Friday, September 26, 2008

Merlin of the Crystal Cave

Sorry for the long lag between posts! I've been busy starting graduate school. But I'm determined to keep the Mary Stewart blog alive. Updating will probably have to wait until winter break!

LadyTink has brought this movie to my attention. I thought that The Moon-Spinners was the only Mary Stewart book that had been made into a movie. I was oh-so-wrong. The Crystal Cave was apparently adapted into Merlin of the Crystal Cave in 1991. Here's the imdb page.

I've looked around at all my local libraries and no one seems to have a copy (not too surprising, I guess). Has anyone seen it? There appears to be a used copy on Amazon for $3. Is it worth it?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More covers!

I decided I needed to own every Mary Stewart book in hardcover. So I did some shopping on Alibris. :)

William Morrow, 1956 edition

William Morrow, 1963 edition

William Morrow, 1965 edition

The only one I'm missing in hardcover is Thunder on the Right, which seems to go for over $75 for the old William Morrow edition. Anyone know why it's so much more expensive? It's my least favorite book, so I won't be spending that much money on one.

I also had to buy this old mass market copy of This Rough Magic. Because you can never have too many copies of This Rough Magic. :)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More fans of Stewart

I have converted my friend Li to the greatness of Mary Stewart. MWAHAHAHA! She loved Nine Coaches Waiting so much that she's now rushed to order more Stewart. I've told her she has to read This Rough Magic next. :)

And Alicia Paulson, creator of the very popular craft blog Posie Gets Cozy, has been reading Rose Cottage and Thornyhold. She loved them, of course. She says Rose Cottage "was the perfect book to read on a blanket under the shade of a tree in the Shakespeare Garden (which is where I read it). Good one."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Similar to Mary Stewart

I'm always interested in finding authors whose books are similar in some way to Mary Stewart's. Same sort of tone, similar plots or settings.

Here are some authors that I've tried and can recommend as very good:

Barbara Michaels is a pseudonym of Barbara Mertz, who also writes historical fiction under the name Elizabeth Peters. Under the Michaels name she writes gothic suspense novels, which often have romantic threads running through them.

Daphne du Maurier is most famous for Rebecca, which is an amazing book. I haven't read any of her others but mean to in the future.

M.M. Kaye wrote a series of "Death in" books. Death in Kashmir, Death in the Andamans, etc. All feature young English women in exotic settings caught in dangerous situations. (She also wrote my favorite children's book of all time, The Ordinary Princess, which is not at all like anything Mary Stewart ever wrote but still fabulous.)

Susanna Kearsley writes lovely suspense novels, some contemporary and some historical (and some a combination of both!). My favorites are The Shadowy Horses and The Winter Sea.

And a few other authors I've seen mentioned as similar to Stewart but haven't read:
Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden, Phyllis Whitney

Anyone have any other suggestions?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mary Stewart on Happy Endings

A quote from the preface to the 1969 Hodder & Stoughton Mary Stewart Omnibus I:

But one convention of the mainstream of adventure fiction I have kept right through my novels, the convention that the good ends happily, the bad unhappily. "That is what fiction means," said Oscar Wilde. We can laugh at it, but it is sound tradition. A complicated plot rounded off with the reader's imagination projected willingly into the future, is a deeply satisfying reading experience. It is also much more difficult to write effectively than the unresolved or the tragic ending.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mary Stewart in translation

I came across a 1977 article on Mary Stewart in Something About the Author* that says that "Mary Stewart's novels have been translated into sixteen languages, including Hebrew and Icelandic and Slovak." I'm assuming her books have spread even further in the last 25 years, but I'm not sure how to find out the exact number. I cruised the web for cover images and was able to find The Crystal Cave in French, Spanish, and German. Very interesting to see the different cover art used in different countries. The cartoon cover on the Spanish edition is pretty cool.

The National Library of Scotland has an extensive collection of Mary Stewart novels, including many translations. If you search in their catalog, you'll come up with 458 hits for Stewart, Mary, 1916-. That's a lot of different editions. Kasteel in de Alpen is Nine Coaches Waiting in Dutch. Manadisirnar is The Moon-Spinners in Icelandic. Okami mori no noroi is A Walk in Wolf Wood in Japanese.

