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Mary Stewart


Mary Stewart's genre-crossing novels set out to counter two different archetypes of female protagonists: the lovelorn, single-minded heroines of traditional romance novels and, as she put it, "the silly heroine" who "is told not to open the door to anybody and immediately opens it to the first person who comes along" in modern thrillers. Her protagonists were closer to James Bond than to Jane Austen, her settings sophisticated, well researched, and richly detailed. Her use of suspense and paranormal plot devices made her unique for her time and gave her somewhat more literary cachet than the Victoria Holts and Barbara Cartlands who were her primary competition on the romance racks, and her books were wildly successful, even more in the U.S. than in her native U.K.

Stewart's success bought her some latitude to write what she wanted, and what she wanted was to retell the King Arthur legend from Merlin's perspective, with more emphasis on the story's fantastical elements. Amid the fantasy boom of the early 1970s, her Merlin trilogy (later expanded into a quintet) expanded her readership as well as her bank account. Whereas her earlier novels had relied heavily on research, Stewart cheerily acknowledged to Arthurian scholars that the Merlin books had almost no basis in historical record. She once described her books as "light, fast-moving stories, which are meant to give pleasure, and where the bees in the writer's bonnet are kept buzzing very softly indeed," but the breadth of her work belies at least some of her modesty.

Mary Stewart died at her estate in the Scottish Highlands on May 9. She was 97. Worm Farmer gets 7 points for the hit (2 points for hit + 5 points for solo).


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