The Throme of the Erril of Sherill by Patricia A. McKillip – book review

Cover of "The Throme of the Erril of Sherill" by Patricia A. McKillip.
Cover of “The Throme of the Erril of Sherill” by Patricia A. McKillip.
Originally published in 1973, The Throme of the Erril of Sherill by Patricia A. McKillip is a delightful children’s fairytale about a “cnite” and his impossible quest across a magical land to win the hand of his “damsen”. Unfortunately, the king has put a high price on that hand. He wants the Erril's “throme” in exchange for his daughter's hand. The Damsen is resigned to growing old before the cnite ever has a chance of finding the throme because the throme does not exist.

The story throws many replacement words at the reader and never defines them, which is part of the charm. What exactly is a throme? Is is a tome? A poem? All we know is the cnite (knight) needs to find it. The cnite follows leads which are often just rumors, but he is determined to pursue his quest to completion; To quit is to give up on his love. Fortunately, his plight inspires those he meets to aid him with magical items in the Irish folklore tradition as the cnite becomes less like a warrior and more like a traveling bard. In the course of his travels, the cnite sees greater and greater wonders, but never the object of his desire.

The second tale in this book is the young adult The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath, bundled in later editions with The Throme. Hoarsbreath is a mining town on an icy island that turns out to be the home of a dragon. The Dragon-Harrower is a former citizen of the mining town who has gone out to see the world, learned to drive dragons out, and has returned to do the same for Hoarsbreath. His guide, Peka, shows him around while giving him a piece of her mind along the way.

Because alcohol plays such an integral part of the story, you may not want to read it to children, but the constant bickering and lecturing of the Dragon-Harrower and Peka may drive younger readers away long before alcohol saves the day. In many ways, The Harrowing is a morality tale about the dangers of being afraid of change. However, the painterly prose McKillip is known for makes the final battle a bit hard to follow. It is heavy on floral descriptions, but light on concrete descriptions.

This book is interesting, giving readers a peek into McKillip's development as a writer. The prose is sometimes so flowery the stories seemed tangled and hidden, especially in The Harrowing. Sometimes scenes are beautifully painted with words, lacking details the reader can relate to, as if the purpose of the stories was the words themselves. For fans of McKillip, this is reason enough to read. Her unique vision and ability to paint with words has transported fans to exotic worlds for 40 years.

The scope of imagination shown in these two tales makes them entertaining for all readers. McKillip’s ability to paint with words has transported fans to exotic worlds for 40 years. Her stories are woven using imagery within your mind, like tapestries—deep, intricate, and mysterious. The stories flirt with traditional elements of fantasy and folklore, but always provide a twist at the end that makes them uniquely McKillip’s.

Release Date: 1973 (USA)
ISBNs: 0441808409 (9780441808403)
Publisher: Ace

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 100% (Throme) / 60% (Harrowing)


Alcohol/Drugs: 3 (frequent alcohol use in second story)
Language: 0 (description)
Nudity: 0 (description)
Sexuality: 0 (description)
Violence: 1 (fantasy fighting and other violence)

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