Of course, it's not at all surprising to me that Mary Stewart is read all over the world. Her protagonists may be perfectly English women, but a good story is a good story the world over.

*Something About the Author, v. 12: 217-219. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1977.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Site updates

I've made some updates to the Mary Stewart site:

**I figured out how to put an RSS feed on the index page, so the three most recent posts here on the blog show up there at the bottom. My coding skillz, they are growing.

**MaryK was fabulous and sent us the William Morrow blurbs for Madam, Will You Talk, The Moon-Spinners, and Airs Above the Ground. So we now have the expanded summaries there. Thanks, MaryK!

**I've updated the Madam, Will You Talk page. I put some extra info at the top (including links to various posts here on the blog) and added an excerpt. An excerpt--yay! I hope I'm not infringing any copyrights. Eek. It's pretty short, I very clearly state what it is, and I added links to buy the book on Amazon and other places. So surely the publishers couldn't mind. I'm doing their advertising work for them. :)

Eventually I'll update all the novels pages to look like this. But it'll take some time. :)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reader review index: Madam, Will You Talk?

I'm going to keep updating this post with links to all the reader reviews I can find for Madam, Will You Talk? So far, I haven't found too many, but I'm sure the list will grow. :)

Road to Romance
Rosario's Reading Journal
Amazon reviews
Jennie's B(ook)log

If you've talked about this book on your own blog or website, send me the link and I'll add it to the list!

And I wanted to let you all know that if you would like to write a review for any Stewart novel but don't have your own site, I'd be more than happy to post it here on the blog. Just email us at

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Photo gallery: Madam, Will You Talk?

Since Mary Stewart's books are so famous for their exotic and well-described settings, I thought it would be fun to find photos of those settings and post them here on the blog. I hope eventually to make my way through all the novels. I'm starting with Madam, Will You Talk? The book's heroine, Charity Selborne, makes her way through much of southern France.

Le Pont d'Avignon
photo by Navas
"...presently, round a curve in the city wall, the old bridge of the song came into view, its four remaining arches soaring out across the green water to break off, as it were, in midleap, suspended halfway across the Rhone."

The Pont du Gard
photo by Wolfgang Staudt
"I suppose the ten or twelve minutes that David and Rommel and I spent gazing at those golden arches spanning the deep green Gardon were like the last brief lull before the thunder."

Nimes, the Temple of Diana
photo by smithco
"I left my chair and went through the crumbled arches into the tiny square of the temple. It was like being miles from anywhere. Behind me, back through the crumbled archway, was the hot white world with its people and its voices; here, within, was a little square of quiet and green coolness. Trees dripped over the high broken walls, shadows lay like arras in the pillared corners, fronds of ferns lent softness to every niche and crevice."

Les Baux
photo by kahala
"The deserted town of Les Baux, in medieval times a strong and terrible fortress, stands high over the southern plains....The prospect is wild enough, and strange enough, to satisfy anyone who, like myself that evening, felt so pressingly the need for quiet and my own company."

Marseilles, Chateau d'If
photo by Axel13000
"I sat on the low parapet of the turret of the Chateau d'If watching the white stone slowly flush to a tender rose. I watched the softly breaking water of the tideless sea wash and wash cross the whispering white pebbles, aquamarine rippled through with liquid gold."

The port of Marseilles
photo by bfalk
"Presently we found ourselves in a cobbled street which slanted along the sea front, with tall houses to the left of us, and a low sea-wall to the right. Away ahead, floating in the starlit air like a vision, glimmered the gold statue of Our Lady who stands on the high summit of Notre Dame de la Garde."

*All quotes are from Madam, Will You Talk? copyright 1955, Mary Stewart
**A note about the photos. All photos are from flickr--each attribution has links to the photo and the artist's profile. If you own one of these photos and would like it removed, simply let us know in the comments. Thanks!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday trivia

Only one of Stewart's suspense novels is told in the 3rd person, rather than the 1st. Which is it?

