Monday, December 2, 2013

The Gift of Fantasy

 The fantasy that gave me the greatest gift was Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series.  I was in first grade, and every few days I’d check out a stack of picture books limited only by the need to get my hands underneath it and my chin on top.  One day the school librarian handed me The Book of Three.

“I think you’d like this,” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said.  (Just like every kid in the universe confronting their first novel.)  “It’s awfully thick.”

“Give it a try.”  And she smiled.

So I opened that thick intimidating book and started to read, and fell into a real, long, dense story for the first time in my life.  I think I lived in Prydain more than I did in the real world for the next few years.  If Mrs. Burris had handed me some other book, a mystery for instance, I might not be a fantasy writer today.  Or even a writer today.  So that’s the fantasy that’s given me the greatest gift.  (And thanks to Mrs. Burris, too!)

                                                                        --Hilari Bell

From Elizabeth Bunce:

For me, it came about ten years ago when I read Sharon Shinn's ARCHANGEL for the first time. I had spent so many years reading To Learn the Craft, to soak up knowledge and study storytelling techniques, that reading had become more work for me than pleasure (although I didn't realize it at the time). I had lost sight of one of the most important things: Reading should be fun. But Archangel swept me away like no book had in years. I picked it up, dove in, and before I knew it, five chapters were past, and I REMEMBERED. Shinn brought back that sense of reading for pure delight that I had lost somewhere along the line. I've said that this is one of the most important lessons I've ever learned as a writer... but it's also the greatest gift: the reconnection to the experience of reading a great book for the pure joy of it. Thank you, ARCHANGEL!

From Erin Cashman:

For me, it was Lord of the Rings. I was having a hard time my freshman year in high school - 3 middle schools all joined together, and I found that my good friends were hanging out with another group of girls -- and one of the girls decided I was not welcome. One night I started reading Lord of the Rings, and instead of worrying or crying (as I had been doing every night) I completely forgot about my troubles and was swept up in the story. I read it straight through -- claiming a stomach ache and missing the next two days of school. For some reason, when I returned to school I didn't care that much anymore (maybe it was simply that a mean girl is not so scary when compared with the Nazgul!) and I sat at lunch with two girls I didn't know, who became good friends. I realized then the power of a good book - and the ability it has to transport the reader to a new world, away from the issues and problems of every day life. Lord of the Rings inspired me to
become a writer, and even to this day when I feel down, my escapism is often found in the pages of a fantasy novel.

From Dawn Metcalf:

I'd consider "starter" fantasy books like BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson, PROTECTOR OF THE SMALL by Tamora Pierce, DRAGONSONG by Anne McCaffery and, of course, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE by J.K. Rowling can start a lifelong love of fantasy books!

For old folks like me, I love transportive, quirky and somewhat shadowy fantasy and I'd give THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern, THE DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE by Laini Taylor, NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman or THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger.

(And if kids are darker like me, then I'd probably wrap up a copy of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones, ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer or our own William Alexander's GOBLIN SECRETS!)

From Pippa Bayliss:

I consider every fantasy novel I've ever read as a gift which isn't very helpful to you for your TOTW :) but what stands out as a particularly special novel to me was Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator'. It's the sequel to the better known 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and an old dilapidated copy found its way into my hands. My son was a reluctant reader so I started reading it to him out loud at bedtime. He loved it. Even though it was so old and strange, it became one of his favorites., and he'd make me repeat any parts that involved the 'vicious knids' - no silent 'k'. Just the sound of k-nids made him laugh and that alone gave us both a gift that I'll always cherish.

From Will Alexander:

I don't know if this counts, since it isn't a fantasy novel, but my first thought is Lewis Hyde's The Gift: a book-sized essay about the role of art and the artist in society. It's made up of the same raw material as a fantasy novel, given that it's filled with folk and fairy tales, and it's a boon to any artist trying to sort out their own gifts and how best to use them. (Hyde's Trickster Makes This World is also very, very good, but given the focus on trickster figures that one commits gleeful theft rather than offering presents.)

Let me try again with an actual fantasy novel. When I took over reading bedtime stories to my youngest sister, we first picked up The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. That was a gift, I suppose. "I loved this, and I think you'll love it, so here. Let me read it to you." It utterly failed as a bedtime story, though. We didn't sleep at all. We just read straight through until dawn, and finished The Dark is Rising while the sun was rising.

From Ellen Booraem:

One marathon weekend in the dregs of high school, THE LORD OF THE RINGS opened a new world for me. And I don’t mean just Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth—I mean the universe of fantasy written for anyone older than ten. My parents weren’t fantasy readers, so up to that point my experiences with speculative fiction consisted of fairy tales, Pooh, and a couple of other books distinctly written for younger crowd. I had no idea that you could give up childish things and still read about dragons and elves. Imagine how the top of my head blew off when I met Bilbo. And Gandalf! In fact, I barely slept that weekend—read the entire trilogy, day and night, stopping only for meals and to exchange a word or two with my long-suffering parents. Thank you, Professor Tolkien.

So tell us, what fantasy story has been a “gift” to you?


  1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Read it when I was in kindergarten, and promptly fell in love with fantasy forever. The Narnia books have been beloved friends throughout my life, so much that I don't remember how old I was when I started reading them - I honestly can't remember a time when I wasn't having adventures with Lucy, Aravis, and Jill off on the Dawn Treader.

    And The Black Cauldron and Taran Wanderer changed my view on heroism forever, and that is a gift I will always cherish!

  2. as a child, i loved piers anthoy's Incarnations of Immortality and anne rice's Vampire Chronicles. in college, i fell in love with tad william's Dragonbone Chair trilogy. as an adult, Tolkien, Octavia Butler, and Ursula LeGuin really floor me.

  3. Though more science fiction than fantasy, The Giver by Lois Lowry was the first book to really blow my mind. I read it in 5th grade and remember the moment when I realized Jonas was the only one who can see color, and it was like little explosions went off in my head. It gave me the gift of not being afraid to think in big concepts.

  4. One of the reasons A Wrinkle In Time is my favorite book is because it gives me something new with every reading, at different moments of my life. I don't even have to BE reading it. Once in college I was struggling and suddenly heard Mrs Whatsit's voice in my head, saying, "I give you your faults," and that was when I realized I was in the wrong major. :)

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