Friday, March 28, 2014

Alternate Universes and Time Travel and Witches, Oh My!

I  pretty much stopped reading children's and YA fiction when I discovered Lord of the Rings at the age of 11. Then it was all Epic Fantasy and Science Fiction and American Classics and Gothic Romance and even a little Kurt Vonnegut. 

I, like everyone who actually peruses these posts, was reading "at a college level" (whatever that means) before I hit puberty, and I had very little interest in fluttering back to the YA nest once I had spread my wings.

I read Anne of Green Gables when I was in my mid-teens, but other than that, I can't recall one children's or YA novel I read between the ages of 12 and 30. Sure, I'd peruse an Edward Gorey or Shel Silverstein book here and there, but none of the fantastical kid's novels I'd enjoyed as a child.

Then J.K. Rowling came along and ruined everything. Heh. I tease. She made everything awesome again. Much as my experience watching Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time in the theater shot me straight back to the unadulterated thrill I got when I first saw Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry Potter made me feel like I was 8 again, reading under a bedspread tent with the aid of a flashlight. (Lumos!)

I devoured the Harry Potter series; I adored them; I speculated online, between books, about where the plot was going; I read them again and again - even out loud, twice, to friends, in their entirety. But then they were done, and I could never read them for the first time again.

 Eek! Expelliarmus! Stupify!

So, I started searching for Harry Potter Withdrawal Novels. I found some good ones too, among the best - Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. (The former is considered YA, the latter is not)  But years passed, and the more I tried to dive into an exciting YA series, the more disappointed I became. The Hunger Games was 'meh' to me, Twilight was unreadable.

I was almost ready to give up, when I discovered Diana Wynne Jones. The mistake I'd been making was looking for new fantasy fiction. Diana Wynne Jones wrote a lot in the 80s, and once more, it's clear that she was a very strong influence on J.K. Rowling.

(Also, Jones wrote Howl's Moving Castle, which was made into a lovely film by Hayao Miyazaki.)

The first books I read of Jones's were the Chrestomanci Series. The order in which you're supposed to read them is not the order in which she wrote them. Here's a handy guide:


You could actually read any of the books in this series at any time - they are each stand-alone novels, essentially, but the whole picture becomes clearer if you read them in order. And why wouldn't you? The series takes place in multiple, parallel worlds, so each of the books inhabits very different settings. The one character who appears, to some degree or another, in every book, is the Chrestomanci himself, an extremely charismatic, powerful, and dandy-ish enchanter.

And that's all I'll say, except her books effortlessly balance some very complex ideas, and at the same time they're funny and charming. Also, she captures the awkwardness and awe of adolescence very well. But the original cover art is often atrocious. What can I say - YA fantasy in the 80s.*

Since the Chrestomanci series, I've read The Homeward Bounders and A Tale of Time City, both good. I just checked out 6 more of her books from the library today.

Packing them into my backpack, I felt that thrill of being a kid again.

*The art for newer additions, however, is lovely.


Jon said...

Hmmm... I've never heard of the Chrestomanci series before. Can you bring it to the next meeting so I can take a look at it?

Qlaudie said...

Sorry, Jon! I got them at the libris locus. But look around online. Make no mistake, they ARE kid lit. But really good kid lit.

Qlaudie said...

Check this out for some descriptions....

Qlaudie said...

Interestingly, "Charmed Life" seems to be many people's favorite from the Chrestomanci series, and I have to say, it might be my least favorite.
My favorites were "the Lives of Christopher Chant," "Witch Week," and "The Pinhoe Egg."
I'm very excited to read her "Dark Lord of Derkholm" short series, that sends up the fantasy genre... it's about a world of elves and wizards and dwarfs and such, that is plagued by tourists wanting the "high fantasy" experience.