Robin McKinley

Another letter from Robin! This sent to Damien, via her agent, 17 Feb 1998. It's the second letter I received from her, this largely in response to my timeline and commentary.
Dear Damien R. Sullivan,

Thanks very much for agreeing to try to keep my private address off your website pages. This means a lot to me.

For the rest, I think my best choice is to wish you well and withdraw. You are interested in things about my work that I am no longer interested in, or at a level or detail that I'm afraid never has interested me. I think some of the questions in the chronology of Damar that you cite do have answers; some of them certainly do not. Any more than 'real' history does. The tension, if you will, between the real and the legendary, or the scientific and the fabulous-or from witness to witness or commentator to commentator relating and organising the same 'facts' -fascinates me. Always has. I like the idea that truth is not an absolute, like those particles that turn out to be waves excepts they aren't waves either. That truth (and waves or particles) is a thing of context, or circumstances, and when you change the context you probably change the 'truth' too. This is one of the places where my stories come from, and why if I ever found Damar matching up too perfectly I would promptly try to unmatch it. It's one of the reasons I could 'rewrite' Beauty and the Beast: both stories, to me, are true. That they are incompatible, if they are the 'same' story, doesn't interest me in the least. I find Jung more interesting than Darwin: it's the stuff you can't classify, can't pin down, that intrigues me most. I'm not saying this is right or wrong, I'm just telling you where I want to go in my own stories, and why I can't follow you much down the side-tracks that interest you.

Damar, by the way, has never been a trilogy. This was a lunacy out of the overheated brain of some advertising slug back in the dawn of time; if never had anything to do with me. The half a million seriously out of control words I refer to in the afterword to ROSE DAUGHTER are about Damar, I hope they will eventually stop fighting with me and each other and tell me how they want to be told, but supposing they ever do, I imagine they will be very different in feel or tone than SWORD and HERO. This must vary from writer to writer, but a writer has to be more interested in where she's going than where she's been; I have perhaps a more severe case of this than many. BEAUTY, SWORD and HERO happened very nearly in another life at this point; DEERSKIN and ROSE still interest me actively because there is material in them that is still 'alive' to me (and I don't mean literal rose-bushes in my literal garden or my whippets as miniature fleethounds) and will probably want to be worked out in some future stories.

Most of your 'unanswered questions' have Jungian rather than Darwinian answers. (You do understand I am not knocking Darwin, whom I admire very much, and you may be a devoted reader of Jung. But you do call yourself a 'scientist type.') Number nine, for example, makes me laugh. 'Exactly' indeed. Dream on... Aerin is a legend in Harry's day; I wrote SWORD and HERO back to front-which is the way I want people to read them-partly because I was interested in how a hero gets to be a hero: by Harry's time Aerin is this revered, fantastic seven-league-boot sort of major figure on the horizon; but she started out as the outcast daughter of a witchwoman, neither liked nor trusted, who came into her own initially by being too stubborn to know when she couldn't win. As for whether she's alive or not, I dunno. Do you believe in life on other planets? If so is it life as we know it (Jim)? Do you believe in life after death, reincarnation, miracles (i.e. that remain unexplained), any of THE X FILES? I like unanswered questions. If, as Damar's official historian, I uncover 'proof' that Aerin is still alive, I'll put it in a book. Oh, that isn't Lissar Aerin has a vision of; it's a story I haven't told yet, although I plan to. The Tommy and Leo one is the first Damarian story I ever tried to write, and I suspect that one may never get finished...Etc. And by the way, it's true that Damar started as a kind of alternate British India. I think one of the greatest tellers of Story who has ever lived is Kipling, despite his political failings. But the point for me, who as a child read a lot of stories where only guys ever had adventures while the women stayed at home, I wondered about all the 'little brown people' and maybe if they felt about the roles they were relegated to at all the way I felt about mine as a girrrl. Damar is trying to turn those tables a bit. The Damarians are a lot nicer and more interesting than the Homelanders; the good Homelanders are the ones that throw in their lot with the Damarians; nor is there any cute business at the end, a la E M Hull, where Corlath or whoever turns out to be a Homelander under the suntan or the walnut juice. One inevitable problem then however is that if you want a racial outcast, she has to be fair. (Yes, I could have made her striped or blue, but then that would have been another sort of issue.) I might have done this differently if I were starting now. And what makes a book work or not work for this reader or that is always obscure, but people do fall in love even quicker than Beauty and the Beast in ROSE DAUGHTER. I've been getting letters from some of them. My husband and I decided our future was together after two days, and since that was seven years ago and we still think this was one of our better ideas, it looks like we were right.

And here's the real bottom-line reason why I never was going to be much in evidence in your pages: I'm a slow writer. The above has taken me over an hour, and I can't spare the time.

Thanks again for your cooperation about my home address, and best wishes. And if you want to excerpt any of the above for your site, feel free, although if you would please not edit me I would be very grateful. (See 'context changes truth', above.)


Robin McKinley

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