[DWJ] Chalice

jodel at aol.com jodel at aol.com
Sat Apr 18 18:27:10 EDT 2009

I'm only up to about message #216 out of the 538, so I suspect that the 
discussion, if any,concerning this book won't be turning up until some 
months down the page.

Where I am however there was a complaint regarding some of McKinley's 
more recent work.

I have to admit that while I enjoyed the books mentioned, I *had* 
noticed that McKinley appeared to have got onto a jag of being 
determined to bury the reader in truly exhaustive detail.

Sometimes it was necessary detail. There was so much background on how 
the magic *worked* in that country that 'Spindle's End' would have 
probably not have been tellable without every bit of the detail that 
was determined to pile on for the ride.

With 'Sunshine', the narrator clearly dealt with the trauma of the 
whole story by running off at the mouth about everything in the 
periphery -- possibly to avoid the elephant, or rather, the vampire in 
the room.

But I'll agree that it was getting a bit impatient by the time I 
reached 'Dragonhaven' and we were still being burried in minutia over 
not very much. Although, considering how totally eaten alive the 
narrator was by the situation, that it might have been difficult to 
imagine what else he might have had to even *think* about, let alone to 
talk about -- or have available in his head to tell *us*.

With 'Chalice' you will need have no such worries. This is a 
comparitively spare, taut, telling in which you are given no more 
detail than what you actually *need*.

But then, she has had plenty of practice. McKinley's already told us 
this story. Twice, in fact. Yes, once again, for the third time, 
McKinley is telling us the story of Beauty and the Beast. Or maybe I 
mean Beauty and the Bees.

(In the back of my head an old quatrain by Ogden Nash was jingling its 
way all through the story as well; "The one 'l' lama, he's a 
priest,/The 2 'll' llama, he's a beast." -- and at the end it was 
pointed out to the poet that a "three-'lll' Lllama was a great 

This was also the book in which the penny finally dropped and I 
realized that in just about *all* of McKinley's work the *real* central 
conflict and challenge is to find your proper work and to do it well. 
Whatever it may happen to be. And this is never more prominent in the 
tale than in these three retellings of this same story. It is less 
clear in 'Beauty' since McKinley was so very young when it was written 
that I think that once the enchantment was broken, she did not really 
think much farther than to have Beauty's family mgically able to turn 
up for the wedding.

Of course part of this yearning for one's proper work probably hinges 
upon the opening of all three retellings (and insisted upon by the 
source material) in which the heroine has been displaced from her 
established niche in society. In 'Beauty' and in 'Rose Daughter' the 
heroine has been toppled from her place high in the local society. In 
'Chalice', Mirasol has been unexpectedly elevated to a stratum of a 
traditional heierarchy for which she has no preparation and of which 
she has little knowledge.

What is also clear is how small the scale of things is, here. The stage 
in which the action takes place is one country demense, and the current 
problems come from outside. There is apparantly a King's city out there 
somewhere. But we get only a glancing reference to it in the course of 
the story (which is much more comparable to 'Beauty' in length than to 
'Rose Daughter'). This makes it difficult to get any kind of handle 
upon the historical period (or equivalent) for being a country demense, 
in a world in which the state of the land is reflected/affected by the 
state of the ruler everything is so tied up in tradition that you could 
set the date anywhere from solidly pre-industrial to something 
comparitively modern with hardly a blink.

Except for the magic. For, as in most of McKinley's worlds, magic is 
active. In the world of 'Chalice' it appears to be based upon the 
elements, and more or less constitutes the people's religion -- 
although That is not a perfect analog. There are priesthoods, however. 
Priesthoods of Earth, and Air and Fire. Water, however, appears to be 
represented, present and administered locally in each demense, by the 
holder of the office of Chalice.

Not all Chalices hold their office in water, however, although all hold 
it in some fluid for which they have an affinity. And by the time that 
a priest reaches the 3rd level of his training, he is no longer truly 

Mirasol, the daughter of a bee-keeper, holds her office in honey. She 
is the first to do such and must adapt the rituals to fit, making her 
work all the more difficult.

The demense is under terrible threat. The last Lord left no heir -- 
which in a world where the land is tied to the ruler is the sort of 
thing which destroys a demense. Even at best one can expect the 
aftermath to last anything up to a generation. In which things rarely 
prosper, and demenses have sometimes needed to be replaced and given a 
new name. The Lord was in nature and disposition very much in the style 
of the Handsome and wild young man depicted in the painting in the 
magical castle of 'Beauty' who Beauty herself judged had "died young".

The former Lord did die young. And he took his Chalice with him. His 
younger brother, who was of a better nature for ruling, and might 
therefore have confused the land, had been forced into the priesthood 
of fire, and had passed into his 2nd level of training. From which none 
had ever returned.

The Grand Seneschal has insisted that a return be attempted for the 
sake of the land. But the overlord, is unwilling to wait for results, 
and has chosen a favorite to whom the demense should be given, despite 
the damage that a change of ruler will cause.

A fine piece of stripped-down vintage-style McKinley which I find it 
difficult to believe that anyone here won't enjoy (apart from that 
minority who never much enjoy McKinley).

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