Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Patricia A. McKillip

The word has been spreading on the net today that Patricia A. McKillip died a few days ago, and once again I am bereft of one of my favorite authors, like most of the others of very long standing.

When I joined the Mythopoeic Society in 1975, the new fantasy novel that was being most talked about was The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, the first major work by this young (she was then about 27) author. I read it and was delighted by the cool and realistic-detailed portrayal of fantasyland, the witty banter between Sybel and her father's beasts, the unfolding of the plot.

I put McKillip on my collect list, and acquired all of her books, even the obscure early this-worldly juveniles. When she was Guest of Honor at Mythcon in 1985, I realized I'd read all of her then ten or so books, and began a practice of writing surveys of the GoH's work for Mythprint.

I pretty much kept up with McKillip in subsequent years, but it became a little tricky. Her books, while all quite distinct on a close level, had similar enough settings and literary approaches that I sometimes had trouble remembering which was which and whether I'd read it. I saw in one obituary an enthusiastic recommendation for her last novel, Kingfisher, and I had to check to be able to say, "oh yeah, the Arthurian one with all the restaurants" to be able to remember it.* I enjoyed all her books, but that one was particularly good. I reviewed it here. The Bell at Sealey Head was particularly good too. I think she was getting better, as well as more purely herself, over the years.

But I also think that even Forgotten Beasts doesn't really stand out among her other books. She wasn't the author of a single masterpiece, but of a body of work. It wasn't any one or even any several of her books that was outstanding, it was the whole oeuvre. It all seems to meld together, at least in my mind; that's why I have such trouble with her titles. A few years ago I made a checklist of her books to assure myself that we had them all; she was about the only current author that I'd have to do that for, or that I'd want to. I just did it again, and found one older one missing, and one newer one I don't think I ever got. Have to correct that.

I met her in person a few times, including when she was at Mythcon. The first time I met her, at a signing at the tiny Dark Carnival bookstore in, must have been 1977, I interviewed her for a fanzine. But I always had the impression she didn't really enjoy having fans and making appearances, even though she was willing to do so, so I didn't press or presume on acquaintance.

*Not that restaurants, kitchens, housekeeping of all sorts, were otherwise alien to her fiction: not at all. When Glenn Glazer interviewed her on her GoH appearance at Westercon, the first question he asked was, "Have you ever worked in an industrial kitchen?"


  1. thank you for your literary eulogy. I still have my Avon 1975 paperback copy of Eld -- she will be missed

  2. Forgotten Beasts of Eld has always been very dear to me. Sybel is my favorite sorceress, period. Among all my double shelved fantasy & science fiction books, I know exactly where it stands. Many years ago I wore out my paperback copy and my husband bought me a signed, 2nd printing hardback. It was thrilling to meet her at Mythcon!