A Fantastic Discovery

I think, just in the interests of sanity, that when I have a few free moments on a library computer, I may continue a skeleton level of blogging here going. As and when I can, since today without internet in my apartment, I ended up cleaning my windows and some walls and door frames and blinds and well… with my husband still in the hospital, there’s only so much of that I can take. Everything is looking good with him, they’re just keeping him a few more days to make sure the new medication he’s on works well and doesn’t bring back his infection.

I have been reading The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller, which I was curious about since Eva blogged about it recently. (You know who Eva is. I don’t have time for links, this is skeleton blogging!) I grew up reading and loving the Narnia books — they, along with Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables were all given to my siblings and I in box sets over our childhood years and Narnia was my firm favourite of the three. The Chronicles of Narnia are the only books I remember my mom reading aloud to us (in the car on our way to church on Sunday evenings) and I loved them for the imagination and adventure they opened up to me. The only fanfiction I wrote as a child (long before the term was invented) was a short story of finding myself in Narnia one night, amid the dwarf drums and all the rest of those things my child heart thrilled to. I haven’t read the books in years, although I did enjoy the first movie when it came out (but since fantasy is the one genre my husband really dislikes, I felt a bit too silly to show it to him) and over the weekend went and saw Voyage of the Dawn Treader with my mom and sister. I quite enjoyed it and loved reliving memories with my sister of where it differed from the book, but I’m still hesitant to return to the books themselves. As many people have pointed out, they are sexist, racist, and elitist. Luckily, Laura Miller’s book doesn’t try to overlook those problems as merely lack of ‘political correctness’ and indeed reveals several shocking facts about C.S. Lewis’s personal life (he may in his 20s have had an affair with an older married woman, for one).

The one children’s British fantasy series that I have been heavily indulging in this year is Harry Potter, which I’ve briefly mentioned here now and then but haven’t really reviewed, as I don’t really see a pressing need to promote them further! The interesting part of my visit with my mother over the past week was that I finally got her to watch the first Harry Potter movie with me. She is extremely christian and loves Lord of the Rings and Narnia (she has pictures of Aslan all over the spare bedroom), but seemed to see Harry Potter as nearly satanic. I found the book A Charmed Life: The Spirituality of Potterworld by Francis Bridger, about the christian morals that can be found in HP, at my library and gave it to her to read. Then we watched the movie and while she didn’t say much about what she thought of it, I was glad she gave it a chance. (Yes, I am amused at giving her a book about christian themes in Harry Potter while reading a book about how to enjoy Narnia without being a christian at the same time myself!)

Rediscovering a childlike enjoyment in both the Narnia movies and all things Harry Potter this year (books, movies, even soundtracks and and my husband’s parents live in Florida and keep saying they’ll fly us out anytime for a visit, which we may end up doing next week or in early January, in which case, I will be going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park! Yes, excited. Very.) made me think that I might enjoy exploring more fantasy. Besides those series I’ve also read at least two of the Lord of the Rings books (our family went nuts over the movies but somehow only bought the book set of the mass market editions which we all proceeded to fight over and eventually each grabbed one of the books to hole up with over Christmas. I got the middle book first, which proved problematic. A few years later I read the first one, but I’m never sure if I read the last one or not and it’s really not a recommended way to try a series!) and a sad Robin Hobb book to impress a boy. He constantly raved about it, I found it not that great. Thankfully I can approve of my husband’s taste in books, even if I don’t share it!

So any good fantasy recommendations are welcome, although I’d rather it was more like classic British fantasy and not… you know… silly. I have bought my own copy of Good Omens now and clearly Neil Gaiman is one place to start, as well as His Dark Materials (the beginning never grabs me though and I’ve tried to read it several times) and I’ve also got Hogfather out by Terry Pratchett, his version of a Christmas book and it is charming and funny. I tried the first of his Discworld books, The Colour of Magic (? I believe) and found it a bit too — well, maybe old school fantasy is the word? It’s a satire of fantasy, but since I don’t read the genre much, it can be hard to appreciate right away.

I’ve tried to read chick lit this year (before blogging — the only ones I managed were Jane Austen themed ones and weren’t entirely satisfying so I gave that up) and historical fiction (again, mixed results. Sarah Waters and Rose Tremain, great but still not as good as writers from the actual time period. All others, cringe-worthy to decent but not spectacular. My favourite writer in this category remains A.S. Byatt.). I did not set out to give fantasy any sort of a try (I didn’t even sign up for the Once Upon a Time reading challenge), but it does seem more my thing, at least some of it. I love the imaginative side of it and the symbolism, the older values and settings. Above all, I love the heroism required of the characters, that was one thing I loved reading as a child and still do. The whole hero’s journey complete with black and white battles may be simplistic, but I don’t care, it thrills me. (The first longer story I wrote as a teenager was fantasy, titled simply ‘The Journey’, haha. There was a girl and a horse and some sort of quest. Of course.)

