Monday, February 21, 2011

The Books that Started It All

Posted by: Jenny Schwartz
If I’m completely honest, the first fantasy books I read were probably Enid Blyton’s magic folk of the Faraway Tree. But seven year olds grow up fast and I was soon diving into Lloyd Alexander, discovering Narnia and a whole range of young adult books. Diana Wynne Jones remains a favourite till this day, and does anyone else remember “Mind Call” by Wilanne Schneider Belden? 

But it was “Beauty” by Robin McKinley that showed me how magically romance and fantasy weave together. Patricia Wrede (who can miss her Enchanted Forest Chronicles?), Barbara Hambly (I love “Bride of the Rat God” and its early Hollywood setting), Ursula le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Scarborough, and the list goes on. I fell in love with romantic fantasy.

Some people have this idea that the fantasy genre is escapist. Sure, I insist on a happy ending, the good triumphing over the bad, the heroine getting her hero. But a fantasy can challenge as well as reassure.

I think Terry Pratchett is one of the sharpest, and definitely wittiest, social commentators around, and his work is pure fantasy. The Discworld presents a funhouse mirror to our society and we see our ridiculousness in it. He’s in the tradition of Jonathan Swift, who satirised his society in “Gulliver’s Travels”, a fantasy classic.

Unlike science fiction stories which explore what might be possible, fantasy embraces the emotional landscape of fairytales and legend, the land that never was but ought to be. If we ever lose our passport to that land, our sense of wonder, then I think the real world becomes a harsher place.

I seem to have wandered a bit from my starting point, talking about my fantasy reading journey. It always happens. In the fantasy genre there are so many fascinating things to talk about, you can’t help straying. Fantasy novels are a celebration of life.


  1. Great list!
    With you on Ursula le Guin and Anne McCaffrey, the others, I am sad to day, are unknown to me.
    Mine...everything Arthur and Camelot, from T.H. White's The Once and Future King to all Mary Stewart's Merlin books, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon.
    Thinking back, my Arthurian phase lasted quite a while!

  2. I started with Tolkien then Eddings, Feist, McCaffrey...
    Taryn-I went through an Arthurian phase too! I remember reading all those books you listed.
    I also really liked Lois Duncan...paranormal, horror, romance for teens. My fave was the one with the astral projecting evil twin.
    Great post Jenny! It makes we want to go back and reread some of those books.

  3. I started with the Faraway Tree too. (Sigh) Happy memories.

  4. *grin* Janni, there are days when I too wish I could climb a giant tree and emerge into a new world. Enid Blyton leaves her mark! I can still sing at least some of the Famous Five TV show song "... and Timmy the dog!"

    Eleri -- I think if I'd started fantasy with Tolkien, I'd have left the genre (I know, I better not say that too loud). I prefer The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, but his work definitely isn't easy read (and I'm a lazy reader all too often -- brain tired? reach for book).

    Taryn -- I never really fell in love with Arthurian stories and I can't work out why, especially since T H White's The Sword in the Stone was glorious.

  5. I always loved fantasy books. . .lots of talking animal books (Bunnicula, anyone?) Narnia. Lynne Reid Banks (Indian in the Cupboard), Grace Chetwin, Dian Wynne Jones, Monica Furlong, Brian Jacques (Redwall.)

    And I don't believe Fantasy is entirely escapist; one book put it nicely that we see the same world mainstream writers do--we just see it through differently colored lenses.

  6. Wow, all this brings me back. I started with Tolkien, The Hobbit, etc., moved on to CS Lewis, and also loved anything to do with King Author, and let's not forget the fairy tales. Maybe those came even earlier, and Disney played a huge role in my love for fantasy with their "happily-ever-after" versions of some pretty dark tales. I've also always loved mythology, a great source for fantasy muse.
    The way I figure it, life is hard enough. I WANT my leisure reading to be escapist and I WANT the ending to be happy, because that's not always the case with reality.

  7. Evey, I love that quote, "different colored lenses".

    Barbara, Yes! I forgot Disney. They definitely played a role in my love of happy endings.

    Thanks, everyone, for commenting!

  8. Like Evey, I started with a lot of talking animal books. There's one that I vaguely remember reading until it fell apart. It was about some kids and their talking dog and maybe a waterfall--Teebo or something like that.

  9. Hmm, a talking dog and a waterfall? I didn't read that one, but I agree about talking animal stories. I read "Watership Downs" (and cried). Beatrix Potter's stories probably started off a lot of people, though I was never a fan. I guess we all wished our pets would talk back :)


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