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The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
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The Hero and the Crown (1984)

by Robin McKinley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Damar (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,0581051,280 (4.25)340
  1. 131
    Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Aerrin99)
    Aerrin99: Aerin and Katsa are both gifted women who struggle to find the line between respect and fear. Also, they kick butt.
  2. 40
    Chalice by Robin McKinley (Aerrin99)
    Aerrin99: Outside of the author, both books also share a similar feel and feature an interesting and strongly-written female character struggling to deal with her given role.
  3. 41
    The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey (Nikkles)
  4. 20
    When the King Comes Home by Caroline Stevermer (atimco)
    atimco: Both stories are well written and feature an unconventional heroine who works hard in her chosen field of study and is instrumental in saving a kingdom.
  5. 01
    Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey (SunnySD)
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» See also 340 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
Technically speaking, The Hero and the Crown is the second book published in the Damar series though events are sent many years prior to The Blue Sword. The hero of legend, Aerin Firehair, wasn't always a hero. Once she was the shy, awkward only child of the King of Damar. This is her story about her coming of age and how her legend was made.

The story is a classic hero's quest though it has some unusual elements in the second half. I absolutely loved Aerin's character, how real she feels and how hard she works to earn her place. Arein is an unsatisfactory princess - she isn't beautiful, her mother was a "witch" and she yearns to become a dragon slayer, which in this world an unglamorous job since dragons are seen as vermin and their slaying as no more than a chore. The more effort she goes to in order to prove herself to her father's court, the more she's underappreciated, never mind that all her accomplishments are quite valued by the common people she helps. She even uses methodical persistence to work out a scientific problem, with much success and was pretty cool because it's not something you see often in this kind of story. Seeing as this is a hero journey, Aerin continues her struggles until she's ultimately successful, proving herself beyond all doubt by saving the day in the end.

And now for the unusual stuff. Spoilers ahead. There is a fight that requires Aerin to travel back and forth in time. It was very confusing to read. I'm really glad one of the other characters explains it afterwards because it felt more like a dream sequence than an actual battle. Also interesting is how the author made depression a plot point. Discussing mental illness was virtually unheard of in any of the 80's fiction I read, especially not in a YA adventure story. It's handled quite well, both caused and cured by magic, yet shows the hero's resilience as she doggedly continues on her quest regardless. Highly unusual is that our hero ends up with two love interests, has relationships with both and yet this isn't a love triangle. Aerin understands that after she's become immortal, she can marry and live with her mortal lover and then join her immortal one later. Yet there is never any romantic angst. She makes her decisions level headed and when she feels like she's ready.

This story resonated with me due to all the hardships Aerin endures and over comes. I can see myself rereading this one in the future. I also greatly enjoy McKinley's prose. I need to check out some of her adult books in the future. ( )
  Narilka | Aug 23, 2018 |
A second book in this world McKinley created that I liked and re-read, but released it into the wild via bookcrossing.com ( )
  threadnsong | Jul 8, 2018 |
Truly a YA tale. I read it too old as I find it a nit too childish for my taste. Still OK though. The way it's written is weird though. ( )
  kinwolf | Jun 30, 2018 |
I jumped into this book immediately after finishing The Blue Sword. It takes place prior to The Blue Sword, but I think I got more from it reading The Blue Sword first. Aerin is the daughter of the king, but her mother was accounted a witch woman who may have magicked her way into the king's heart. Aerin's precarious position in her society (due to this hinted at stigma) led her to find a niche that was appropriate. Her bravery and sense of duty sang in my heart. Her battles with the evils in the land were epic. The interludes with Luthe were rich and peaceful. And I loved how the Damar we saw in The Blue Sword had its roots in what Aerin did.