MaryK got it right! It's Thunder on the Right. Here's a quote from an article that Mary Stewart wrote in 1970:
With Thunder on the Right, I tried a technical change of approach, from first person to third. I had dropped naturally, without calculation, into the first person ... but now thought it right to experiment. Of course writing in the first person has certain drawbacks, especially in "danger" and "suspense" situations--certain elements of surprise are cut out, the viewpoint is limited, and direct action is also limited to scenes where the protagonist is present--but for me the advantages far outweigh the losses. The gain in vividness, personal involvement and identification is immense.

In Thunder on the Right, with the third-person approach, I found I had more freedom of action and viewpoint, but in my next novel, Nine Coaches Waiting, went back with a kind of relief to the first person, and have used it ever since.
---"Teller of Tales" in The Writer, Vol 83, p.11

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reader review: The Crystal Cave

I finally read The Crystal Cave! For years I've meant to, and been slightly ashamed that I haven't before. I mean, I love Stewart so much that I've spent many, many hours creating a website about her, and I haven't read her most critically acclaimed novel? (We won't go into an argument now about why her suspense novels did not receive the literary attention her Arthurian books did.)

What kept me from reading the book for so many years is the fact that it's about King Arthur. I know that story, and I know it doesn't end well. I have very little patience with tragedy. But I should have known that Stewart would still deliver an enjoyable tale. And actually we don't even get to meet Arthur in TCC--it is wholly Merlin's story.

The book opens when Merlin is six years old. He is the bastard son of the daughter of one of the lesser kings of England, in Wales in the 5th century. His mother kept his father's name an absolute secret, even from Merlin, and the rumor has started that he is the son of the devil or a demonic spirit. And we soon learn that Merlin does have a bit of magic about him: he has the Sight, which occasionally gives him visions. He is taught by a local wise man, not only about things mystical, but also about science and medicine.

When Merlin is twelve, his grandfather dies and his uncle comes to power. The already precarious political situation crumbles further. Merlin has always had some protection in the fact that as an illegitimate child his claim to the throne (something he has no interest in) has never been good. But his uncle sees him as a threat, so Merlin has to run for it. He goes to Brittany and joins Ambrosius, a Roman Briton who is preparing to invade England. Ambrosius takes Merlin in as a trusted advisor, and Merlin is instrumental in Ambrosius's successful campaign and his eventual crowning as the first King of all England.

If anyone is wondering where in all this is the Arthurian story you know, at the end of the book Merlin is advisor to Ambrosius's brother Uther, who fathers Arthur. TCC is the first book of a trilogy, followed by The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. I'm assuming we see more of Arthur in those two.

I admit I have little experience with Arthurian stories, but this felt much more like historical fiction than fantasy to me. The historical detail is so interesting, and Stewart obviously spent a lot of effort on research. It's a time period I know very little about, after the Roman occupation when Briton and Saxon leaders were fighting it out. The Roman names are a bit confusing (esp. Vortigern and Vortimer--I couldn't keep them straight), but all the history is presented very clearly. It's all fascinating, and though complex, never overwhelming.

So while the history is realistic, the fantastical and mystical elements are still very present, though they are wrapped up discussions of the many religions of the time. Much like the political situation, religion too was a fragmented matter--a kind of smorgasbord of British druidism, Christianity, and the eastern cult of Mithras that the Romans adopted and brought to England. Merlin is very sure that his power comes from god--one god, a single power, whatever you call him--but he dabbles in whatever religious experience comes his way in order to learn all he can. Really interesting.

Merlin is a fascinating character. A bit of a loner, keenly intelligent and curious. TCC is a coming of age story more than anything else, and we see him develop his intelligence and his powers. And that is his total ambition; he has no dreams of ruling himself. He is self-effacing and humble, though his story is such a big one. One of my favorite lines in the book is when Ambrosius says to him: "No, Merlin, you will never make a king, or even a prince as the world sees it, but when you are grown I believe you will be such a man that, if a king had you beside him, he could rule the world."

I admit I was hoping for a bit of a love story tucked in somewhere, but Merlin is really almost asexual. Not that he doesn't feel the natural urges, but he suppresses them because he just knows that that type of relationship would interfere with his destiny, though that sounds overly grandiose. But his other relationships (with his mother, Ambrosius, teachers, and friends) made up for the lack of a traditional love story and served to personalize and warm up the story.

