Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Kurtz, Katherine

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(1944-    ) US writer who worked as an instructional designer for the Los Angeles Police Department 1969-1981 and who began to publish fantasy with the initial volume of the Deryni sequence, Deryni Rising (1970), the first original text to be published by Lin Carter in his Ballantine Adult Fantasy list. This sequence, set in a Secondary World somewhat like a Land-of-Fable Britain, has occupied most of her career. Its internal chronology, which is carefully organized, differs markedly from the order of publication of individual subseries: the Legends of Camber of Culdi sequence, comprising Camber of Culdi (1976), Saint Camber (1978) and Camber the Heretic (1980), which won the 1982 Balrog Award; the Heirs of Saint Camber sequence, comprising The Harrowing of Gwynedd (1989), King Javan's Year (1992) and The Bastard Prince (1994); the Chronicles of the Deryni sequence, comprising the original Deryni Rising, Deryni Checkmate (1972) and High Deryni (1973), all three assembled as The Chronicles of the Deryni (omni 1985); and the Histories of King Kelson, comprising The Bishop's Heir (1984), The King's Justice (1985) and The Quest for Saint Camber (1986). Pendants include The Deryni Archives (coll 1986), whose contents range over the whole chronology, and Deryni Magic: A Grimoire (1990), a text which describes the very extensive (and intricately detailed) Rituals necessary to operate Magic throughout the sequence.

Unsurprisingly, given that the first volume of the sequence appeared only half a decade after the great J R R Tolkien boom in the USA created a market for High Fantasy, the Deryni sequence resembles The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) in many ways. Both secondary worlds are clear Et in Arcadia Ego homages to a land which never existed and has never suffered the ravages of the 20th century. The Time Abyss Tolkien creates, by virtue of which LOTR seems to float on top of a Story fathomlessly deep, is far more profound than the back-story KK creates through prequels for her Deryni world; the conflict between Good and Evil in the older writer has all the melancholy undertow of the best Christian Fantasy, while in KK's hands the conflict comes close to becoming a Template; and KK's constant presentation of the workings of Magic does not generate quite the complexity of imagined texture as was accomplished through Tolkien's creation of a nest of imaginary (but seemingly workable) tongues. KK's own linguistic experiments are restricted.

Despite the Celtic names and the Celtic venue, the Deryni sequence in one vital respect adheres much more closely to Tolkien than to Celtic models: her characters, like Tolkien's Frodo or Strider, do not suffer Metamorphosis (like, say, the heroes of the Mabinogion, or the protagonists of novels by Kenneth Morris or Paul Hazel) but instead change by growing into their roles. The Deryni books are, therefore, central to the development of Genre Fantasy. The pattern they exemplify – repeated Rite-of-Passage plots which are set in Fantasyland and which climax in an assumption of the burdens of power (i.e., magic or adulthood) – has become a template for hundreds of successors. But KK was a very early visitor to Fantasyland, whose fixed parameters she after all helped establish, and thus her books continue to seem relatively fresh.

The sequence, though superficially complicated, follows the model of personal growth with some consistency. This basic tale is told within the context of the long conflictual relationship between humans and the Deryni, a nonhuman but human-seeming race with multiple Talents (including an adept control over Portals). Some of the Deryni are arrogant and tyrannical; some, like Camber MacRorie – who starts the sequence off by establishing humans on the throne of Gwynedd (i.e., Wales) – are compassionate and knowing ... and after his disappearance Camber becomes Saint Camber. Many of the humans are mere spearcarriers in the drama; others, like most of the religious figures whose Church resembles Christianity in its need to eradicate magic (> Thinning), are culpable (bishops in particular). Over the first books of the sequence, the human rule harshens, and the Deryni become a Pariah Elite; they come to behave more like Secret Masters, eventually ruling the world through the agency of King Kelson, who is half-human and half-Deryni. Later volumes are full of Dynastic-Fantasy conflicts and – like most examples of that form – are difficult to read without extensive knowledge of the family trees whose founders dominated earlier volumes.

KK's second series, the Adam Sinclair sequence with Deborah Turner HarrisThe Adept (1991), The Lodge of the Lynx (1992), The Templar Treasure (1993) and Dagger Magic (1995) – are Supernatural Fictions starring an occult doctor and protector who defends the UK against various supernatural incursions, including (in Dagger Magic) Tibetan villains who control a German submarine from World War II. An early singleton, Lammas Night (1983), likewise deals with occult forces in WWII: Hitler is dabbling in black Magic, and the hero, prefiguring Adam Sinclair, uses his knowledge of white magic to defend the sacred Isle of Britain. [JC]

other works: The Legacy of Lehr (1986) YA sf; Tales of the Knights Templar (anth 1995), stories about the Order from a Fantasies-of-History perspective. The Knights of the Blood sequence – Knights of the Blood #1: Vampyr-SS (1993) and #2: At Sword's Point (1994) – by Scott Macmillan, KK's husband, is described as "created by Katherine Kurtz" and is an extravaganza involving opposing sets of Vampires, more fantasies of history, World War II, and Pariah Elites galore.

Katherine Irene Kurtz


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.