As a child, I watched fairies flitter among the flowers. I heard ghosts whisper between my ears. I felt clawed witch-fingers slither up my spine whenever I walked by certain houses. If I held my breath and flapped my arms really, really hard, I could fly. My toys came alive when I was out of the room; I tried to catch them but never could. I had conversations with squirrels and neighborhood dogs. My childhood world was full of magic and adventure as real to me as dragonflies and my own thoughts, cranky old ladies and dreams.
That mysterious world of what might be got misplaced sometime between childhood and adolescence. As I grew and learned to see with adult eyes, the magic faded. The titles of my stories went from The Fire-breathing Dragon, to Luck is Only for Winners. From magic to mundane, all in a few years of growing up.
No wonder Peter Pan fought it.
In the summer of 1979, I was fifteen years old and spent many a-lazy hour reading, sprawled on a thick limb of a tree in my yard. I found my lust for Harlequin Romances waning. I was too old for childhood favorites like Pippi and Ramona and Harriet. A couple years earlier, Star Wars started me itching for something…something I almost remembered…
I went to the library where, within the seemingly infinite possibilities, nothing looked interesting. I remember absently thumbing through the books on the nickel shelf. Tattered, one and all. I spotted a blue cover. No dust jacket. Bent pages, frayed corners, broken spine. Gold letters etched into it.
The Once and Future King.
The title scratched my itch; the story blew my teenage mind. All that magic left in childhood came rushing back as Wart and Sir Kaye. A sword. A stone. Merlin and Nimue. Guinevere and Arthur and Lancelot. Did I get all the metaphor? All the symbolism? Hell, no! But I found the way back to the magic, the mystery, the possibilities you need the space behind your eyes to see.
I found Bilbo and Gandalf. Frodo and Sam. Lady Amalthea and Schmendrick; Thomas Covenant and Lord Foul; Garion and Belgarath and Polgara; Ged and Earthsea; Xanth and Dragonlance. I razed these worlds of words, went back for more and more, right up to this very day, more.
We are all born with that sense of wonder, the knowledge that there truly is a whole mysterious world, indeed, many mysterious worlds of what might be. Some keep the knowledge all their lives. Some lose it and never find it again. Some, like me, only misplace it, and are lucky enough find it again.
And then, there are those few of us who take the next step; we create our own mysterious worlds of what might be. We send them out into the world to ignite that sense of wonder and whimsy in others. It's our own sort of omnipotence, creating worlds. A form of immortality. And it’s love, pure love. For me, that is why fantasy.
What is your love story?
What a great post. Love, love, I love talking about love! :)
The Once and Future King is one of those novels that has stayed with me forever. I pay subtle tribute to it in Eolyn, and have resurrected one of its themes for the sequel. Truly a timeless masterpiece. I should put it on my list to read again sometime.
In my case, I don't think I ever fully abandoned the 'magic' world we see as children. I'm glad you rediscovered it; otherwise I would live in a world without FINDER, and that's just terrible to imagine. ;)
I think as adults we tend to look back on children's imaginations as being full of light: good fairies, golden unicorns, charming princes. But children see witches and gremlins and other dark creatures, too. As a little girl, I never felt the witch's claws, but I used to sing when I was alone to ward off the evil spirits. And I was convinced that ghosts existed.
Two movies that I think do a wonderful job of capturing the capacity of children to fantasize: "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Bridge to Terabithia".
Beautiful post, Terri!
I love it! I remember when I was an undergraduate in college and I was taking my first Medieval Literature class. I took a look at the syllabus and saw one of my childhood favorites: King Arthur! I recall thinking, "I can study this in college? They let you get a degree in reading fantasy?"
I always felt like I was cheating the system by studying something I loved, even after I earned my Master's in Medieval Lit. But the world it opened to me made me realize the timelessness-- and the importance-- of fantasy to the human soul. We love fantasy; we also need fantasy, especially when real life becomes dark and full of uncertainty.
And also? I read The Once and Future King in 8th grade as assigned reading, and it has always remained constant as one of my absolute all-time favorites!
Great post Terri!
I was an avid reader at very young age (thanks mom!) and zipped through books by Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey in my tween years.
Fantasy quickly became a part of me and my head has always been filled with stories. I often wonder...what does everyone else think about???? 0_0
Karin--it does not surprise me that you always had and never lost that sense of wonder. I truly believe it's absolutely necessary to being a scientist.