The style of this book is very different from Stewart's suspense novels, but one element that is the same is the vivid description of setting. It's one of the things she's most famous for and for good reason. And the language is simply beautiful.

Final thoughts: I still like Stewart's suspense novels better, though this has nothing to do with the quality of the books. They are just more my style--a love story satisfies me like little else. ;) But this was a great read. If I had any doubt, I would know it was good by the length of my review. The Crystal Cave gave me lots of talk about and lots to think about! I'll be reading The Hollow Hills soon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday trivia

Which Mary Stewart novel's original working title was Murder for Charity?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Full blurb for The Crystal Cave

Most of the blurbs we've posted on the Novels page for each book come from the jackets of the William Morrow hardcovers, the first editions published in the US. They're much more complete than those put on paperbacks and reissues, and I think they're very nicely written and do an excellent job of matching the tone of the books.

Of course, that meant we had to locate a copy of each edition with dust jacket intact, not always an easy thing to do. A few weeks ago I finally located a hardcover copy of The Crystal Cave with a jacket, so I've posted the fuller blurb to the website. Yay for library sales. Here it is:
Almost everyone knows Merlin as the dark, brooding figure mysteriously associated with Camelot and King Arthur’s court.

But who, really, was Merlin? Was he the enchanter of fairy tales, the magician in the black robe and pointed hat and wand? Or was he the king and prophet of old legends of Brittany and Wales? How did a man reputed to be the bastard son of the Prince of Darkness, and condemned to death as a child of the Devil, become the chief architect of the first united Britain?

Mary Stewart’s answers to these provocative questions form a spell-binding novel that catapults the reader into fifth-century Britain – a land uncertainly emerging from Roman rule and divided by conflicting loyalties, political and spiritual; a land riddled with rumor real and planted, and spear-alert with superstitious fear.

Into this strange world was born Merlin, bastard son of Niniane, daughter of the King of South Wales, and an unknown father. The novel opens in Wales when Merlin is seven, and closes in Cornwall, at Tintagel, with the begetting of Arthur.

Mary Stewart is one of the most widely read novelists writing today. Her great gift as a storyteller, her enviable flair for making places and action come alive have never been more clearly defined than in The Crystal Cave.

This is not a story to be read once, however eagerly, and then forgotten. Its imaginative truth will stand the test of time.

We are still missing Morrow blurbs for Madam, Will You Talk, Thunder on the Right, Airs Above the Ground, and The Moon-Spinners. If anyone has hardcover copies of any of these and wants to transcribe the blurb and send it to us, we'd greatly appreciate it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

More fab old covers

Fellow Mary Stewart fan Kerry sent me a whole slew of great old covers that I'd never seen before. I've added them to the cover gallery. A couple of my favorites:

A Coronet mass market edition of This Rough Magic from the early '60s. I love this style of cover--though that girl looks a bit too passive to be Lucy. And that's a dead body washed ashore right behind her. Shouldn't she be doing something about that? And she looks like she's wearing a toga. Maybe it's supposed to be the outfit she borrows from the Corfuote (?) lady who takes care of her after she washes ashore?

And look at this copy of The Ivy Tree! I'm not sure of the date on this one, but look at Mary/Annabel's hair. It's like a helmet. Maybe early 70s?

Many thanks to Kerry for scanning these for us!

Slightly appalling, but mostly impressive

I got a laugh out of this: a craft blogger, LazyTcrochet, has taken an old copy of The Moon-Spinners, torn out the pages (gasp!), and made it into a purse. She asks book-lovers not to be offended, saying that the pages were torn. I told her in the comments that I think it's a sort of tribute to Mary Stewart. It is a very pretty object she's made, though I don't think I'll be giving any of my copies similar treatment. :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Where to start...

Never read a Mary Stewart book? You might look at her list of books and wonder which one to start with. I could just say that they're all so good you could start with any of them. But that probably doesn't help much.

