Desire’s the Element that I Can’t Fight, Dream is the Arm of God…

The navel-gazing writer looks more closely at her navel and realizes she owes a lot to many other authors … some maybe more than others.

I’ve said before that Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors, and that if there’s anyone that I think my writing is like, it’s probably (hopefully) hers. I reread many of her books yearly or so, and I’ve been in love with her stories since I first ran across them, when I was 13 or 14.

For whatever reason, even though I love it so much, I haven’t reread The Hero and the Crown in many years, perhaps as many as 15 or more. Certainly not since before I started the rewrite of what became A Ragged Magic. And I guess I forgot, if I ever acknowledged, how very much I borrowed or stole of my Rhiannon from that book.

THATC was the first book of McKinley’s that I ever read. I was going through a dragon phase, (luckily there was a pretty heavy dragon fad on and I could get a decent number of them, not as many as horse books, but still quite a few…). I don’t remember where I picked the book up, but it was the mid 80s, and it had a dragon and a woman on the cover, and I bought it (for $2.95, thanks for the allowance Mom) knowing nothing more about it than that. I didn’t know that The Blue Sword was written first (although chronologically 2nd), and I didn’t know anything about other stories by McKinley. Just the fact of the dragon, and the woman, and the fire. I loved it. I devoured that book. I reread it time and time again in the first years I had it. I bought other books by her, and loved them, but I read that first, THATC, every six months or so I think. At least until I got Beauty, and still probably at least once a year until Deerskin came out, and that one was my favorite until Sunshine. (Sunshine still reigns as my favorite, but maybe when Pegasus is complete, that will be my new favorite world. It has that potential. Every McKinley book sits pretty high up on my favorites list, but some hit closer to my personal list of everything I ever wanted in a book than others.)

When I started writing ARM the first time, when it was still just called “Witch” in the files of my secondhand, already-old computer, and I was in my early 20s and I wasn’t sure it was going to be a novel yet, I sort of knew I was using Robin McKinley as a primer for how to write a story. I knew that I liked the poetic manner of McKinley’s prose, and her way of going deep in the protagonist’s head, and the way her stories fan out from this pinpoint in that point of view and expand, but never lose that deep thought. I knew that I emulated a lot. But I hadn’t realized, until I reread THATC again just recently, how much I stole from her protagonists.

Rhiannon is more than half Aerin, I think. Her confusion and fumbling for answers, her mistrust of herself, of her power, of the people around her, even when she loves them. Her stubbornness, her tendency to be both too pliant and not pliant enough, her tendency to just *think* too much; even her hair. (Although I noticed recently that I gave Rhiannon that hair, the red rippling hair I loved on Aerin and always wanted for myself, and then immediately chopped it all off and dyed it brown and made it into the curly mess that I myself had at 12, and hated. Ah, the twisty ways of the subconscious.)

It’s a little surprising the way that McKinley’s prose has … imprinted on me. Or maybe not, considering how often I reread her books. She has a very particular voice, a voice that I brought myself up as a writer on, and maybe it isn’t a shock that her type of protagonist and type of situations would sit in my head and take up residence. But it was a small revelation to me, in rereading one of my comfort reads, that I haven’t allowed myself to pick up in some time, how very much I recognize my own protean writer-self. Or at least, how much I recognize that protean writer-self me stole from another, much more accomplished, author.

I must offer my most humble compliments and, um, maybe apologies to Robin McKinley, for making me the writer I am today. I’m not sure she’d recognize her prose in my writing (or that anyone else would), but I sure do. And I can only thank her for being always herself, and for writing stories and protagonists that make me want to curl up and read again and again. I only hope my own stories are half as good.

Title is from “If I Could Write,” by Sam Phillips

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *