Wonders of the Invisible World: Intoxicatingly beautiful fragments

Wonders of the Invisible World Kindle Edition by Patricia A. McKillip (Author)Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip

I love Patricia McKillip’s writing, and was excited to hear she had a short story collection coming out. I really enjoy reading short stories because I think it’s a good measure of what a writer can do – distill down the essential elements of story to a concentrated core of who they are as a writer.

Upon opening the collection I was slightly disappointed to realize that these were all stories that had been previously published, many of which I had read before. However, it was an interesting experience for me to rediscover some of these stories for a second time, and to compare the effect of the stories I had read before to the ones I was reading for the first time.

I thought the first story, “Wonders of the Invisible World,” was the least effective story in the collection. While I understand why it was placed first — it gives the title to the collection and introduces the idea of the murky interstices of the real and the invisible that the subsequent stories explore — its tone holds a despairing note that isn’t present in the rest of the volume (not to mention it’s a science fiction story which is not standard for McKillip). However, I did appreciate that “Wonders of the Invisible World” explores our own creation of imaginary worlds as vivid as the fantastical imaginings of those who lived in a “less enlightened” age.

Overall, though, Wonders of the Invisible World is a beautiful collection. Faerie Queens, besotted suitors, maids struck by visions of another world – Patricia McKillip draws skillfully from different strands of fairy and myth and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry that shows us glimpses of otherness and intoxicating beauty. When I encountered stories in this collection that I had read before, they sprang to life out of my memory, and I was startled at how vividly I remembered specific scenes and images. McKillip paints with words the way some artists use oils or watercolors. However, some of these short stories cry out for a longer treatment. At times I was left feeling that I was only getting a glimpse of something much bigger.

While I normally talk about stronger and weaker stories when reviewing anthologies, I don’t think there is a weak story in Wonders of the Invisible World. They all present such different scenes and evoke such different emotions that it is hard to name any of them weak. The story that affected me most was “The Kelpie,” which tells of a young woman determined to become a painter who is captured by a kelpie and must confront an elven king. While McKillip’s writing is always intensely vivid, reading this story was like watching a movie. Even the minor characters were given a degree of life that made them seem real.

If you love Patricia McKillip’s writing, I highly recommend this volume of her short stories. If you have not read McKillip before, this is a good introduction, but please don’t miss her novels, especially The Riddle-Master of Hed. I wish there had been more new content in Wonders of the Invisible World, but it’s nice to finally have so many of McKillip’s short stories collected in one convenient volume.

~Ruth Arnell


Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip For fans of Patricia McKillip’s fantasy worlds, any anthology of her short stories comes as a treat. Along with Dreams of Distant Shores, Wonders of the Invisible World brings together some of her best short fiction, as well as an introduction by Charles de Lint and a copy of the speech “What Inspires Me” that McKillip gave at WisCon, 2004.

There are sixteen stories in all, most of which were published previously between 1985 and 2012 in a range of fantasy magazines and other anthologies. This means there’s very little in the way of an underlying theme; this collection is mainly designed to gather some of her best stories between the same covers.

I won’t go into detail regarding all sixteen tales, but the standouts include “The Kelpie”, involving a group of Pre-Raphaelite painters, a young lady artist, and her desperate attempts to avoid an aggressive courtship by one of her brother’s friends; “Knight of the Well”, the latest and longest story that concerns the sabotage of a fountain by magical water-dwellers right before an important ceremony; and “Undine”, in which the titular undine goes above-water to seduce a mortal man, only to get side-tracked by his crusading efforts to protect the waters she emerged from.

As you may have noticed by the above descriptions, McKillip loves to write about the water, whether it’s oceans, streams, or pools, and a lot of her work revolves around its innate mystery.

The collection isn’t perfect: some of the stories in Wonders of the Invisible World feel a little incomplete or rudimentary (there’s a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, but it doesn’t really bring any new insight to the tale) and others are surprisingly forgettable (looking over the contents page, I’ve no idea what “Oak Hill” was about).

But I’ve loved McKillip for years, and it’s always a worthwhile experience to try out some of her short stories instead of her novels — just for a change of pace.

~Rebecca Fisher

Wonders of the Invisible World — (2012) Publisher: Stylistically rooted in fairy tale and mythology, imperceptible landscapes are explored in these opulent stories from a beloved fantasy icon. There are princesses dancing with dead suitors, a knight in love with an official of exotic lineage, and fortune’s fool stealing into the present instead of the future. In one mesmerizing tale, a time-traveling angel is forbidden to intervene in Cotton Mather’s religious ravings, while another narrative finds a wizard seduced in his youth by the Faerie Queen and returning the treasure that is rightfully hers. Bewitching, bittersweet, and deeply intoxicating, this collection draws elements from the fables of history and re-creates them in startlingly magical ways.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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