30 March 2015

The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A McKillip

I've been sitting on this for a while, trying to get a handle on my feelings for THE RIDDLE-MASTER TRILOGY by Patricia A McKillip. The trilogy, composed of THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED, HEIR OF SEA AND FIRE, and HARPIST IN THE WIND, was published in the 1970s, but I only read it this March when a friend lent it to me. Actually, she had lent it several months prior but I only got around to it this March (sorry!).

THE RIDDLE-MASTER suffers from an unfortunate blurb in the front of the book, which compares it to LORD OF THE RINGS and even calls it "Tolkienesque." I think if they had left out that blurb I wouldn't have gone in with such high expectations. LORD OF THE RINGS is one of my favorite books ever - I reread it once a year and have done so for the last 12 years.

THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED follows Morgon, the Prince of Hed, a tiny island. The opening pages were some of the most confusing I have ever read, but by about the third chapter I was pretty sure who was who - mostly. The world of THE RIDDLE-MASTER is governed by "land-law," wherein the ruler of a land has a mystical connection to everything in it, and the High One has a connection to the entire realm. This set of governing laws was explained clearly in the second volume of the trilogy, leaving me wondering what the hell was going on in the first volume.

Joseph Campbell identified the parts of the hero's journey, and Morgon's stayed pretty true to that, but I felt like the Refusal of the Call took up half the book. I'm all for sticking to one's principles (Morgon is a pacifist called to take up a fight), but the thing is, you have to vary the conflict. Morgon literally just ran away several times and then decided to come back.

The world-building seemed forced at times, and the sense of the history of the realm was lacking, as compared to Tolkien - but again, if that comparison hadn't been made early on it wouldn't have bothered me so much. There was a lot of overly purple prose, which often obstructed the meaning rather than painting a pretty picture, and there were a ton of run-on sentences and weird punctuation. I don't know if that's a writing choice or an editing choice but it was troublesome.

Anyway, I stuck it out with THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED, mostly because it wasn't so terrible that I had to quit (like I did with ATLAS SHRUGGED). And I kind of liked the characters.

Then it ended on a ridiculous cliffhanger. Literally, like, curtain closed, WHAAAT?! It made me so mad. But I kept with it and read on.