Sunday, April 23, 2006

Homage to Mary Stewart

The novels of Mary Stewart were among the first full-length adult books I ever read. Lovingly handed down to my sister and me by our mother, they immediately became some of our favorite reads. We've been Mary Stewart devotees ever since. I think this is partly due to nostalgia, but mostly because they are wonderful books. We recently splurged at Alibris, so that we now have our own hardcover copies of every Mary Stewart. I love the old-fashioned jacket illustrations.

Mary Stewart is probably best known for her Merlin trilogy, which starts with The Crystal Cave. I've never really gotten into those, but rather love her stand alone romantic suspense novels.

Here they are listed from my most favorite to least:
  1. This Rough Magic
  2. Nine Coaches Waiting
  3. The Ivy Tree
  4. The Moonspinners
  5. My Brother Michael
  6. Touch Not the Cat
  7. Madame, Will You Talk?
  8. Airs Above the Ground
  9. The Gabriel Hounds
  10. Thunder on the Right
  11. Wildfire at Midnight
  12. Thornyhold
  13. Stormy Petrel
  14. Rose Cottage
Mary Stewart is one of those natural born storytellers. I think most writers learn the craft of writing over their careers, and you can see progress over the body of their work. Mary Stewart's novels are brilliant from her very first, Madame, Will You Talk?, which was published in 1954. She is one of the most consistent writers I've ever read. Her most recent novels (published in the '90s) are rather tame; I think her age took some of the edginess off her characters. But if they lack the exciting thrills of her earlier books, they are at least cozy and sweet.

Her novels always have a delicious setting, most in England, but also France, Greece, and Syria. It is always summer and the heroine is usually on vacation or at least traveling to a new place. Each enchanting setting is vividly described, and it's almost as good as traveling there for real.

I was recently at the Strand and found a beautifully preserved hardcover copy of my favorite, This Rough Magic. When I opened it up a little pamphlet fell out--the Literary Guild Review pamphlet that came with the book when the original owner received it in 1964. I did a little happy dance right there in the store. It contains an interview with Stewart and a summary illustrated with these fantastic drawings. I had some fun with Photoshop and added in little excerpts of the text.

Lucy meets Sir Julian Gale.

Oh, Max. *Swoon*

Such great adventures.

If you like to buy new, Harper has also recently reissued many of these books in mass market editions with very pretty covers. Every booklover should go out immediately and buy them. All. You'll love them.


julieree said...

quelle photoshopping!! You must have had a SUPER smart teacher.

If it weren't weird, we would have a Mary Stewart shrine. But it would be weird, so we just devote an entire bookshelf to her.

I will counter with an Homage Part 2 on my blog in the next couple days. I take issue with your favorites list. It needs tweaking, methinks.

Jennie said...

I was taught by the best photoshopper around.

Kristie (J) said...

Ahhhh - Mary Stewart. I cut my teeth on her. Although it's been years since I've read any of her books, from what I remember Touch Not the Cat was my favourite. I was intrigued by the odd *communication* the hero/heroine had and I remember getting caught up in trying to figure out who it was she *talked* to all those years.

Jennie said...

Yes, Touch Not the Cat is definitely a good one. Who wouldn't want a secret lover who you can communicate telepathically with?!

Anonymous said...

I've loved Mary Stewart for years. Her romantic suspense books still make my heart trip, and her literary allusions still warm the soul of an old college English major. My only beefs are that her landscape descriptions are too lengthy (I tend to skim them), and her later novels didn't grab me nearly like the earlier ones do.

My personal list in order:

1. Nine Coaches Waiting - maybe it's the Cinderella element, but it gets me every time. Even though by the time he proposes they've been together maybe 5 times - almost as bad as Madam, Will You Talk?, which I also love. (Add a little willing suspension of disbelief).

2. This Rough Magic
3. Madame, Will You Talk?
4. The Moonspinners
5. Airs Above the Ground
6. The Ivy Tree
7. Wildfire at Midnight
8. The Gabriel Hounds
9. Touch Not the Cat
10. Thunder on the Right

(big gap)
11. Thornyhold
12. My Brother Michael - even though this is early Mary Stewart, it left me cold. Maybe I should try it again.

(bigger gap - for Mary Stewart completists only)
13. Stormy Petrel
14. Rose Cottage

- Tadia

Winter Maiden said...

Mary Stewart was my introduction to grown-up books (bar a couple of exceptions). My 6th grade English teacher read our class The Moon-Spinners at about a chapter a day. I can't imagine what the boys thought (this was in Memphis in the 1960s), but I was hooked. I'm currently re-reading the books, after a gap of about 20 years, and realizing that as a child I read and re-read them so often that even now I anticipate certain lines before I get to them.

I don't do lists, but my favorites were, oh gosh--all of them, I guess. I think I do have a particular fondness for The Gabriel Hounds, because it brought together so many elements I love (and with a more-assertive-than-usual heroine), and Nine Coaches Waiting. But right up there for me are My Brother Michael, Wildfire at Midnight, and The Ivy Tree. I also enjoy Airs Above the Ground for its horses and its humor, its veterinarian heroine, and the delightful Lewis and Tim.

This Rough Magic was re-read, but not quite as often, and I find that The Moon-Spinners is almost forgotten, except for the setting and the line "I've never seen a man go such a purler."

I didn't much care for Thunder on the Right because it wasn't a first-person narrative, and my Mary Stewart fetishism required that. Touch Not the Cat came later, and (along with the latter three books) is in a different conceptual category for me.

The all-dark-and-damn-your-eyes heroes probably ruined me for real-life love, but I'm having a lovely time re-reading the books again, after all these years, and I see that they are being re-published now in a trade format, with black-and-white photographic covers.

What I always forget about Stewart is that, along with the romance and the travelogue, the books were funny. Not as funny as Georgette Heyer, but with their own dashing blitheness. As a writer, Stewart definitely had both erudition and that gallantry-with-a-light-touch we associate with the between-the-Wars era and London Blitz.

ferrymansdaughter said...

I am currently rereading them and - even better - have just introduced a friend of mine to them. She is currently immersed in the Merlin books but I gave her Nine Coaches Waiting and Madam Will Talk as well. First one I read was the Crystal Cave and it was only after the Merlin books that I discovered the others. Two totally different genres but quite brilliant. Incidentally, I wrote to her recently - first fan letter I ever sent - and she wrote back! What a fantastic woman!