Sunday, March 24, 2013

Inspired by Books

Posted by: Jax Garren
Last time I blogged about TV shows that helped shape the writer I am today. With all the blog posts I've recently read on top UF/Paranormal books, I thought I'd continue my personal trend and add to the pile. Instead of treading what would likely be an all too familiar list of Anne Rice to Jim Butcher, I decided to make a list of classics with paranormal elements that deeply shaped my writing. (Links are samples of the book with a cool cover, not necessarily the version I recommend!)

Beowulf (have you read the Seamus Heaney translation?? *swoon* I DO rec this version.)
So it's not even in modern English, but wow. Beowulf sets the bar for alpha heroes. I used to teach senior AP English, and whenever I intro'd this one, we'd go to the stage (I was also the theater teacher, so I could get away with crap like this), turn off all the lights and gather 'round a fake fire with bread, hunks of meat and cheese and cups of (non-alcoholic) cider. I have the opening 11 lines in Anglo-Saxon memorized, and I'd perform them for the class. The alliterative style of old poetry makes the words sing, even if you don't know what they mean. Heaney's translation does a fantastic job of leaving this flow intact while making the story come through clearly. You gather in the firelight with rough food to hear these words, and even with this Christianization of a Viking story, the call to glory and Valhalla starts to make sense.

The wyrd sisters are an awesome example of witch as catalyst. Though often portrayed as evil, witches are usually agents of change--often change the characters need but don't want. Witches end up looking like the "bad guys" when really the chaos they started was the necessary destruction before progress. In Shakespeare's play, their goodness vs. evil is more ambiguous as they kick off a murder spree. But who knows what ultimate purpose these changes served after the play ended...

Though Marlowe created a kickass Faust in the Renaissance, my personal favorite is Goethe's surreal version full of magic, demons and the chaos of Walpurgisnacht. Temptation and love don't come more supernaturally screwed up than this tale of a deal with the devil!

The Woman in White--Wilkie Collins
Though I should be mentioning the treasure trove of Victorian horror--Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde--this is probably my favorite Victorian novel of mystery and intrigue. The way Collins walks the line to keep you guessing if these events are paranormal or just rigged to look that way makes for a twisted page turner and a top notch mystery!

At the Mountains of Madness-H.P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft's cannon is a wild and weird ride, but At the Mountains of Madness is my favorite blend of alien mythology, suspense and general creeptastic atmosphere that Lovecraft is known for. His blend of bizarre freaks me out with its surprisingly slow but steady pace toward horror.The book is effectively one long descriptive treatise, and yet kept me on the edge of my seat for the whole ride!

What classic books of speculative madness inspired you?


  1. I want to take your class on Beowulf. Suppose I'll have to settle for a reread.

    1. Thanks! I figured it was a hard sell, being epic poetry and all, so I needed a full court press.

  2. I haven't read The Woman in White--yet--but I about killed myself laughing reading Sarah Rees Brennan's blog post retelling it:

    1. Oh my lord that's hilarious. Word of warning to all who haven't read it, it gives away all the spoilers in the first paragraph. But it's also totally hilarious. Thanks for sharing!


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