Childhood Books In the Present

I was an avid reader when I was a kid. I might as well have eaten the books I was reading, because I consumed them in every other way — I memorized them, I ingested them, I pictured them, I loved them. Adult life intrudes now and I don’t read nearly as much as I would like. It doesn’t help that I read very, very slowly depending on what I’m reading and how much time I give it.

Recently, I decided to go back and read some old favorites from childhood and have been doing this on and off throughout the year. The great ones, the classics, tend to become deeper and richer through experiencing them as an adult. Others are indelibly children’s books and give little other than nostalgic joy. Others…well, others don’t hold up so well and are, in fact, quite disappointing. The feeling of visiting your childhood haunts and magical lands pales, and you see all the tricks, the pitfalls, and the problems.

I have recently read The Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, and Ozma of Oz and plan to keep going with L. Frank Baum’s series. The books get more and more sophisticated as they go on, especially with the introduction of the Patchwork Girl (even Baum said he knew he was writing his best work when writing The Patchwork Girl of Oz). However, they are exactly what Baum intended them to be — fairy tales for children. Baum intended them to be a pleasant change from the dark fantasies of the Grimm brothers and even Anderson (think of the original ending to The Little Mermaid if you don’t think he was twisted, too). And that’s all they do. There is an impressive series of moments and some beautiful lore, and some genuinely funny scenes, but they are kid’s books that can be enjoyed by adults in a whimsical way.

Then we have the meatier young adult books and the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander immediately springs to mind. This series contains the book The Black Cauldron, which Disney massacred into an animated movie. *A moment of silence for Disney’s murder of Eilonwy by turning her into a typical, trite, boring princess* They are still funny, engaging, and will tear at your heart in some cases. The Chronicles of Narnia are still great. I’ve discussed my wishy-washy devotion to these books before, but in the end, allegory aside (or included, whatever makes you happy), they are probably the ones that shaped my fantasy-loving mind the most as a child. Minotaurs, banshees, dryads, talking animals, etc. They live on in my mind still and will likely always have a place there.

After graduating from all this as a kid, my ex-stepdad got me A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony. I don’t believe my stepdad had ever read a whole book in his entire life, but he liked the picture on the cover and thought I would like it. I did. Very, very much. I ate those books up and thought they were the height of fantasy. (I was young, don’t judge). I read all of them up to about book 17. That’s where I just couldn’t anymore. There are ones I still go back and read and enjoy, and they are on my list for later this year, Castle Roogna and Night Mare specifically. Both involve wars fought with magic and mundane means and felt as epic as I thought things could be at the time. Those still affect me and kindle my imagination, puns be damned.

Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality books are still great. The problem with this series for newcomers is that the first book is so strong, and the second is the weakest of all of them, though the third picks right back up again. From other lifelong fans of this series, I have been warned to never, EVER read the eighth book, Under a Velvet Cloak, so I haven’t. I can’t have an opinion other than I can’t imagine why it was ever written (16 years after the series supposedly ended). But the series itself opened my mind even more to taking something we all know (Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, and Good) and making them into offices, jobs that real people stepped into. This stuck with me, too. The accoutrements of the offices and the set, specific abilities each had taught me something about world building with magical creatures. And limits.

From there I graduated to Mercedes Lackey, reading Magic’s Pawn. I recently reread that and the second one, Magic’s Promise. I felt this was a step up, though I became familiar with her early foibles — rape featuring in way too many books, a limp sense of humor, characters who whine or cower — but became enchanted with her world building and her unfaltering ability to kick your emotions. I read only six of her books, and the stories encourage me to continue, so it straddles both nostalgia and discovery. Also, she did gay characters decently well, managed to not have them turn into raging stereotypes, and didn’t make the book all about being gay and therefore allowing it to appeal to a wider audience.

There are more — plenty more — but those are what I’m reading now. They taught me about fantasy, about my own childhood, and continue to linger in my adult writer’s brain. Sometimes trips to the past are more rewarding than they have any right to be, and this rediscovery has been of that kind.

~ by Darren Endymion on July 20, 2015.

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