Mary Stewart

I’ve just learned that Mary Stewart died a few days ago. I cut my eye-teeth on her novels. At a time when, as a teenager, I turned my nose up at the idea of pure romances – in my defence, my only brush with them had been encountering some Barbara Cartland – they gave me the romance hit I was craving, but in an acceptable way because they were stylishly written, wrapped up in adventure and excitement and the wonderful skill with which she transported me to a wholly different world.  Crete, Avignon or Austria didn’t matter – I was there. I came away from each of her books having learned something, whether it be about roses, Gilbert White, or the Spanish Riding School.

indexThe first book of hers I read was Airs Above The Ground. For a teenager just learning the rudiments of dressage and whose riding teacher owned a Lipizzaner-cross whom I was sometimes allowed to ride, it seemed to me to be perfection. I haven’t read it for many years now so don’t know how I would see it through older eyes, but I do remember one scene where the old, stiff stallion is grazing at dusk when he hears the strains of music from afar and for a few moments remembers his glory days and moves accordingly. It always brought tears to my eyes. A little like the way I can see the memories of his gun dog training return in my dear old Lab’s eyes when he goes for hydrotherapy because the therapist, knowing his background, uses those commands. And for a while, he thinks he’s a puppy again.

The Moon-Spinners was next. It keyed in perfectly to my guilty love of a hurt hero, and the trope of one character confessing their feelings without being aware they’re being overheard by the object of their affection. But again, the nail-biting adventure, the beautifully drawn secondary characters, and above all the setting make it so much more than a guilty pleasure.

imagiiiesAfter that, I was hooked. I don’t like all of her books as much as those – though This Rough Magic (I love all The Tempest references), Madam, Will You Talk?,  and Nine Coaches Waiting come close – but she had such a talent for weaving romance and adventure and setting into one whole that left me completely satisfied at the end of each book. Her heroines, through whose eyes we see, could so easily seem to be a Mary-Sue, but – to my younger eyes, at least – never fell into that trap. They were plucky, of course, and independent, but also flawed, and not in that annoying way that is really done just to show how perfect they are.

Thank you, Mary Stewart, for transporting me into so many different, magical worlds with your talent.



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9 Responses to Mary Stewart

  1. For me it was the Merlin series, one of the first real fantasy series I read (not counting the Narnia of my childhood). I loved her ability to craft characters that were real and likeable, and real and unlikeable but still compelling. And she was from my part of the world. She started out with an advantage there.

    Mind you, you had me at the image of your lab and his hydrotherapy. Clearing throat and wondering where all the dust came from to get in my eyes.

    • *surreptitiously passing you a tissue for that pesky dust* I really must try the Merlin series again. I did try the first one as a teenager, and can’t quite remember now why it didn’t hit the spot for me. It was probably because even then I only liked happy endings in my fiction, but I think I can get past that now.

  2. Elin Gregory says:

    Oh no, I hadn’t heard! I adored Mary Stewart. My ‘first’ was Madam Will You Talk, all art dealers and slick Frenchmen in open topped cars and men with a ‘past’, just glorious, closely followed by Wildfire At Midnight, a country hotel murder mystery set on the Isle of Skye [where many years later I honeymooned].
    Her romances – where the relationships develop, are affected by and impact upon such marvellous and exciting plots – are ideal.

    • Oh, I’d forgotten Wildfire At Midnight. What a fabulous place to honeymoon, though I hope your stay was a little more comfortable than the goings-on in the book! I think I need to re-read Madam Will You Talk.

  3. Sarah_Madison says:

    I adored Mary Stewart’s novels when I was growing up. In fact, I met one of my best friends in a library over a Mary Stewart novel that she tried to hide when I walked by because she was ashamed to be reading it. I plopped myself down in the chair across from her and told her why I loved everything about them. 🙂 I have so many of them on my bookshelf–The Moonspinners used to be my go-to summer re-read book each year. Man, I think I am *way* overdue for a re-read now!

    I was so sorry to hear of Mary Stewart’s death. Like Elizabeth Peters and Anne McCaffrey, it’s like the passing of the old guard.

    I love that you take your Lab to hydrotherapy. That’s one of the things we do at our clinic. 🙂

    • What a fantastic way to meet a new best friend – and no doubt if she was that immersed in a Mary Stewart book, the friendship was inevitable! 🙂 I adored The Moonspinners. It fed into so many of my favourite tropes that I rarely admit to in public.

      I wish I could bring young Ricky to you for hydrotherapy! He was so very, very suspicious the first time we went (he’s unlike any other Lab I’ve ever known in that he has absolutely no interest in flinging himself into the nearest body of water) and wouldn’t even accept a treat from the therapist afterwards. But now he trots in as happy as Larry and, when his session’s over, goes straight to the corner where the treats are kept and looks at her expectantly.

      • Sarah_Madison says:

        *grins* Yes, we’ve been friends *forever, it seems! I’d love to meet both your dogs–they sound like such charmers (typical Labs, in other words!) 🙂

  4. meg mcnulty says:

    It was the Merlin series for me – helped to hook me on historical fiction and fantasy. Some friends of mine had the honour of having lunch with Mary Stewart a couple of years ago. She fed them tripe! I was so jealous (though not of the tripe).

    • Sorry for the delay in replying, Meg – I’ve been away with little to no internet access for most of the time. But oh, how I loved reading your comment! All my illusions are shattered. Foodstuff apart, I hope your friends had a wonderful time. I’m definitely jealous. 🙂

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