My brain was, and is today (and mostly always has been but for those few years I was "too cool" for such things) full of those dark creatures and light. You should see my house! It pays homage to them in every nook and cranny. One day, you will have to visit me. :)
You know another movie that pays great tribute to a child's imagination? Jim Henson's The Labyrinth. It's a must watch. Timeless, and DAVID BOWIE is the goblin king! How can you go wrong??
Kim--I'm with you. The human soul NEEDS fantasy. What are we without our dreams? Our whimsy? What are we without the possibilities outside of our reality? Even those who don't think they need it do, whether they'll acknowledge it or not. We all have some kind of fantasy going on in our brains, whether it's fantasizing about the perfect golf game, a hot chick/guy in the cubicle next store, or a whole world populated by magical creatures.
I have the opening epigram (which is actually Kipling) from the Once and Future King tattooed on my leg; my way of paying homage to this first of firsts in my life.
Jen! Hello, Rainbow Brite! :)
I often wonder about that too. What DO other people think about??
Boggles the mind!
I got a copy of the first book in Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series for Christmas one year. Also, a few of John DeChancie's "Castle Perilous" series. Both worlds had a surprising amount of humor, great characters, and epic fantasy action to whet my appetite. I went on to read Tolkien and later Robert Jordan. Tolkien appealed to a sense of wonder as was seen in the Dark Crystal when the Gelflings discover the ruins illustrating the prophesy. Old, dusty stories told through a sepia picture or seen through a faded mirror. Jordan's stories were sharper yet still resonnated with the basics: farm boy does good, becomes a hero.
The newer epics I've been reading, namely GRRM's Ice and Fire series resonate more with Rosenberg, oddly enough, who was never above maiming or killing main characters. His characters were funny, but in a sort of gallows humor. The worlds felt lived in, raucous, unlike Tolkien's untouchable museum pieces.
But truth be told, it was more the artwork of fantasy, from copies of Dungeon and Dragon magazines on the bookstore shelf next to the Gygax and Ed Greenberg gaming modules, or the Keith Parkinson jackets on the fantasy novels. Fantasy, for me appeals to the visual stimuli of the natural world, whereas sci-fi was more about weird aliens and moonscapes. I could relate to a lush forest with the tops of ruined towers peeking out through the trees. It reminded me of the mountains near my home. I got into gaming because of the artwork, and I still buy the Spectrum art books when they are released each year. If a movie can look like a Nasmith or Howe painting, I'm hooked. Movies like Legend, Ladyhawke, and Conan allowed visuals to be a part of the story telling as much as the pathos of the characters. The LotR movies looked exactly like the best Tolkien artwork, so immediately, I was sold.
Clint! Hello, my dear! Glad you could stop by.
I am totally unfamiliar with Rosenberg and DeChancie, and I fear looking them up on Amazon because I have a feeling my TBR pile would grow by several more boooks.
sigh...of course I'll look them up anyway...
Artwork plays such a big role in fantasy ANYTHING, from cover art to artwork tie-ins in books, then the gaming stuff, movies--like the books themselves, it's so beyond our everyday that having the visual is a whole different sort of awesome. It's great to READ it and have it form behind your eyes, but then to SEE it--whew! A whole new world, indeed!
Maybe we should do a blog post on fantasy art!
Wendigo, what a great story! And so poetically told.
I didn't mention Grimm's Fairy Tales, because I feel like I talk about them so much that everybody must know by now that's what got me started. But they were the best, and still are for me.
The first dream I remember having was basically a medieval fantasy. I still remember it in great detail. My mother woke me up midway through, b/c it was time to go to school. I was so upset over not being able to finish my dream, I invented my own ending. I couldn't write very well yet (must have been very young), so I ended up sketching the end cartoon-style. That night, I put the cartoon ending on my nightstand, determined to find the dream again and finish it the way I wanted to.
Never did find that dream again, but I've been telling stories ever since. ;)
Terri -- I would very much like to invite some artists for our fourth Monday guest spot, too.
Never did find that dream again, but I've been telling stories ever since. ;)
Karin...this actually brought a tear to my eye! I'm all blurry and fitzy as I write this! I can just imagine little Karin, so determined to find that dream again, your cartoon on your nightstand...wow. But "telling stories ever since." What a testament to a true fantasist/writer at heart. If I could leave you sparkles in here, I would!
