Well, this post title should really be “Fantastic Classics (that I have read and feel like writing about today)” but it just felt a little too long for a blog post title.
Earlier this month Janet introduced us to Fantasy and the Fantastic and then Nafiza helped to further mine Fantasy by unearthing some Subgenres – and to tell you the truth I’m still a little muddled up in it all. One thing I do know is that the fantastic has magic – in the air, in the earth and in the writing. Magic is difficult to understand, and so, hohoho, is genre distinction. Indeed, when you start reading a Fantasy novel there are a few things that stand true – particularly when you start reading a Fantasy for young people.
I would normally start with The Hobbit by Tolkien – and let me just say, The Hobbit was the first Fantasy that I read that wasn’t a part of a middle grade series. It was truly one of the first really great books that I ever read (I don’t mean to knock middle-grade, I do love middle-grade!) and remains one of my favourites – but my good friend Megan has already posted about Masculinity in The Hobbit and honestly there is already a whack-load of literature on this phenomenal read. There are many great books out there to discuss, and perhaps not all youth want to be immediately directed to Tolkien (I can’t believe I just said that!), so let me continue.
Let’s take Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain.
This is a fun, witty, fast-paced fantasy adventure series and it is so classic to me – every time I read a contemporary fantasy novel I see echoes of Lloyd Alexander’s characters, magic and incredible drollery.
This series (published from 1964-68) begins with Taran the assistant pig-keeper who haphazardly takes care of Hen Wen, the oracular pig (that means she can talk). When Hen Wen flies off one day – well, that’s the day that all of Taran’s adventures begin. The first instalment (The Book of Three) introduces us to the main characters of the series, most notably Princess Eilonwy an enchantress by heritage and the co-protagonist of the series. Eilonwy is a spunky princess who is hilarious, annoying and overall incredibly charming throughout the series. And, who could forget Gurgi?Described as half creature and half man, Taran and Eilonwy are initially untrusting of Gurgi (but don’t worry, he wins them over). Throughout the series Tara and Eilonwy accompanied by Gurgi and a few other wonderful characters (Doli the dwarf and Fflewddur Flam, hilarious and incompetent “king”/ bard – these guys might now be called charicatures, though excellently realized) roam the kingdom, thwart evil where they may, get in trouble more often than nought and uncover the great truth about Taran, but most importantly the great truth about love and friendship.
This series started it all for me (all the fantastic that is)! We have the lowly assistant pig-keeper who grows out of his boyishness throughout the series and into the eponymous High King of the final instalment. Magic in Lloyd’s world is tempestuous at best, and it never comes without a cost. And at it’s very core, it is a coming of age novel, a discovering of oneself and a building of lasting relationships.
If your kid is still hung up on Harry Potter or The Hobbit recommend this series – it’s a great one.
Another classic is Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea…
The stories of Earthsea are magic to their very core. It’s as if Earthsea and the main character Ged, or Sparrowhawk, took over Le Guin’s life whenever it wanted to and forced her to write. There are several short stories and 4 (?) book length instalments to these chronicles – and I must admit I haven’t read them all. These books are more dense and packed full of adult tones, words and issues – but that didn’t stop me, so it wouldn’t stop an avid reader of fantasy (or just an avid reader!) from reading into this magical realm and character.
I am recommending the first booklength instalment of the bunch – to start – A Wizard of Earthsea is a beautiful book about growing up and coming to terms with who you are and facing the consequences of your actions – but also about rising above them, continuing despite hardship. Ultimately, Earthsea is about balance, as even the title (and cover) suggests. Oh magical balance, how familiar you are.
This text also features the first imagined school of wizardry that I had read about, and again before Harry Potter and similar to Lloyd Alexander, we get the underdog rising up and achieving more than he ever thought possible.
The texture of the writing in this one is worth the read, but the story, which is gripping, is incredibly well developed and will keep you reading.
Finally I end on Robin McKinley…
I am a little ashamed to say that these are the only two Robin McKinley books that I have read – and also, that I read them a long time ago. Yet, they have stayed with me, probably because they take the traditional boy hero plot (that we see in Alexander and Le Guin) and instead feature a girl in a similar role – but of course, with her own character.
The Hero and the Crown is a distant first instalment to the more famous The Blue Sword (Newbery Honour book)- and it’s a tough call but I have to say I enjoyed Hero just a little bit more because it deviated that little bit from the “going from nothing to something” plot that so many fantasy books seems to embrace. In Hero we follow Aerin the princess of Damar, but she also happens to be the daughter of a woman thought to have been a witch. Aerin, shunned as different and generally uncared for and unwanted, does her own thing – which is, train to be a dragon slayer! Aerin is just a fantastic heroine, and, when read today, she is incredibly refreshing.
The Blue Sword has Harry Crewe, an orphan who is kidnapped by the mysterious Hill-king discover her own magic and power. While this story is more familiar, it is a great read – paced well, fun and witty characters lead us through a harrowing adventure. It’s great, and the writing certainly deserves the Newbery Honour.
So that’s it for me and the Fantastic Classics – again, these are just the ones that I still recall reading from when I was a kid. They are all wonderful in their own rights, and though they may sound familiar between them (and their traits resonate through all of fantasy) it is the writing, the characters and (or) the humour that make them great reads. Indeed, I think what I have come to realize is that a good story teller can tell even the most familiar of stories with a breath of fresh air.