Recent Reads: The Hero & the Crown

The Hero & the Crown, by Robin McKinley

The first several times I read THE HERO AND THE CROWN, I really had barely any idea what happened in the whole post-Luthe tower fight (I said deliberately vaguely, on the off chance somebody hasn’t read the book and doesn’t want to be spoiled).

The truth is, I find that a dozen re-reads later, and with full adulthood under my belt, I *still* think that whole section is like a bad acid trip. And I think it’s supposed to be, but honestly I’m *still* not *absolutely* sure what (or perhaps more accurately, *when* it) happens. I feel like I understand it a little better every time I read it, but the last couple times I’ve read it (admittedly years apart) I’ve been trying really hard to pay attention and understand, and still…yah, no, I don’t totally get it. I’m not sure if that’s a failing in me or the book.

(Also, my God, Robin McKinley has an unholy love of semi-colons. I noticed it reading CHALICE, and upon re-reading HERO, it’s clear it’s not a new affliction. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love me some semi-colons, but wow, it’s like she was one of our group of online roleplayers from the early 90s and she never got over the impulse to punctuate with semi-colons. Wow.)

Those things aside, though…well, I still love this book. Not as much as THE BLUE SWORD, which doesn’t have the bad acid trip problem, but Aerin is…well, she’s a broken hero from the start, in a much more significant way, I think, than Harry. Aerin seems more fragile, and her journey that much greater. I rather think that this book plays up the lie of McKinley’s theory that we all have only one story to tell, as there’s certainly no Beast for Beauty to tame in this story (even Aerin’s own demons can’t be argued as the Beast, and she tames nothing save Talat, who does not play the role of Beast :)).

Does anybody know, BTW, if the Tommy and Leo or the black-haired girl who are referenced in HERO are explained further anywhere? I have the vague idea there’s a book of Damarian short stories, but I don’t know which collection it is, if I’m even right about it existing. I know she doesn’t as a rule write sequels, but man, I could do with a lot more stories of Damar. Of Aerin, in particular, of course–about her life after (I said cryptically, but you who’ve read it know what I mean)–but Damar in general, because it really does remain one of my favorite fantasy settings ever.

I noticed with CHALICE and now with re-reading HERO, that McKinley’s storytelling style has an emphasis on telling, but she does it beautifully, and in a way that still brings the emotional impact of the telling to life. She writes, I think, in the way that stories would be presented by an actual storyteller, as if sitting in the darkened cave listening to the tale by flickering firelight. There’s a rhythm to it that seems to me like the cadence of out-loud storytelling, and I think that’s one of the things I particularly love about her books.

Plus this time I noticed the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES homage in HERO, which is awesome. (Oh. Except Ms McKinley, via Twitter, says it was unintentional. Oh well. :))

5 Comments


  1. Unfortunately, no. RM has said on her blog somewhere that those glimpses are actually parts of one-of-many unfinished Damar novels that she has stuffed in a drawer somewhere. All the Damar-ish stories published elsewhere are offshoots, nothing relates directly to THATC or TBS.


  2. Oh yeah? Well, that’s something, anyway. :)


  3. There are a couple of Damar short stories. “The Stone Fey” which was illustrated and published about 20-25 years ago. There’s a Damar story in “Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits” (written with Peter Dickinson), too. Besides those two, there’s a brief mention of Aerin in “Deerskin,” and a brief reference to the characters in “Deerskin” in “Spindle’s End,” showing that they’re all in the same world, if not the same country. But yes, that is entirely too much brevity for comfort when more books about Damar would be lovely. We do need more about Aerin and after! And frankly, besides falling in love with Corlath and Tsornin, I admit to loving Talat, too. Stubborn old nag… :)


    1. Yeah. Talat is wonderful too. She writes really good horses, doesn’t she? :)

      I don’t know if I’d realized Deerskin and Spindle’s End were set in the Damar world. Huh! I wonder if that means *all* her books are. It seems possible…


  4. Absolutely! I’m not much of an animal person, but her books always make me want to go out and find a really intelligent horse to be friends with just because it seems so much more possible after a read-through.

    Yep, the Damar reference in Deerskin comes when Ossin is telling Lissar about the legend of the Moonwoman and he segues into royal courtship and slaying dragons, specifically Aerin’s experience. Some of the Damar animals show up too, like the smaller dragons and game species. Not that I can remember what she calls them, but they’re there just the same.

    In Spindle’s End, Rosie’s mother (I think) is from Ossin’s country.

    I had a “duh” moment and remembered A Knot in the Grain, which has stories set in the Damar world too, just not in Damar itself.

    It’s certainly a possibility that all her books are in the same world. The historian in me who doesn’t like to make all-inclusive statements like that is trying to side-step the thought, though. :o) But her writing tends to have that Damar-esque feel to it, even when she isn’t specifically in Damar… hmmm…

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