Yes, artists as guest posters. Ooo! I wonder if Jesse would do one!
I can't help but wonder if Karin's interest in fantasy would be so great if the story had been allowed to finish itself? It's often things left unfinished that drive us the hardest. Awesome anecdote!
I never read fantasy (other than Seuss) until 8th grade.
Walking from a party at a friend's house on a Saturday, I spotted a library book dropped down inside the air conditioner cage (sin!) at the Junior High. So I climbed down into the cage and retrieved it, thinking to return it Monday morning.
And since I had it until then, I read it. It was called The Two Towers...
Since that day I was hooked!
JK! A book rescuer! A heroine of the most noble kind. I love it. Gads, this is so wonderful, imagining all these young people in that moment of "Oh, wow!" Is there anything greater?
Thank you for your story!
I tell people that the reason I write is because I never wanted to stop playing pretend. While I don't write fantasy, I relate to everything you say here. I still want to go on adventures in whatever genre I use, to pretend I'm someone else, to meet new people and explore new places of my own creation.
Fantasy is a wonderful world that does let the imagination loose! The magic you create here alone makes me want to go back and read some of those books you mention, and to delve into the ones I haven't yet read. Thanks! Now I'd like to go write. :)
Yay! Inspired to write! Who could ask for anything more. Woohoo!
I think all writers, whether fantasy, scifi, mystery, whatever, can lay claim to those "mysterious worlds of what might be." I read that as fantasy, but it also goes for any world within the writer's mind that she shares with the world outside of it.
Thank you for stopping by! And I hope you got lots of writing done.
(My verification word is fibilots...I can use that somewhere, I know it!)
Just dropping in to say I loved your post. I'm glad you found your Fantasy again!
Thank you, Julie! But what about YOUR love story? Hmmm?
Like you, I love The Once and Future King, but I think my love with fantasy (and not just fantasy, but anything speculative) began even before I could read larger books myself. Mine began with movies when I was quite young.
And, then I had teachers who read fantasy (A Wrinkle in Time comes to mind) to us at school.
I can't remember the first fantasy book I read on my own. That was a LONG time ago.
There are many books I've loved, but I think one of the reasons I write is because I can't always find exactly what I want to read. Of course, my fantasy is often either urban or contains elements of SF, so...I don't know if you'd consider that the same thing.
Queen! Hello, love!
They are the same thing, only different. :) But I know what you mean. Part of what we three heroines here at Heroines of Fantasy take pride in is the fact that we're writing the kind of fantasy WE love to read, and one not often enough published by bigger presses.
I think a lot of writers write what they do for the same reason you do.
Thanks for sharing!
Well, I think you know that I wrote stories with magic and things unseen. I don't know that my stories ever lacked that. I worked on the literary magazine in high school and my entries always were...alfred hitchcock'ish. I drew unicorns all the time. I loved The Never Ending Story. I just believe there is so much more to this world than what we can see.
The stories I read growing up usually had ghosts or faeries or magic or something bigger than life.
I recall being small and intrigued by Tom Thumb, going to see Snow White in a theater in 1967 (and driving there on with my aunt and uncle on his motorcycle!), accepting that Puss wore boots and talked and such things were normal. My third grade teacher read us A Wrinkle in Time, my fifth grade teacher read us The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and my sixth grade teacher read us The Hobbit. To this day I remember those three ladies with fondness, and I still have the ticket stub and book of fairy tales.
And then I found Suitcliff and Roman Britain and the mists of the Dark Ages. Her The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset remain my favorite Arthur stories of all of them (and I have enjoyed all of them!)
I have been in love with history--real or feigned--ever since. I refought the battles for Middle Earth in sandboxes and on bedroom carpets around the world--and the good guys always managed to win.
And I think that is one reason 'why fantasy' for me: the conflict between good and evil is the primal archetype, and it has its essential, hopeful, artistic expression in fantasy. The real world muddles up all those necessary things--like happy endings, Prince Charming, Bilbo's tobacco jar and "further up and further in" all the way to Reepicheep.
Fantasy doesn't preclude darkness--it embraces it, examines it from multiple angles of vision--and in the end uses it to remind us of that which is the light.
