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Literature / The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

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...her eyes curved slightly in a smile. "Go home to your world of the living, Coren. That is where you belong. I can take care of myself."
"Perhaps." He gathered the reins in his hands, turned his mount toward the road that wound downward to Mondor. Then he looked back at her, his eyes the color of clear mountain water. "But one day you will find out how good it is to have someone who chooses to come when you call."

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a 1974 World Fantasy Award-winning novel by Patricia A. McKillip; the very first book to win that award. It was her breakout novel. The story has a fairy-tale-like quality, but, as usual with McKillip's works, the myths and legends mentioned in the story are almost entirely her own invention.

The beautiful young sorceress Sybel (child of the Wizard Ogam and a noblewoman he called with magic) lives on a remote mountain deep in the Eldwold. With both her parents dead, Sybel knows little of the world of mankind; she keeps company with the collection of magical beasts started by her grandfather, which includes the wise boar Cyrin, the Black Swan of Tirlith, the spell-casting black cat Moriah, the dragon Gyld, and many more. With her powerful magic, Sybel seeks little but to expand her collection, calling beasts out of legend to join her on Eld mountain.

One day a frightened man, Coren of Sirle, shows up on Sybel's mountain with a baby. The baby, Tamlorn, is a possible heir to the throne, and being hunted by the King. He is also a cousin of Sybel's, on her mother's side, so, although she has no experience with or interest in children, she reluctantly agrees to keep him safe, and soon comes to love him as she loves her beasts. Then, when Tam is twelve years old, Coren reappears. Sybel may be drawn into the affairs of mankind after all.

Tropes in this novel include:

  • Cats Are Magic: Sybel's magical menagerie includes the huge black cat Moriah, who is legendary for her knowledge of spells and secret charms.
  • Child by Rape: Sybil, quite possibly, given that her father controlled her mother by magic.
  • Death by Childbirth: Sybel's mother died right after giving birth to her, with the implication it was because of this.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Sybel, of course. Multiple characters refer to her as being white or icy. One of the main catalysts of the defrosting part is red-headed Coren.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sybel's great-grandfather never realized he'd fathered a child, as it's said he had only slept with her great-grandmother once. Her paternal grandfather therefore grew up without ever knowing him.
  • Distressed Dude: Sybel is forced to rescue Prince Coren from her own beasts more than once.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi: Sybil's mother probably didn't consent to have sex with her father, since he called her to him with magic and she's described as being afraid of him. Sybil thinks her maternal grandfather, Lord Horst of Hilt, might be unwelcoming to her given this, yet neither any characters or the text ever describe her conception as even possibly due to rape.
  • Dragon Hoard: The dragon Gyld is old and tired and mostly content to live in Sybel's menagerie, but occasionally longs for his old hoard, which ends up causing some trouble.
  • Fantastic Nature Reserve: Sybel's collection referred to in the name of the book.
  • Fearless Fool: Sybel is too young and too powerful to know fear. She proves the fearless part when she summons The Rommalb, a creature which destroys any who fear. She proves the fool part when she continues to steal Spell Books from other wizards, despite Maelga's warnings.
  • Fluffy Tamer: Sybel's collection includes some monstrous beasts, including the Dragon Gyld and Gules Lyon.
  • Full-Boar Action: The Boar Cyrin, a major character who is a talking boar with magical knowledge and great wisdom. He knows the answers to all riddles but one.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: This is the ultimate goal of the Mind Rape that the wizard Mithran attempts on Sybel. He wants to destroy who she is, leaving her still powerful, but happy and content to serve King Drede in all ways.
  • I Know Your True Name: Sybel must learn the true names of her beasts to bind them to her. This also proves to be her own point of weakness.
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: Sybel summons The Rommalb, a creature which destroys all those who fear. She's simply too young and too powerful to understand fear though, so the encounter is harmless.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Sybel erases part of Coren's memory after he grows suspicious about her dealings with his brothers, and feels terrible about it afterward.
  • Magical Seventh Son: When Sybel asks Coren how it is that an ordinary human knows so much about the beasts in her care, he explains it by telling her that he's a seventh son of a seventh son.
  • Mind Rape: The wizard Mithran tries this on Sybel, in an attempt to destroy who she is, and ultimately turn her into a happy servant of King Drede. The horrific assault gives her her first serious taste for revenge.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Tamlorn, the child of Queen Rianna, is brought to the sorceress Sybel to keep him safe. She raises him in ignorance of his heritage.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Sybel's grandfather had been conceived this way, according to the introduction, being the result of a tryst in Mondor between the wizard Heald and an unnamed woman.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Dragon Gyld is a fairly typical western dragon: intelligent, but a rapacious predator, and contemptuous of mankind. But he has not gotten Stronger with Age. Old and wise, but no longer as strong as in his youth, he is mostly content to live, dreaming, with the rest of Sybel's menagerie. Though he does long for his ancient hoard, which ends up causing some trouble.
  • Revenge Before Reason: After the Mind Rape that was intended to destroy her personality and turn her into a happy little slave, Sybel decides that no sacrifice-not even the love and happiness of those closest to her, and certainly not the death of uninvolved third parties-is too great to make if it will ensure that the man responsible suffers the depths of terror and despair before he dies.
  • Sdrawkcab Alias: Used to speak of The Rommalb. To say its name properly (Blammor) is to summon it.
  • Spell Book: Sybel steals these from lesser wizards in her quest to learn the true names of legendary creatures. Maelga warns her that she may one day steal from the wrong wizard, but she dismisses the notion. Until it's too late.
  • The Stoic: Sybel is initially a very cool-tempered girl who shows little emotion, without caring for most other people. In time she slowly opens up, getting more emotional and empathetic.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Sybel, her father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all able to do magic, indicating it's a hereditary ability (at least for some).
  • Swans A-Swimming: The Black Swan of Tirlith, who once carried a king's daughter from her stone tower of exile. Larger and stronger than an ordinary swan, the Black Swan is unafraid of mere men.
  • Talking Animal: Most of the creatures in Sybel's menagerie could talk at one time, but most have forgotten the languages of man, and speak only with magic now. The wise Boar Cyrin is the exception, who still speaks fluently.
  • Thicker Than Water: Sybel, who has no interest in the company of other humans, agrees to keep the baby Tam safe from those hunting him only because he's related to her mother. She also finds the baby appealing and thinks he will go well in the collection.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Tamlorn's father is unknown initially, as his mother was suspected of having an affair. The father was either her husband King Drede, or Coren's brother. It turns out to be Drede. She never managed to have sex with the other fellow.
  • Wicked Witch: Maelga, Sybel's closest neighbor; one of the only people willing to live near the mysterious and frightening Eld Mountain. She's only a little bit wicked; she and Sybel end up good friends after Sybel receives the baby, Tam, and turns to Maelga for advice. She does dispense curses and potions to the villagers, though.