The Moon in Her Eye

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld — Patricia A. McKillip


1974’s standalone secondary world fantasy The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was Patricia A. McKillip’s second fantasy novel. It won the World Fantasy Award and was nominated for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award1.

Raised in isolation by her mage father, the ice-white lady Sybel is content to live with her menagerie of fantastic beasts. She knows nothing of the company of humans and cares naught for the lack.

This does not prevent a stranger from arriving on her doorstep, bearing a child whom he means to foist on her.

Sybel’s uninvited guest is Coren of Sirle and the child is Tamlorn, son of Rianna, Queen of Eldwold. This lofty ancestry would be an asset for the child if only his father had been Drede, King of Eldwold. Rianna had fallen in love with Norrel, and Coren believes (incorrectly) that Tamlorn is Norrel’s son. Drede was unhappy with his wife’s love for another. Both Rianna died in child birth and Norrel died in battle with the King. Tamlorn is in danger of an early death (neglect or murder). Coren wants Sybel to take Tamlorn and keep him safe.

Although dubious of her ability to care for a human child, Sybel reluctantly accepts the baby. With the help of local witch Maelga, Sybel manages to raise the boy, keeping from him the knowledge of who his parents were. Although his childhood is by many measures an odd one, surrounded as it is by creatures of legend, it is a happy one.

The outside world is not content to leave mother and adopted son alone. As Drede’s sole heir, Tamlorn is potentially valuable to both sides of a long and bitter conflict: Coren, as the latest lord of Sirle, rebelling against Drede. Sybel must decide between the claims of Coren (to whom she is attracted) and Drede (Tamlorn’s acknowledged father). Convinced that Tamlorn’s best hope for happiness is with his father, Sybel allows Tamlorn to leave with Drede.

Drede did not become the king of a strife-torn kingdom by knowing when to leave well enough alone. Terrified by the power Sybel manifested, Drede hires a wizard of his own, someone he hopes will make Sybel into Drede’s enchantress slave. The wizard does not long survive his attempt to bind Sybel. Drede survives only because Sybel wants to savour her revenge.

She is careless of the cost in part thanks to her wrath, but also because she does not fully grasp what that cost will be….


Although a passing reference indicates this is set in the same world as 1976’s The Riddlemaster of Hed, one does not have to have read Riddlemaster before reading this, or this before reading Riddlemaster. This is a relic of a now long-vanished age, when fantasy novels were expected to stand on their own two legs. Or covers.

It takes a special kind of stupid to embrace a strategy whose winning scenario is having a ticking time bomb of a bound wizard in one’s court. There’s a reason why almost everyone is extremely careful to be polite to wizards and witches and why do mages tend to be either standoffish (if their hobbies don’t involve humans) or terrifying (if they do). Sybel’s father was a monster who called Sybel’s mother to him with magic (wizards are unclear on the concept of consent). It would have served Drede well to consider what would happen if his bold scheme were to fail.

For her part, being raised by a mage and spending her life with animals has denied Sybel many of the basic skills she needs to navigate her unexpectedly complicated life. She expected she would have to have an heir at some point (and thus a child), but actually raising a baby is well outside her core skillset. So is falling in love with Coren or dealing with their inevitable conflicts without resorting to magic. There is quite a lot she does not know. It takes her much of the book to learn it.

McKillip’s skilful prose makes this novel memorable. While contemporaries like Dickson (The Dragon and the George) wrote in a passable contemporary vernacular, others like Brooks (The Sword of Shannara) delivered prose that clanked and thumped. Donaldson, another fantasy writer, carried out a long-winded, two-fisted assault on the English language, McKillip opts for lyricism. The result is dreamlike, which is entirely suitable for a modern fairy tale.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

Feel free to comment here. Strike that: COMMENTS ARE BACK,

Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com.

1: It lost to Poul Anderson’s A Midsummer Tempest. It was a strong year for the Mythopoeic Award:

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award

  • Win A Midsummer Tempest by Poul Anderson
  • Nomination How Are the Mighty Fallen by Thomas Burnett Swann
  • Nomination Merlin’s Ring by H. Warner Munn
  • Nomination Prince of Annwn by  Evangeline Walton
  • Nomination The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Nomination Watership Down by Richard Adams

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award (for Inkling Studies)

  • Win C. S. Lewis: A Biography Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper

I will admit all I recall of the Anderson is the premise — a world in which Shakespeare was a historian, not a writer with a talent for anachronism and a poor grasp of geography — not the actual story.


  • Robert Carnegie

    So the moral is, do not wizard in the affairs of bored royalty?

    • James Nicoll

      Sybel tries to be neutral in the grand conflict while choosing what's best for Tamlorn while at the same time casually treating the king like a summonable beast and fiddling with the mind of the man she loves to ensure he doesn't know the wrong things about her. Not all the saucers stay up in the air.

      • Robert Carnegie

        Then, respect for Elders? :-)

        I can't tell if puns are big in this magic world, like in Oz. The names are slightly bent from familiar; Tam Lin is a fairy tale character, Tanelorn is a city that Michael Moorcock characters look for, Judge Dredd appears in comics, Alan Coren edited "Punch" and Sybil is the wife in "Fawlty Towers" :-) (another pun there.)

  • David Moser

    I thought her (McKillip) voice was at its best in this book. Because of the lovely lyrical telling, I would have accepted a lesser tale happily. A very strong second book, and a great favorite from that time.

  • Marc Moorcroft

    Hurray for comments! Having read this review, I feel silly for having passed on this novel (and all of McKillip's other work) when it was (relatively) current.

  • Seth Ellis


    Of course, now I have nothing to say. But comments!

    • Adrienne Travis

      You're welcome. :D

      • Seth Ellis

        I don't know how to vote, but I upvote.

  • Cheryl Martin

    I loved this book when I read it as a child. Thanks for reminding me of it. I really should go read all of McKillip again.

  • Bonnie McDaniel

    Yay, comments! But these aren't Disqus, and I thought you said Livefyre had shut down?

    • James Davis Nicoll

      Yeah, I have no idea what this is.

    • Adrienne Travis

      It's an internal comments plugin for the CMS. It's not in the cloud.

  • Richard Hershberger

    I just want to express my appreciation for "Donaldson... carried out a long-winded, two-fisted assault on the English language" Thomas Covenant was the series that taught me that even having started a book, it is OK to put is down and quietly walk away. I had to slog through the entire damned trilogy to learn this, but it was a useful lesson.

  • Lin Sims

    Re this sentence: "As Drede’s sole heir, Tamlorn is potentially valuable to both sides of a long and bitter conflict: Coren, as the latest lord of Sirle, rebelling against Drede."

    You need to have both sides listed after the colon, since you refer to both sides before. And I can't tell, but to me it sounds from the sentence as if you're saying that Coren was head of the Sirle family rather than the seventh and youngest son. Am I misinterpreting?

    This is one of my favorite books, one that I reread time and again for comfort. Oddly, while for some reason I've thought it was in the same world as Riddlemaster, I don't remember why. Your mention of a "passing reference" means I'm going to have to reread the book. Such a chore!

  • Lal

    Also, who is Norrel? Everyone else gets some kind of background but he doesn't and I had to read that paragraph several times to ensure I hadn't missed something. :(

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