Death of a Storyteller

May 19, 2014

I just learned that one of my all-time favorite writers, Mary Stewart, passed away May 9 at age 97. My copies of her books are practically falling apart, mostly because I’ve had them since I was a teenager, but also because I’ve reread them many times. My mom introduced me to her books, and she is still one of my favorite writers. I often turn to her when I need a comfort read.

Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow (!) was born Sept. 17, 1916 in the town of Sunderland, England. She attended Durham University and received a First Class Honours B.A. in English. In 1941, she accepted a post at Durham where she lectured on English Language and Literature. It was here she later met the man who would become her husband, Frederick Henry Stewart (later Sir Frederick). They married in 1945, and eventually moved to Edinburgh, Scotland in 1956, where he became the chairman of the geology department at Edinburgh University.

According to her obituary in The Guardian, Mary Stewart began writing novels “in the mid-1950s [because of] an ectopic pregnancy and consequent operation which meant she could not have children.” Her first book, Madam, Will You Talk?, was published in 1954. She was most popular in the late 60s, 70s and 80s, and one of her books, The Moon-Spinners, was made into a Disney movie (the movie is quite different from the book).

In addition to her novels, she also wrote several children’s books and one book of poetry.  My favorites have always been her “superior romantic thrillers,” especially This Rough Magic, My Brother Michael, and The Moon-Spinners, but she is also well-known for her Merlin/Arthur books, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. I’ve never read any of these, because I’ve never been much interested in the King Arthur legend, but I think I’ll pick up at least The Crystal Cave to see what these are like. (She later wrote two more books in the series, The Wicked Day and The Prince and the Pilgrim.)

I love her books for the writing itself, but also because of her heroines. They’re ordinary young women, often traveling alone in places I’d love to visit, who prove themselves when they’re thrown into adventure. They leave their comfort zones, and through their courage and fortitude solve the mystery and win the heart of the hero. The stories are just plain fun.

One of the biggest thrills of my life was visiting Delphi in Greece, with my copy of My Brother Michael as company. I even saw the statue of the Charioteer mentioned in the book in the museum there. Here he is:

If you’re a Mary Stewart fan, I’m sure you don’t need any urging to read or re-read one of her books. If you’ve never read her, I hope you’ll give her a try. To learn more about Mary Stewart and her books, check out

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  1. Ah Kathy - I did read Mary Stewart's this "Rough Magic" and there was another one that was a romance - a newer one but can't remember the title. Like you I never read the Merlin/Arthur books but maybe sometime I will. So glad you shared this information about her. Hope you find some time to do a re-read - maybe I will too!

  2. Debbie--This Rough Magic is one of my favorites. I just love the setting. I'm going to reread at least one of her books this summer, and maybe check out The Crystal Cave from the library to see if I like it.

  3. Unlike you, the only Mary Stewart books I've read are the Merlin books, which I loved. I've read several different authors' books about the Arthurian legend - it's one of my favorites. I hope you read The Crystal Cave. I'd love to know what you think of it if you do. I have My Brother Michael on my TBR shelf, so maybe I'll read it soon.

  4. Cheryl--I plan to check The Crystal Cave out of the library and read it this summer. You'll have to let me know what you think of My Brother Michael. It's one of my favorites. We'll have to compare Mary Stewart novel notes!