The best of the genre stand as monuments to the power of good words to move people, to inspire, entertain, and enthrall. I have felt the dust of Middle Earth, sailed with the mage wind to Roke, rode with Arthur...that my list of allusions seems endless to me is one reason why I consider myself such a fortunate man. How can one feel anything else when one has had the chance to learn at the feet of such masters?
So, when Terri askes "Why fantasy?" I can only answer: For me it has been the surest pathway to truth.
Awesome post, Terri!
Just dropping in to say I've really enjoyed reading everyone's stories this week. Each comment has been so complete in itself, I haven't had much to add. Thanks to everyone for sharing, and to Terri for inspiring us with your great post.
Tracy--The Neverending Story! How could I have forgotten that one. Though, I didn't read it when it came out (1979.) I don't know why it took me so long to read it. Hmm...maybe because it was a children's book (was it called YA back then? Ha!) and I was a supercool teenager. I read it when my kids were little. :)
I had my copy--first edition US complete with red and green writing--until my second son was a toddler--old enough to destroy it!
Thanks for sharing, Tracy!
Mark--We are kindred, you and I. Of course, we knew that. :)
It's a strange thing but as a child, fairy tales frightened me. I suppose, even then, I got that there was some really dark stuff going on. That Jack killed the giant made me sob every time. And the wolf in Little Red...it killed me! As I got older, that fear became reverence as I dug deeper into those old tales, pulled out their cores and really understood them for the first time.
History and fairytales go hand in hand. By studying them, in all their versions, you learn a great deal about the time period in which they were told.
I should send you my retelling of Snow White. It's urbanized and quite unsanitary, but it's a retelling closer to the original tale than Disney's version. :)
Thank you for sharing, my dear. All these stories of inspiration are so inspiring!
Karin--isn't it fun to read these little bits into these younger days? I love it. And all this talk has inspired me to reread The Once And Future King again. I really have no choice!
Oh, I love this post! My mom handed me her copy of The Hobbit when I was in 5th grade and I remember feeling - so strongly! - that the story actually *lived* between the pages. I would open the cover (carefully, because I was afraid of creasing her favorite book!) and forget I was reading - the words on the page literally blurred behind the images unfolding before my eyes. I devoured the rest of The Fellowship books and moved on to Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, David Eddings, Peter Beagle, Terry Brooks. I read The Once and Future King, too, and found Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. I read Dune three times in a row, cover to cover, because I couldn't get the image of this new world out of my head. Fantasy has always been a strong element in my life, and writing (as well as motherhood) has allowed me to continue experiencing that joy and wonder, that belief in magic glimpsed from the corner of your eye.
One of my greatest joys is introducing my kids to the books I love. This spring Daughter and I will study The Once and Future King, reading it together. I can't wait. :}
I totally hear you on introducing kids to the joy of fantasy. My own novel was written for adults, but it has been incredibly fulfilling to see how it is also capturing the imagination of young people -- younger, even, than I would have ever anticipated! A friend of mine read it to her gradeschool daughter this past summer, and now her daughter likes to dress up as Eolyn. It gives me warm fuzzies to last a lifetime whenever I hear the spark is starting all over again...
Jen Wildhorse! :)
The Hobbit--a perfect entrance into fantasy. That you were so transported...sigh. I can almost BE THERE with you.
How could I forget Terry Brooks. Shanara was one of my favorite worlds to visit. Dang...I read a LOT as a teen. So...how was it I got into so much trouble? Astounding!
Oh, I'm so envious of you reading OaFK with your daughter! What a joy.
The responses to this post are bringing me happiness I didn't expect. To read these accounts...it truly does bring a tear to my eye!
Karin--I have nothing about MG or YA fiction, but I do think it's, in a way, a disservice to limit kids to these categories. I read so many "adult" books when I was a kid because the kiddie books just didn't do it for me. I think kids relegated to certain sections of the library and book store are more likely to lose that love of reading when so much of the adventure is denied them.
Then again...a true bibliophile will sneak those books in! Forbidden books ridden by flashlight in the secret solitude of one's bedcovers are the best books of all. :)
One reason I like (certain) fantasy and historical fiction is that they are often extended novels -- there is more than just a hundred thousand words to the story, there may be half a million or more (a downside to that is that many fantasy series grow overlong and lose themselves in overcomplexity or just simple tedium). But I think, in the few cases where it really works, being able to stay with a story for an extended period, be it O'Brian's 20 books of Aubrey and Maturin, or Tolkien's many hundreds of thousands of words on Middle-earth (though frankly most of the Silmarillion I found rather dull) is what I like best.
