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The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld: 50th Anniversary Special Edition by Patricia A. McKillip (book review).

It is hard to determine what makes a book a classic. Previously, schoolchildren were required to read books by deceased male authors like Charles Dickens. Most of these books’ language was often not conducive to enjoyment, making reading a chore. Now, a classic is just as likely to be something that a publisher decides to reprint with that label. A real classic, though, is a book that endures. Readers remember and return to it with fondness whenever they first encounter it. It provides the same enjoyment to both the younger generation of readers and the older ones who encountered it when it was new. It still enchants those who find it for the first time. For many reasons, ‘The Forgotten Beasts of Eld’ is a classic.

Tachyon has a reputation for producing fine books and has chosen to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its publication with a new edition. To add to its desirability, it has a beautiful cover by Thomas Canty. There are also interior illustrations by Stephanie Law.

The story revolves around Sybel. She is the granddaughter of wizards, and she lives alone in the white house at Eld with only the beasts for company. Her father and grandfather summoned them, and while she finds contentment in their company, she longs to summon the Liralen, a great white bird, to complete the collection. Coren of Sirle disrupts her peaceful existence by knocking on her gates with a baby in his arms. He tells her that the baby is her aunt’s child and in danger. He convinces Sybel to take in the baby, Tamlorn. Sybel raises Tamlorn with advice from Maelga, an old woman who lives nearby.

After twelve years, Coran comes back. He comes not just for Tam, who is the son of King Drede, but for Sybel herself. His eldest brother, Rok, has sent him. She refuses both to give up Tam and to go with Coren. Tam, though, has become curious about his father. Sybel mentally summoned the king. Although Sybel doesn’t want to lose Tam, she gives him a choice, and he goes with the king. Until now, Sybel has kept aloof from the rest of the world, but it has now touched her solitude and gradually begun to intrude more and more.

This is a delightful fantasy story from an era when authors were beginning to explore the boundaries of the sub-genre, before the establishment of over-familiar tropes. It is also an exploration of different kinds of love. Sybel loves the beasts that her family has collected and with which she can telepathically communicate, but they are possessive. They bind themselves to her, denying her the freedom of choice. Her desire to add Liralen to her collection is obsessive. The love she bears for Tam is possessive, but it is also maternal. She wants to protect him. Coran loves Sybel romantically, but she does not love him, even though she agrees to marry him. The relationship between love and fear is very close, and the reasons people do things can be either love or fear. Both of these emotions contribute to Sybel’s actions.

First published in 1974, this book won the inaugural World Fantasy Award for best novel the following year. Anyone not familiar with the book should read it. For others, it is well worth rereading.

Pauline Morgan

April 2023

(pub: Tachyon, 2024. 256 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), £24.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-1696-410-8)

check out website: https://tachyonpublications.com/product/forgotten-beasts-eld/

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