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A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories (original 1994; edition 1994)

by Robin McKinley

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722None12,950 (3.78)28
Member:wisewoman
Title:A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories
Authors:Robin McKinley
Info:Greenwillow Books (1994), Hardcover, 195 pages
Collections:My Library
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Tags:Children's/YA Fiction, Fantasy

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A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories by Robin McKinley (1994)

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» See also 28 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
I've always loved fairytale retellings, and I really like what McKinley does with fairytales, whether she's making them up or bending them to suit her own stories. This little collection is no different: I'm told the stories are set in the world of some of her novels, Damar, but to be honest I rather preferred them to the Damar novels. I couldn't say why, but...

They're all rather quiet stories, mostly people living in a world with magic where it's really best if that magic doesn't touch them, and when it does, they have to live with it. The first story reminded me of Ursula Le Guin's writing, too, which is always gonna be a good thing. That and the fourth were my favourites, I think. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
I really liked the first four short stories in this book. The last one though, I have to admit, is my least favorite and to me personally could do without. (Just my personal opinion) Other than that, I had a great time reading this book and always am looking for it on the shelf when I am at the library. These stories never get old to me and I love it when a book can do that without having to be the size of a dictionary! ( )
  Leelynn | Jul 7, 2012 |
Last summer I read Robin McKinley's two novels of Damar, The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, and I enjoyed the former a lot, though I was ambivalent about the latter.  The "About the Author" blurb of The Blue Sword promises that it is the first of many novels about Damar, but in fact, no more ever appeared.  There is, however, this collection of five short stories, four of which take place in Damar, or at least on the same fantasy world.  (One character from the novels shows up in two of the stories, though he is not really one of my favorites.)

I feel like I have high standards for children's/YA fantasy with female protagonists; I don't like it when the protagonists seem ineffectual or incidental, or if they're empowered in a way I find over simplistic, or if too much emphasis is placed on their relationships to men. (All of these are my problems with Tamora Pierce's Tortall novels.) I don't think I have these same standards for YA fantasy about boys, but then, I don't think I read much of that, either.  Anyway, this is a long way of saying that three of the five stories in A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories fail those standards, and so I don't like them, but I don't know if ideology is a good reason to dislike a story.  But I'd like to think that these are just bad stories.  Bizarrely, obnoxiously bad.

The first two stories, "The Healer" and "The Stagman" are almost the same.  The protagonist is a girl in difficulty ("The Healer" features a mute; "The Stagman" a princess about to murdered by her uncle), then the girl is rescued by something/one supernatural (a traveling mage; a stagman), then the girl is taken to the realm of Luthe (who also appeared in The Hero and the Crown), then the girl hangs out there for a while, then she goes home and gets married to a man she met while hanging out with Luthe.  That's it?  Neither character overcomes any danger or obstacle herself; in fact, in "The Stagman," the army to overthrow her uncle is raised by her soon-to-be-husband while she is content to do nothing!  The girl in "The Healer" is healed by Luthe with no risk to herself, preempting what could be a potentially interesting story about someone who's never spoken learning to speak, while the overthrow of the uncle happens in passing in "The Stagman,"  I don't find either very inspiring or interesting.

The third story, "Tauk's House," is no better.  A witch takes a newborn girl from a poor family as payment, she raises the girl alongside her half-troll son (who is seventeen years older!), the girl grows up and walks to a far-off kingdom where she heals a prince, and then she walks back and marries the troll.  So what?  Is there even a plot?  I don't know if it's because McKinley is trying to work in a fairy tale aesthetic, but in fact, fairy tales do not conform to contemporary notions of plotting, and neither do these boring tales.

Thankfully, things picked up with the fourth story, "Buttercups," which is where the beautiful cover image comes from.  It's about a hardworking farmer and the woman he marries and the strange force residing beneath a hill on their farm.  The characters are engaging, the themes are interesting, the prose is excellent, and the magic is lurking-- I really liked this one.  The story kind of just stops at one point, but in a literary way that makes you think you've learned something.  (I am pretty sure that that is true.)