So while I don't really love fantasy, it is one of the few genres that allow extended stories to develop, which is something that I do like. Sometimes. When they're done both very well and in a way that appeals to me.
Pongo--If you're ever in the mood to try more fantasy than what you've read, I bet you would enjoy Holdstock's, Mythago Wood. It's hard to describe it, because it's not exactly fantasy. I suppose mythic fantasy would be an appropriate category. Set just after WW2 and revolving around the last primeval forest in England, the story pulls creatures and characters from England's myth cycles, from the ice age through the present. It's as fascinating as it is compelling. You might want to give it a try.
Thank you for stopping in and commenting, even though fantasy isn't really your gig. LOTR seems to cross all boundaries, eh?
Well I'd say the same thing about any genre. Even (in fact especially) historical fiction, which is my favourite genre but there are literally dozens of books that I do not merely dislike but can reduce me to gibbering rage.
Some of my favourite authors write or wrote fantasy, but there are vast swathes of the genre (and any genre) that leave me utterly cold. If I said I loved fantasy, it'd be akin to saying I love blondes. Whilst within the category 'blonde' there are some specimins I consider particulary attractive, there are an overwhelmingly greater number that do nothing for me or actively repel me (you may substitute almost any female grouping for 'blonde', the same would hold true).
As I say, most of the books I regard as personal favourites, are either historical fiction or fantasy (or straight history). But I'm too picky to just go woozy over a whole genre, I'm afraid.
Pongo, I'm the sort who gets all woozy over things--period. :)
I do think you'd enjoy Mythago Wood. Think about it.
Well, I can thank two great and powerful forces for keeping that childhood imagination alive and well as my hair and beard turned grey over the years.
The first are movie soundtracks. Wifing from Conan the Barbarian(1983) and For the Love of a Princess from Braveheart If you have never heard them, you have missed so much! For the Love of a Princess makes me think of Shadyia (my character) charging bareback on a black horse through frothy surf, her skin fiery from the setting sun.
I recently discovered I'm a Doun by Vanessa Mae. So beautiful!
The other is both a blessing and a curse. EverQuest, the online computer game. Never has such a thing touched me so, not even the newer, more amazing games offered now.
To hear the enchanting music as you walked into Greater Faydark and look up, up into the trees and see the wood elf city built in its branches. To actually participate in fantasy, instead of being a reader at the mercy of a sadistic writer!
That has kept my mind open and unfettered by the harsh chains of adult life.
I think Pongo has a point.
Stepping back and looking at this question with a fresh eye, I have to admit that while I've read fantasy on and off since I was a little girl, I never considered myself a fan of fantasy until I was well into writing my own fantasy novel.
Also, as a reader I was rather genre blind in that past life. (Genres had utterly no meaning for me until I became and author and people started asking me what my genre was...) I picked out my books based on title, subject matter and style; not on the genre. And I gravitated more toward historical fiction, history, natural history and contemporary fiction, with a little bit of sci fi thrown in, and of course several fantasy novels that are also widely popular beyond the genre, such as Tolkien's LoTR series.
So maybe it's not quite right to say I love reading fantasy as a genre; but I do love writing it. I love the complex challenge of building worlds that are at once believable and fantastic, and then putting our characters into motion in those worlds. I love the sense of escape it gives me, and the constant thrill of discovery as I get to know my characters and their worlds.
Which is to say, I'm still in love, but maybe not in the way I thought when we started this discussion. ;)
Thomas -- I've never been into on-line games, but I can see from your description what the appeal would be. :)
Thomas--oh, and that brings in a whole new future blog post topic: Writing to a Soundtrack. We all have songs that remind us of our characters and stories. Coldplay's Vive la Vida reminds me of my character from Finder, Ethen.
The soundtrack of my writing in general is The Last Unicorn. I listen to it obsessively. But that is a story for another time. Yes, there is ALWAYS a story!
Thanks for coming by and sharing, Thomas!
Karin--that's a fair statement. Honestly, I didn't know fantasy as a genre. It was simply what I read. I think I might have been your opposite in that I read exculsively in this genre I had no real concept of. As far as I was concerned, it's all that existed!
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