I love words. Beautiful language and prose is my jam. I can taste the quality of prose in a synaesethic kind of way. Some prose has a “clean” taste, like unsalted butter. And some prose is rich and luxurious, like a chocolate truffle. I fell in love with fantasy fiction because the language of myth and fairytale has a certain flavor that I find irresistible. It’s floral, like vanilla, and bitter like dark chocolate with a mouthfeel like clotted cream.
And no-one captured that mythic flavor in prose more than Patricia A McKillip. I read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld when I was a teenager and immediately wrote her fan letter, (which was returned as undeliverable). The elegiac tone she’d captured was singularly haunting. The prose sang, was almost like a spell cast. She kept writing in that mode for all of career in many books—The Alphabet of Thorn, Solstice Wood, The Book of Atrix Wolfe—and many others. Her words were—-are—-incantatory and numinous. They swim and float across the page. Sometimes dismissed as flowery or purple, her language is central to the dreamlike plots of her novels. There is a jewel-like precision to her craft that I think that some critics miss. A couple of critics (and a friend) referred to her work with fairy tales as being the lighter cousin to Tanith Lee’s word-drunk. But I think there’s a tone of deep time and profound sorrow that always played in the background of her writing. Her characters always seemed melancholic, even if they were clever or humorous.
I had the pleasure of meeting McKillip a decade or so ago in New York. She was in town for a book reading, and I went out to lunch with her, Ellen Datlow, Jane Yolen and her husband David Lunde. She was sweet and soft-spoken, and I felt that I was in the presence of quiet genius. McKillip’s ethereal work is a deep influence (I’m ethereallad on Social Media partially inspired by her). I find her influence in many contemporary fantasists. Her voice will be missed.