Robin McKinley's full name is Jennifer Robin Carolyn McKinley, and she was born November 16, 1952 in her mother's hometown of Warren, Ohio. Because her father was in the Navy, she travelled throughout the world while she was growing up. Her passion for reading was one of the most constant things in her childhood, so she began to remember events, places, and time periods by what books she read where. For example, she read Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book for the first time in California; The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time in New York; The Lord of the Rings for the first time in Japan; The Once and Future King for the first time in Maine. She still uses books to keep track of her life.
The heroines in McKinley's books reflect certain qualities that she saw in herself as a young woman: clumsiness, plainness, bookishness, and disinterest in the usual social games that involve flirting and dating (she says, "I didn't discover boys because they didn't discover me, and because their stardards of discovery seemed to me too odd to be aspired to... they were the ones who got to have adventures, while we got -- well, not have adventures.") She believes now that most girls go through a time growing up when they believe they must have an innate greatness and destiny beyond the apparent; that they are in fact lost princesses, switched at birth.
Robin McKinley attended Gould Academy, a preparatory school in Bethel, Maine, and Dickinson College in 1970-1972. In 1975, she was graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College. In 1978, her first novel, Beauty was accepted by the first publisher she sent it to, and she began her writing career, at age 26. At the time she was living in Brunswick Maine. Since then she has lived on a horse farm in Eastern Massachusetts, and now in Hampshire, England, with her husband Peter Dickinson (also a writer) and three whippets. Over the years she has worked as an editor and transcriber (1972-73), research assistant (1976-77), bookstore clerk (1978), teacher and counselor (1978-79), editorial assistant (1979-81), barn manager (1981-82; a horse fell on her hand, delaying The Blue Sword by six weeks), free-lance editor (1982-85; during this time she broke her ankle, expediating the finish of Hero), and full-time writer. Other than books she counts as her major preoccupations grand opera and long walks, both of which she claims keep the blood flowing and the imagination limber.
As far as her writing goes, McKinley describes herself as a "scribe" and "Damar's historian", because the stories "happen to her" and she is only responsible for writing them down. The stories of Damar have been occurring to her since before she wrote Beauty, and The Blue Sword was intended to be the first of a trilogy about this land.
She writes about strong heroines because she feels very strongly about the potential for girls to be "doing things" and she feels that the selection of fantasy literature featuring girls is scarce and unsatisfactory. According to biographer Marilyn H. Karrenbrock, "McKinley's females do not simper; they do not betray their own nature to win a man's approval. But neither do they take love lightly or put their own desires before anything else. In McKinley's books, the romance, like the adventure, is based upon ideals of faithfulness, duty, and honor."
Besides five novels and two books of short stories, McKinley has also had several children's picture books published: My Father is in the Navy, Rowan, Black Beauty, and Tales from the Jungle Book.
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