22 July 2011

Review of Robin McKinley's "Chalice": Part 1

Review of Robin McKinley’s Chalice

This is meant to be a book review, but will also consist of the reasons I so appreciate Robin McKinley as an author. It will come in bits and pieces as I read.

To Start:

1. I love McKinley’s affection for the ordinary: Honey and beekeeping in Chalice, Robin Hood’s mediocre skills in Outlaws of Sherwood, the different words for tents in The Blue Sword, Aerin’s slow, slow, methodical path towards getting the right fire-protectant recipe in The Hero and the Crown.

     (Just like when it took me a few tries of making Khorma and Saag before I got them the way I wanted them: more garlic, lime juice, not too much cream of coconut lest it be too sweet, and half ricotta, half cream for the Saag).

     Now, I haven’t read Sunshine because I’m not too keen on vampire books, but as I understand it, the protagonist is a baker. Man I love that. It's the little things in life!

      Heroics are not spontaneous...they are more often born of tedium than other authors are brave enough to mention. Preparation. Practicalities. Hard work. I love a good display of plain, hard work in literature.

Furthermore McKinley points out, not only the beauty of the mundane, but its marvelous practicality. In Spindle’s End, it is mentioned early on that the magic of the land is mischievous (likes to turn things into other things at random) and in the wealthy houses if one says “Bread oblige me” instead of the more common “Bread stay bread” the magic is likely to play tricks on you by taking liberty with your fanciful wording. Keep it simple, ladies and gentlemen!

So it is in Chalice, that Mirasol—who I have only just met—has been selected for a highly sacred, highly magic-drenched position in her demesne (Country? Province? No, a little smaller in scale, I think). This position requires her to hear the land and mend it when it is broken or ailing, (What an utterly gorgeous idea for a chronic anthropomorphizer such as myself!) and while she has many traditional incantations upon which she may call, it is her simpler, more instinctive words which are simultaneously effective, and evocative of her love for the land of her people.

(Love of land—no not generic tree-hugging, that’s different—but deep “this is my land!” affection for what’s under one’s feet...it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. It makes me think of the verse in the book of Jeremiah “O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord")

Below a short summary of the scene which displays some of Mirasol’s duties as Chalice:

“Broken, wept the earthlines, broken, broken”


(Mirasol mixes spring water---the water the local earth knows—herbs, and a certain kind of honey and gives it to the land like a salve, then Mirasol says simple things and lullabies from her childhood)

“Silence and peace, quiet and calm….sleep, my little love, sleep, my little one. Sleep is sweet and love is sweeter but honey is sweetest of all”

(Before Mirasol was called into the position she was a beekeeper, so she uses honey for everything)

So that is where we find our protagonist Mirasol: dealing with a deeply saddened, broken land (it being her job to keep it whole, as I understand) while the Master of the Land, with whom Mirasol must work hand-in-hand, is a man who has been unexpectedly called back from fire to take up the position of Master. (No, not easy-to-deal-with, cool x-men-type fire. His skin sears to the bone if touched and the color of him is that of something charred beyond use). It is not known whether he is capable of caring for the land in his present state, but Mirasol is determined to do her duty, and so is he.

More to come.

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