This book is well worth reading if you enjoy fantasy at all. ( )
  Jean_Sexton | Nov 9, 2017 |
I have loved The Hero and the Crown since I first read it in junior high, and I was excited to teach it, but I recognize that it is an odd book. Aerin embraces her magical destiny and falls in love with the immortal Luthe-- but puts that love to sleep so "that she might love her country and her husband" (246). One of my students was excited at what she saw as the embrace of polyamory, but I don't think that's quite what's happening here. In addition, you get the really surreal stuff when Aerin goes to confront her evil uncle Agsded. This is the part of the book that's stuck with me the most since childhood. The tower Aerin climbs to confront Agsded is nearly infinite: "She had been climbing forever; she would be climbing forever. She would be a new god: the God That Climbs" (182). Then, when Aerin defeats Agsded, she falls almost as long and ends up in a strange place. What had been a tower in a wasteland is now rubble in the middle of a jungle. She sees people there, and is then jerked back to where she had been, the desolate plateau from which the tower had risen, and Luthe explains to her that she had traveled "a few hundred years" into the future until he pulled her back (200). Aerin then returns to her native land of Damar and defeats the remnants of the evil that threatens it before marrying Tor, the new king.

What's going on here? I have a friend who strongly reacts against Aerin's double marriage, and some of my students definitely considered the whole tower battle and journey into the future extremely weird. I think that looking at The Hero and the Crown's place in both the fantasy genre and the young adult genre helps provide an answer to this.

In her excellent monograph Rhetorics of Fantasy (2008), Farah Mendlesohn divides the fantasy genre up into a number of different approaches, based on the relative positions of the reader, the protagonist, and the fantastic. In the portal-quest fantasy, the protagonist "leaves her familiar surroundings and passes through a portal into an unknown place" (1): The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone are all prototypical examples of the form. The immersive fantasy, however, "presents the fantastic without comment as the norm for both the protagonist and for the reader: we sit on the protagonist's shoulder and [...] we are not provided with an explanatory narrative" (xx), for "the point of view characters of an immersive fantasy must take for granted the fantastic elements with which they are surrounded" (xxi). Then there's the intrusion fantasy, where the fantastic breaks into a "normal" world (xxii). (Mendlesohn also has the liminal fantasy and the "irregulars," but those are less relevant to my purposes here.)

On first glance we might see The Hero and the Crown as an immersive fantasy: it takes place in a magical land, different from our own, from the beginning. However, as you dig into both it and Mendlesohn, you start to realize that's it's not so simple. (Genre never is, except when it gets, well, generic.) The novels bears traces of the intrusion fantasy as well. The threat to Damar is an external one; the dragons that Aerin battles throughout the novel might be in Damar, but they are not from it. They are magical creatures from beyond. Furthermore, the book is extremely reminiscent of the portal-quest fantasy, and we should note when using the term that though portal-quest fantasies depart from a real world, they do not have to depart from our real world. One of Mendlesohn's prototypical portal-quest fantasies is, after all, The Lord of the Rings, which starts itself in a magical land, the Shire, but she argues that Tolkien makes the Shire real so that it can frame an adventure into a fantastic land, that of the rest of Middle Earth (2, 31).

Something similar is happening in The Hero and the Crown.  It incorporates many of the typical features of the portal-quest fantasy: quests (well, duh); an alliance of perspective between reader and protagonist, both of whom are naïve; portals that transition between places and times; exploration of an unknown land; a thinned land that requires restoration by the story's end; a connection between the king and the well-being of the land (when the right monarch is in place, the land itself is also right); and the existence of a moral universe (good and evil are objective qualities). The reason Aerin's journey to Luthe's land (where she also experiences some temporal dislocation) and Agsded's tower are so surreal is that McKinley has to mark them as fantasy worlds within the context of what seems to us a fantasy world. Aerin is used to the magics of Damar; she is not used to the magics of these other worlds that she has passed to.