Perhaps one of the things that I am drawn to in fantasy is that women do not have to be stuck in women’s roles, they have the chance to be brave and heroic and lead exciting unconventional lives for a change. As much as I love Jane Austen, I have to admit to being a little sick of the easier reading women’s fiction focusing mostly on romance. Where is the adventure and imagination, I keep asking. I’ve also been drawn to fairy tales and may try a few of those next year. Perhaps I am old enough to start reading fairy tales again, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis.

Well, the library is closing so I’ll wrap this ramble up. Thanks for listening.

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11 thoughts on “A Fantastic Discovery

  1. Claire (The Captive Reader) says:

    This is skeleton bloggin? Jeez. I’d hate to think what you’ll come up with when you have more time on your hands.

    Like you, I’m intrigued by what fantasy novels I have read but don’t really know where to go with the genre. I watched all three of the Lord of the Rings movies the weekend before my move – nothing better to clean/sort/pack to! – and they absolutely reminded me of how wonderful and creative fantasy novels can be, making me want to read more. But it seems like there are so many vaguely-trashy looking books in the fantasy sections of libraries and bookstores and I’m sure some of those awful covers hide excellent stories but where to start? Guidance is clearly needed; I’ll be watching the other responses to this post closely for ideas!

    Glad to hear that Thomas is improving and I hope he’s able to come home soon. Good luck with everything and, in case we don’t connect again in the next couple of days, Happy Christmas!

  2. Danielle says:

    Hi Carolyn, I was happy to find your blog via Rachel and hope to visit more regularly in the new year (I’m constantly behind in leaving comments but enjoy reading posts via google reader). So sorry to hear about your husband but hope he is well and at home soon. It sounds as though you have your hands full with things and somehow fantasy reads seem the perfect solution for a good book to read. I’ve read very little in this genre but have tried a bit of Neil Gaiman and have had Terry Pratchett recommended to me. I like the idea of fairy tales and maybe that is something to explore more in the new year, too. Hope you have a quiet and Merry Christmas!

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks so much, Danielle! I’ve been reading your blog for a while (and I think we are both rather random chaotic readers unlike most more organized bloggers!) but just haven’t gotten around to saying hi yet, so it’s nice of you to come by. šŸ™‚

  3. Iris says:

    “A Charmed Life: The Spirituality of Potterworld” I need this book! My boyfriends’ extended family is very Christian and argues that Harry Potter is satanic all the time (I am somehow stupid enough to bring my love for the books up repeatedly, even if I should know better by now).

    • Carolyn says:

      I found it while looking for everything Harry Potter one night bored at the library. My mom said it did help her be more open minded about watching the movie, so I hope it helps you too! I’m always amused when christians dismiss Harry Potter, since in the end he definitely has christ-like qualities…

  4. Christina says:

    Oh, I hope you go back and read Lord of the Rings in its proper order! It does take a while to get through, but it’s absolutely one of my favorite books.

    For other wonderful fantasy reads, I have to recommend Robin McKinley. I’ve loved all her books to date, but I would recommend starting with The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. Both feature strong heroines, and while romance does exist in both books, it’s really not the central focus. They are marketed as children’s or YA books, but I think they have a lot to offer for adults as well, and they’re beautifully written!

    I recently read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and loved it, though it’s a very different (and dark) variety of fantasy. Another great book is Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest, although a romance is pretty central to its plot.

  5. amanda says:

    Hi, new reader, but I thought I’d offer my 2 cents! When I was 10 or 11 or so, among my favorites (as well as Little House, Anne, Narnia) was the Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. Set in modern-day Britain (presumably the 1970’s when they were written), they bring in elements of fantasy and Arthurian legend, and I found them wonderful fun as a child. I also enjoyed Madelaine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and its sequels which also combine fantasy with a real world setting.

  6. cousinsread says:

    I really loved a book called Incarceron by Catherine Fisher this year. Though not a classic, though it might become one, it is British and it is fabulous. The sequel is out next week and I am anxiously awaiting it. I am NOT a fantasy fan, but this book captivated me.

  7. Jenny says:

    Have you read Hope Mirlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist? It’s delightful, and plainly was a strong influence on Neil Gaiman. Very much a fairy-tale feel to it. And, er, I always like to put in a plug for Diana Wynne Jones if you haven’t read anything by her yet: Howl’s Moving Castle is a fairy-tale-influenced book that is absolutely wonderful.

  8. BuriedInPrint says:

    You might enjoy Hiromi Goto’s Half World. It’s not only very entertaining and engrossing, but it challenges a lot of the tropes in traditional fantasy (including allowing the main character to be at the heart of the action without the traditional “but eventually she met a boy and settled down like good girls do” arc). It’s a wonderfully imaginative tale with an irresistible blurb from Neil Gaiman on the cover. One of my favourites of this year!

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