Robin McKinley Biography

Robin McKinley marks her life by the books she has read throughout the world. Her father was in the navy, so her family moved many times. McKinley learned to find solace in literature. She began writing professionally at the age of twenty-six. Her young adult books generally feature strong heroines that have personality traits similar to McKinley’s own, such as clumsiness and a general lack of interest in dating. She believes that girls should be “doing things” and hopes to inspire young women to do just that through her stories. Even her novels that focus on romance portray the heroines as strong women who do not betray their own goals in order to win a man’s love. Her most renowned books are the fantasy stories Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, both set in the fictional land of Damar.

Facts and Trivia

  • McKinley recalls just what books she has read where. For instance, she remembers reading The Chronicles of Narnia in New York, The Lord of the Rings in Japan, and The Once and Future King in Maine.
  • McKinley won the Newbery Medal in 1985 for her book The Hero and the Crown.
  • McKinley loves opera and long walks. She credits both of them with keeping her imagination strong.
  • McKinley has said that girls growing up go through a phase where they believe in destiny and feel that they are lost princesses.
  • In addition to her fantasy novels, McKinley has written updated versions of Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty.
  • While writing The Blue Sword, McKinley suffered an injury when a horse fell on her hand, and it delayed the writing for six weeks.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 714

Born in 1952 in Warren, Ohio, Jennifer Carolyn Robin McKinley spent her childhood on the move. She and her mother, Jeanne Carolyn (maiden name Turrell), followed her father, William, a naval officer, from posting to posting. Because she was always being uprooted, she found her security in books. Indeed, she claims that the story of her life is told in her reading. For instance, she read Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book in California, C. S. Lewis's Narnia books in New York, J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in Japan, and T. H. White's Once and Future King in Maine. McKinley's household was a bookish one, and like that of many authors, her interest in storytelling was inspired by her reading. In particular, Sara Crewe, the heroine of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, a wonderful teller of tales, made McKinley want to tell stories.

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McKinley has long been interested in fantasy and adventure stories, but with a strong revisionist bent. As she notes in her acceptance speech for the Newbery Award, she was frustrated by the lack of active roles for women in these stories, and she decided to create some. After graduating with a degree in English from Bowdoin College, she settled down to write. While taking a break from working on some stories that would eventually be shaped into the Damar novels, McKinley watched a television adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast" which irritated her tremendously. As an exercise, she decided to write a short story to "get it right." That short story became her first book, Beauty, an ALA Notable Book.

Following that, she wrote a couple of short-story collections and her award-winning Damar novels. Equal parts Kipling and Tolkien, these latter books feature strong female characters who have splendid adventures to rival those of any male hero. During this period, McKinley's life underwent some major changes. She had been living in Maine, in a lilac-covered cottage that was her first real home. In 1991, she moved to England to be with her husband, the writer Peter Dickinson, but it took four years before she could bring herself to sell her cottage. At that vulnerable moment, a friend asked if she would consider writing a short-story version of "Beauty and the Beast" for a picture book. Believing she had said all she had to say about that story in Beauty, she declined. But on a plane trip from New York to England, she had a half vision that brought the following words to her mind: "Her earliest memory was of waking from the dream. It was also her only clear memory of her mother." For some reason, McKinley knew this had something to do with "Beauty and the Beast." She decided to attempt the short story after all, and six months later she had another novel based on "Beauty and the Beast." She describes the experience of writing it as feeling "possessed." The story had always appealed to McKinley; she remembers it from her childhood as the only fairy tale in which the heroine does "something rather than drooping like a tulip in a vase and waiting to be rescued." During McKinley's major life changes, the story tapped into her grief at losing her cottage and her sense of making a new start in England, where she was learning to love and to grow roses.

McKinley has never troubled herself overly about the age of her audience. As she says, she writes her books "for the people who want to read them." Deerskin was published as an adult fantasy because of its mature subject matter, but it, and all of her fiction, is popular with both young adult and adult readers. McKinley dislikes the way child readers and children's books are often patronized. Good books are good books, no matter the age of the protagonist. She is also passionate about the value of fantasy literature and resists charges of escapism: "Good fantasy talks about our deepest inner selves, about the dreams and longings and hopes and fears and strivings that make us human. The great thing about fantasy is that you can drag dreams and longings and hopes and fears and strivings out of your subconscious and call them 'magic' or 'dragons' or 'fairies' and get to know them better."

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