November 22nd, 2015

Macbeth the Usurper

The Hollow Hill (Best Fantasy Novels of the 1970s)

In The Hollow Hills (1973), Mary Stewart continues her feast of too many words. In this book, we have a novella length story padded out to gothic proportions. Merlin takes charge of the newly born Arthur and shepherds him towards adulthood.

When it comes to book, I'm the type to read every word. Not so with this book. Having learned my lesson from The Crystal Cave, I chose to skim, skipping paragraphs, pages, and even entire unnecessary chapters, finishing the book with far less pain and suffering than the first one. This is a book almost entirely of fluff, like a marshmallow put into a microwave until it's the size of a plate, and about as filling.

Don't mistake me for calling Mary Stewart a bad writer. She's a very good and competent one, but for needing a editor with the blood lust of Genghis Khan, hacking down this novel to a far more readable length with great prejudice.

This book misses too much for me. Every character is lacking, especially our protagonist, Merlin. I dare say that none of the characters go through any meaningful human arc. Likewise, I think that none of the themes go through any meaningful arc. Even Arthur doesn't have a meaningful arc, other than he grows up offstage, and so his development is entirely removed from the readers eyes. Rather than any meaningful story, we wander through a faux plot, much like a haunted house ride on rails, where horrors seem to come at us, but the rails always swerve us away from the terror just in time, and we quickly learn that we were never in any danger to begin with. The ride is predestined, just as the book was.

I guess that we were supposed to see all the complex machinations that went on behind the scenes to keep Arthur safe, but those machinations prove unengaging. To be honest, I just don't see the motivation in him. His reason for doing this? A vision. Is it political belief? No, but a little bit. Is it family unity? A little, but not really. Is it religious belief? A little, but not enough to make a difference. No, Merlin's actions originate entirely outside him, in a vision, about something or another. There will be a King, and Arthur will be king, and the king he will be, and he'll be a great king. I suppose that the future of the country is at stake, but I really don't care.

Not caring is the big thing. How can we spend so many words and so much time with these characters, yet care so little by the end?