggestions for reading, how will I find time to write?

    That is a lovely arrangement, though… mmm old books. That is one thing that saddens me about reading new-ish authors. I cannot get the old book smell and feel.

    Also, I agree that Austen did not write romance novels! Ahem… the romance you speak of here, though, does sound refreshingly different from the normal mode of literary romances. :)

    • There’s lots of other stuff going on in the book, which that allows for an interesting story without resorting crazy contrived romance plotlines.

      Old books are lovely, and so are new books with crisp, shiny covers. Or those matte covers with shiny sections over the author’s name and the book title are a personal favorite.

      Speaking of writing, I’m sorry I haven’t got back on the chapters you sent me. I really will! I’m just so busy with school right now – two weeks, two term papers. EEE. So thanks for your patience. Maybe you *should* go read Sealey Head… ;)

      • David seemed to like it too, so that’s two people who seem to have similar tastes to me who like it. :)

        Part of why I love my job is my love of old books and of finding treasures other people have overlooked. I coo over my documents frequently as I catalog or shelve them. I like some new books, but usually only hardcovers. Paperbacks are great for convenience, but I only have a few that are precious to me, and they are all falling apart by now.

        Bah, don’t worry about that. The way I see it, I read when I can and when I want to, and so should you. You’re the academic queen! Go bend those term-papers to your will!

  2. Excellent choice! You do a fine job explaining the appeal of their romance.

    Hm, your mentioning of Raven made me suddenly wonder if there’s a connection between him and the ravens that Ysbeth must feed. Is Raven a creature that Gwyneth must feed in order to ultimately get rid of him? (I haven’t the faintest clue, I’m merely brainstorming on the idea)

    • Hmm, I don’t think so, but that is an interesting thought. I like how McKillip uses interesting, unusual words as character names sometimes. She doesn’t strain to be symbolic, but seems to pick names on the basis of “that sounds really cool and just fits somehow.” I think I shall try to follow her example.

  3. Nay. I work at a state library and archive, which holds a non-circulating research collection. We do get students in, though mostly grad-students, but I rarely see the public. My work involves maintaining and cataloging the collection itself. :)

    • Interesting; so I assume you probably have a degree in library science or something similar? My sister, a history major, is trying to figure out what she wants to do for a career/job, and I think she’d like something like this.

      • Yep, a “Masters in Library and Information Studies/sciences.” Sometimes the degree is called different things. I love my job, but the library field is a dicey one right now, with governments and institutions making lots of cuts. I could rant on the stupidity of cutting libraries during tough economic times, when they are needed most, but I will spare you that. ;)

        I would advise your sister to volunteer at a library, and to check out any American Library Association accredited programs before making a decision to pursue a library career. A bachelor’s in history won’t help distinguish her from most other librarians, but dual masters in history and librarianship could open a lot of interesting doors.

  4. Pingback: The Mostest Authors: Lewis and McKillip « Egotist's Club

  5. Pingback: Conclusion « Egotist's Club

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