First thing to decide is, do you want Arthurian historical fiction or romantic suspense? If it is the former, then your answer is easy. Start with The Crystal Cave -- it's the first in the series.

Now if you want a romantic suspense things get a little trickier. They are all stand-alone novels, so you really can start anywhere. We created this little quiz, which is not at all scientific, but might be a fun way of telling you which to start with. Here are my results:
Which Mary Stewart novel should you read?
Your Result: This Rough Magic

British actress Lucy Waring believes there is no finer place to be "at liberty" than the sun-drenched isle of Corfu, the alleged locale for Shakespeare's The Tempest. Even the suspicious actions of the handsome, arrogant son of a famous actor cannot dampen her enthusiasm for this wonderland in the Ionian Sea.

Then a human corpse is carried ashore on the incoming tide ...

Madam, Will You Talk?
My Brother Michael
Wildfire at Midnight
Nine Coaches Waiting
Touch Not the Cat
Airs Above the Ground
The Ivy Tree
Which Mary Stewart novel should you read?
Make Your Own Quiz

You might look at which books are people's favorites. My personal favorite is This Rough Magic. Julie's favorite is Wildfire at Midnight. AAR's poll of people's favorite Mary Stewart books is here -- Nine Coaches Waiting got the first slot there, as well as being the current winner in our poll here at the blog.

You can look at our settings map and decide where you'd like to read about. I especially love her books set in Greece.

And my last word of advice is to consider when the book was published. Mary Stewart published for over 30 years -- those published earlier I've found to be more suspenseful and exciting. Those published in the 80s and 90s are a bit more tame and gentle. Thornyhold is my favorite of her later books.

Any visitors -- what was your first Mary Stewart book? I have to say that I don't remember which one I read first. Might have been The Ivy Tree.

Monday, March 31, 2008

This Rough Magic newspaper ad

While roving the Internet today, I came across this webpage, which contains a lot of good info about This Rough Magic. It's part of a database on 20th century American bestsellers compiled by Library Science students at the University of Illinois. One thing I had never seen before was this newspaper ad that ran in the New York Times in 1964 when This Rough Magic was first published.

Were hardcovers really only $4.95 in 1964? Wow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Meg Cabot's foreword to Thornyhold

Meg Cabot posted on her web diary that she's just finished writing a foreword to Chicago Review Press's upcoming trade paperback edition of Thornyhold.

She says:
I’ve spent this past week writing about one of MY favorite heroines (by someone else)–Gilly Ramsey, the heroine of Thornyhold, by the author Mary Stewart.

In case you don’t know, Mary Stewart is one of my favorite romantic suspense writers. Actually one of my favorite writers, period. Her books are so compulsively readable!

Meg Cabot is a really popular author, among tweens, teens, and grown women, so this should be great way to bring attention to Thornyhold. Cabot is best known for her Princess Diaries series -- I read the first few of them and would say that they are compulsively readable too.

The new edition of Thornyhold doesn't appear on Amazon yet. But the same publisher has recently put out Nine Coaches Waiting and The Ivy Tree. Very gothic covers.

Thanks to Vickie for the tip!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Welcome to the Mary Stewart Novels blog! This is a companion blog to the fan site my sister, Julie, and I just created for our favorite author, Mary Stewart. There was a sad lack of info on the web about Mary Stewart's books -- there weren't even any decent book synopses out there. So we built our website, because everyone should know about Mary Stewart.

We wanted some way to communicate with visitors to the site, and we didn't like any of the guestbooks that we could find. So we decided to try this blog. Because we like to talk about Mary Stewart and want to meet other fans.

Posts probably will not be published all that frequently. We both have other blogs (Jennie's book blog and Julie's craft blog), plus, you know, jobs (that pesky need for food and shelter, I tell you). ;) But we hope to get a post up once a week or so.

A quick tour of We have a biography, synopses of all her books, reviews, and some quotes from interviews we've found with Ms. Stewart. The extras page has some random features, including a cover gallery and a map of settings.

What we need now is feedback! Please let us know what you think of the site and how we can make it better. This is our first website, so we're still trying to figure it all out. Any suggestions are welcome. If you see any typos or broken links, please let us know. Comment here or email us at contact (at)