We continue our twisting, ranty exploration of J.K. Rowling’s famous series with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Y’all know we love these books – we’re just so happy! Our conversation includes:
We continue our twisting, ranty exploration of J.K. Rowling’s famous series with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Y’all know we love these books – we’re just so happy! Our conversation includes:
Sometimes you need a movie to just pick you up and carry you away, for a little while, from your reality. It’s a brutal world out there, BBs, and there’s no shame in needing to take a lil break.
Close your eyes and let our dulcet tones lead you deeper into Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Our conversation includes:
* Teen Girl Squad (her name is “What’s Her Face”)
* vacation drinks: pina colada vs. long island vs. coconut milk
*How I Met Your Mother
*Full House/Fuller House
*Top 5 Miyazaki Movies
*the unique deliciousness of anime food
*a Secret History of No-Face
*”I’M NOT DRUNK, I’M JUST GOOD-LOOKING.”
*Do you recognize the name Deveigh Chase? You should.
*Yubaba + Professor Slughorn = ugliest Slytherin babies ever
*the movie as “gateway drug” to anime, as comment on child prostitution, as coming-of-age story, as environmental sermon
*Japanese urban legends
* All Fantasy Everything
*2nd Opinions, games and more (AND MORE)!
Thanks for listening, y’all!
On Facebook (Beauty and the Bitch)
aeneid, Chronicles of Narnia, cs lewis, cumaean, dragonlance, Fantasy, neil gaiman, neverwhere, old bailey, pigeon lady, reepicheep, sibyl, T5W, tasslehoff, tom obedlam, Top 5 Wednesday, verin, virgil
This week’s Top 5 Wednesday is pretty tricky. First of all, the difference between a book’s minor and side characters is debatable. The prompt uses examples from Harry Potter to clarify (Ron and Hermione are side characters, Lavender Brown and Cho Chang are minor characters), but where would you classify Ginny? Or Luna? Or Professor McGonagall? And that’s just in the Harry Potter universe. Most narratives are considerably shorter with less clearly defined character roles.
But, being the extremely courageous book blogger that I am, I squared my shoulders and made some executive decisions. I think I’ve found some good ones!
5. Old Bailey, Neverwhere
“Information, then? Roof-maps? History? Secret and mysterious knowledge? If I don’t knows it, it’s probbly better forgot. That’s what I says.”
This is a solid choice – Old Bailey is only in a few scenes of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere but he made a big impression on me (I keep trying, without success, to fit him into my novel). Old Bailey is one of the first people Richard Mayhew, the protagonist, interacts with once the fantasy components of the story really get moving. Old Bailey is a transient elderly inhabitant of London Underground who primarily avoids normies by living on the roofscape above the metropolis and talking to his birds (also killing and roasting said birds). He’s not a particularly powerful person, but he’s in the know. That’s why his pores are so big – they’re full of secrets.
Old Bailey reminds me of two other pigeon-loving softies from movies and TV: Tom O’Bedlam from The Invisibles by Grant Morrison (my favorite comic) and The Pigeon Lady, played by Brenda Fricker, in Home Alone II. You might not know Tom O’Bedlam , but I bet you remember The Pigeon Lady!
Old Bailey is a similar kind of character: an urban hermit, full of secrets, with a soft touch and a kind heart. One of my favorite tropes and definitely one of my favorite minor characters.
4. Tasslehoff Burrfoot, Dragonlance Chronicles
“Was it something I said? Whatever it was, I didn’t mean it. I haven’t meant anything I’ve said for years. Except what I just said. I think.”
Tas is the little one. Okay: where to begin? The Dragonlance series is horrifyingly massive. It’s the Doctor Who of fantasy novels. The first was published in 1984 and 125+ have followed since. Along the way, various authors have left their mark on the world of Krynn (some with a fair amount of skill, some…not).
Tas is one of the characters in the original trilogy. And initially he is relatively minor (think: Merry in Fellowship of the Ring). Later on, he gets to be the protagonist himself in a few books. But I mean c’mon: 125+ books. Everybody gets their fifteen minutes eventually.
Tas is a tiny, adventurous Kender who looks like a twelve-year-old and does not feel fear. Literally: it’s a racial trait of Kender. They are physically unable to feel fear, as well as gifted with an extraordinary sense of wonder and curiosity. At his worst, this makes him Jar Jar Binks-ish (stupid choices, tactlessness). But he’s only rarely at his worst. And at his best, Tas is a smart-mouthed, loyal and funny kleptomaniac with a penchant for making powerful friends and time-traveling. Yep. Time traveling!
You guys I fell down a black hole on the Dragonlance Wikipedia page just now. If you want to know more about Tas, Kender, Krynn or the Dungeons and Dragons campaign that the whole series is based upon (who knew?), feel free to click that demon link and lose an hour of your life. Tas would approve.
3. Verin Mathwin of the Brown Ajah, The Wheel of Time
“Verin merely sipped her tea and watched; Verin’s eyes could be most disconcerting.”