Okay, but so what? Something we should always keep in mind when discussing genre, is that genres have not just features (characteristics) but projects (things they do). Mendlesohn mentions that "the classic portal tale is much more common in children's fantasy than in that ostensibly written for the adult market" (1) and she also says that portals "mark[ ] the transition between this world and another; from our time to another time; from youth to adulthood" (1, emphasis mine). So why is this the case? I think it's because of portal-quest fantasy's commitment to a moral universe: Mendlesohn says that "a quest is a process, in which the object sought may or may not be a mere token of rewards. The real reward is moral growth and/or admission into the kingdom, or redemption" (4). Young adult literature is often about teaching readers moral lessons, for better or for worse, and so the form of portal-quest fantasy is well-suited to it. The reader and the protagonist are positioned together, and so when the protagonist accomplishes moral growth, so too does the reader. Aerin accomplishes a lot of moral growth in The Hero and the Crown: she learns how to take responsibility for herself, learns how to channel her anger appropriately, learns how to set a long-term goal for herself and work toward it, learns how to coexist with those who dislike or resent her, learns how to bridge the gap between aristocracy and commoners, learns to like education and reading, learns how handle romantic and sexual feelings, and probably learns other things I'm forgetting.

So I think there's a couple things going on with the weird doubling effect at the end of the novel. Partially, there's a recognition that childhood remains when you pass into adulthood. Aerin may have crossed the portal from reality to fantasy, from childhood to adulthood, but childhood never goes away, you always carry both worlds within you, and so does Aerin.

Additionally, Aerin has to move from her immortal life back to her mortal one in order to implement the moral lessons she's learned-- because if the protagonist does not implement them, how can the reader? We're explicitly told that "it was her love for Luthe that made her recognize her love for Tor" (207). If fantasy worlds exists to teach the reader how to behave in the real world, we have that literalized in The Hero and the Crown, hence both worlds must persist. But unlike in Narnia or (to bring up another portal-quest fantasy) Susan Cooper's The Silver on the Tree, Aerin does not need to give up her fantasy life. In what surely is a fantasy (in the imagining-you-have-obtained-an-unobtainable-thing sense) she can have both lives.
3 vote Stevil2001 | Oct 28, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
Miss McKinley, the author of ''The Blue Sword,'' a 1983 Newbery honor selection, has in this suspenseful prequel, which is the 1985 Newbery Award winner, created an utterly engrossing fantasy, replete with a fairly mature romantic subplot as well as adventure. She transports the reader into a beguiling realm of pseudomedieval pageantry and ritual where the supernatural is never far below the surface of the ordinary. For those who like fantasy fiction, as I do, ''The Hero and the Crown'' succeeds.
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robin McKinleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Craft, KinukoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Craig, DanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnston, David McCallCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorn, LoriCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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She could not remember a time when she had not known the story; she had grown up knowing it. She supposed someone must have told her it, sometime, but she could not remember the telling.
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Book description
Robin McKinley's mesmerizing history of Damar is the stuff that legends are made of. The Hero and the Crown is a dazzling "prequel" to The Blue Sword.

Aerin is the only child of the king of Damar, and should be his rightful heir. But she is also the daughter of a witchwoman of the North, who died when she was born, and the Damarians cannot trust her.

But Aerin's destiny is greater than her father's people know, for it leads her to battle with Maur, the Black Dragon, and into the wilder Damarian Hills, where she meets the wizard Luthe. It is he who at last tells her the truth about her mother, and he also gives over to her hand the Blue Sword, Gonturan. But such gifts as these bear a great price, a price Aerin only begins to realize when she faces the evil mage, Agsded, who has seized the Hero's Crown, greatest treasure and secret strength of Damar
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0441328091, Mass Market Paperback)

For over a decade, Robin McKinley's richly woven saga has gripped the imagination of readers and caused critics to hail her as a master of fantasy. It is the story of Aerin, haunted since childhood by the legend of her mother-a "witchwoman" who enspelled the king and then died of disappointment after giving birth to a daughter, rather than the heroic son the kingdom needed. But little did the young princess know the long-dormant powers of her mother would wield their own destiny. For though she was a woman, Aerin was destined to be the true hero who would one day wield the power of the Blue Sword....

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:23 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Aerin, with the guidance of the wizard Luthe and the help of the blue sword, wins the birthright due her as the daughter of the Damarian king and a witchwoman of the mysterious, demon-haunted North.

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