The last story is, unusually, set in the 1990s, when it was written.  "A Knot in the Grain" is the tale of a girl moving across the state and adjusting.  It's full of nice details, showing the thoughts and feelings of someone adjusting to change and the coming of adulthood.  I particularly liked how McKinley used the books the protagonist was reading to tell us stuff; she reads Diana Wynn Jones, The Last Unicorn, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Charles Dickens, and even Mistress Masham's Repose.   It could be a piece of nongenre fiction, almost, but there is magic, which is subtle, but disconcerting and powerful.  Again, the ending is kinda off, but overall I liked it a lot.

I'm glad to have read both "Buttercups" and "A Knot in the Grain," but frustrated at the rest of the stories here.  I don't know that I'll be reading more McKinley after this; my experiences have been too mixed, and I'm not really interested by all the fairy tale retellings anyway.
2 vote Stevil2001 | Nov 1, 2011 |
Five stories, of varying interest. The Healer, about a mute girl and an injured mage - a Luthe story, though not, as far as I can tell, a Damar one. The Stagman, which annoys me - it's written fairy-tale style, with very little personality to any of the characters, and it's too similar to Luthe & Aerin. The princess marries for the good of the land then runs away to her true love when her duty's done...don't know, it bothers me. Touk's House - an interesting variant on Rapunzel (and a couple other fairy tales), with a touch of the same marrying-for-duty thing but it goes away and she makes her choice. Buttercups, which I like - it follows patterns of several fairy tales, but does it with plenty of personality involved. Pos and Coral are very real; so is Buttercup Hill, and the way they paid and how the cost was not destructive. I wonder what would have happened if they hadn't confessed to each other? Nothing good, I suspect. Finally, the title story. Very different in setting and somewhat in flavor; rather than fairy story set in unspecified lands, a teenager in modern America dealing with moving to a new home and a highway coming through...with just a bit of some old magic sticking its nose into matters. I like that one, too. ( )
1 vote jjmcgaffey | Sep 13, 2011 |
Though Ms. McKinley says she has a hard time with short stories, these five are satisfying. With the exception of "A Knot in the Grain", they are all set in a fantasy world. The first two, "The Healer" and "The Stagman" are certainly set in McKinley's world, Damar. Both feature the character of Luthe. I found "The Healer" satisfying and "The Stagman" a little depressing. Why Ruen has to give up happiness for most of her life is beyond me! "Erana" was a unique twist on the fairytale Rapunzel, though there is no tower or long hair and Erana is free to go when she grows up. "Buttercups" was probably my favorite. I loved how Coral and Pos are both beset by doubts and worries, but they learn to turn to each other. "A Knot in the Grain" has fantasy elements, but I liked it most for how Ms. McKinley captures those feelings I had each time I moved as a child. I could relate completely to Annabelle's experiences. ( )
  tjsjohanna | Jun 26, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robin McKinleyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Leister, BryanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Mary Lou, who brought me to Cumberland Lodge
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The child was born just as the first faint rays of dawn made their way through the cracks between the shutters.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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published in A Knot in the Grain and other stories
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0064406040, Paperback)

Lily. A woman with power to heal, but no powers of speech. Then she meets a mage---a man who can hear the words she forms only in her mind. Will he help her find her voice?

Ruen. A princess whose uncle leaves her deep in a cave to die at the hands of a stagman. But when she meets the stagman at last, Ruendiscovers fatehas a few surprises in store for her.

Erana, As a baby, she is taken be a witch in return for the healing herbs her father stole from the witch's garden. Raised alongsidethe witch's troll son, Erana learns that love comes in many forms.

Coral. A beautiful young newcomerwho catches the eye of an older widowed farmer. He can't believe his good fortune when Coral consents to be his wife. But then the doubts set in---what is it that draws Coral to Butter Hill?

(see all 2 descriptions)

Lily. A woman with power to heal, but no powers of speech. Then she meets a mage---a man who can hear the words she forms only in her mind. Will he help her find her voice? Ruen. A princess whose uncle leaves her deep in a cave to die at the hands of a stagman. But when she meets the stagman at last, Ruen discovers fate has a few surprises in store for her. Erana, As a baby, she is taken by a witch in return for the healing herbs her father stole from the witch's garden. Raised alongside the witch's troll son, Erana learns that love comes in many forms. Coral. A beautiful young newcomer who catches the eye of an older widowed farmer. He can't believe his good fortune when Coral consents to be his wife. But then the doubts set in---what is it that draws Coral to Butter Hill?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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