Verin Mathwin is short and plump with dark eyes and an ageless face. She’s a witch. More precisely, she’s a member of the Brown Ajah, which means she’s devoted to knowledge and to the collection of ancient wisdom. Essentially she’s a magical librarian slash archaeologist who, comparatively, blends into the crowd of Aes Sedai witches.
The thing about the Brown Ajah is that they are notorious for being vague and distracted, bookish and eccentric. It is exactly this reputation that allows Verin to dissemble, to fade into the background and to be underestimated, even by those who know her well. In an attempt not to ruin my favorite twist in the entire series, I’m not going to tell you how Verin’s story ends.
But I will tell you that it’s a really, really good ending that shocked many devoted readers of The Wheel of Time. And I’ll tell you that, in my opinion, Verin is the most epic and badass minor character in the entire series. If you’ve read them, you know that’s saying a lot!
2. Reepicheep, The Chronicles of Narnia
“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”
Reepicheep is the leader of the Talking Mice of Narnia. After being raised by dryads, he becomes one of Caspian’s most loyal knights and is one of the major insurrectionists in the Narnian Revolution, even though he stands only a little over knee high. Reepicheep almost died in that rebellion and in fact was only saved at the last minute by Lucy Pevensie (specifically her magic cordial) and by Aslan (who restored his tail, “the honour and glory of a mouse”).
Reepicheep is a courageous and skilled warrior, but the real reason I love him is because he’s also a hopeless romantic. He’s greatest dream comes true: he sets out alone to find Aslan’s country or fall off the edge of the world at the end of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It’s a bittersweet, heartbreaking, inspiring end for one of the best minor characters in the series.
1. The Cumaean Sibyl, The Aeneid
“The night is near, Aeneas, and we waste our time with tears.”
The Cumaean Sibyl was a semi-mythical priestess of Apollo who regularly acted as the mouthpiece for the god’s prophecies from his oracle at Cumae, which was an ancient Greek colony near Naples. In Book VI of Roman writer Virgil’s famous epic The Aeneid, she prophecies Rome’s future and leads Aeneas through the underworld. Since her introduction in classical literature her portrait has been painted by both Raphael and Michelangelo (she’s the most prominent Sibyl in the Sistine Chapel Ceiling below).
There are references to her scattered throughout Western literature. So she’s an awfully famous minor character. But, ya know, she’s been around for at least two millennia. She’s minor these days. I bet’cha that more people on earth are familiar with Kylie Jenner than with this tragically beautiful minor character.
Like most classical demigods, the Cumaean Sibyl has a dark backstory with many gruesome, symbolic details. Though given amazing, godlike powers of prophecy by Apollo, the sibyl does not love the sun god. In fact, they first met when she was young and she rejected his advances. She only assented once he promised to give her eternal life. It was only as the years went on and she grew older in the god’s service that she realized that he had gotten his revenge for her early rejection: eternal life, but not eternal youth.
The Sibyl of Cumae’s amazing strength and wisdom is engendered by years of hardship. As the priestess of Apollo, she must endure the “embrace” of Apollo with every prophetic trance. She cannot die, so she just gets older and older until finally she becomes a novelty worthy of the epigram of T.S. Eliot’s most famous poem, “The Wasteland”:
“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σίβνλλα τί ϴέλεις; respondebat illa: άπο ϴανεΐν ϴέλω.
“I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys said to her: “Sibyl, what do you want?” she answered: “I want to die.”
After years of prophesying, her body has broken down to dust. And still she lives, withered to nothing, caught in a bell jar, speaking truths.
When approaching this topic I had two perspectives in mind;
Either way, I have the same outcome: I need to invent a time loop so I can relive Saturday mornings over and over again, so as to maximize my book intake ratio to my ‘having to be an adult and go to work’ ratio. I know, I know- it’s a complicated platform supported by algorithms that don’t yet exist, buttttt if someone could invent that right-about-now, that would be great.
Another caveat to my reading more books by authors that I love is my desire to diversify. It’s always good practice to try out new authors, and maybe find some new genres you didn’t know you loved. Though, I’ll be the first to admit this is not my strong suit- I often choose something comfortable and familiar over trying out a new thing (Hmm. This book about Magic and Adventure, or that Biography….?????!!!! Duh. Magic.)-though I should try to be a bit better about it. But, as my grandfather always said “Want in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up faster.”
So, nevertheless, my top 5 list is going to be a big pile of the same ole amazingness that I’m addicted to. Here are my (current) top 5 Authors I need to read more of:
Best known for his witty commentary on the highs and lows of life, David Sedaris is a treasure not to be missed. His eccentric family life, affinity for story telling, and (often) dry humor can induce bright eyes and smiles in any Scrooge. While he is well known for writing- he can also be heard on This American life, where he often contributes. His dry humor and delivery bring joy to the most ridiculous of situations-I recommend always listening to ‘This American Life’, but especially when Mr. Sedaris is contributing.
As for his writing, I often find that his books make for good travel companions; his writing flow makes it such that you can read it on the go, stop, and pick it up again whenever. Though I have read a few, I have a long way to go. He has written 9 books, and has contributed to other works ready to be consumed. So, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to load up on Comedy, and tote a smile along with my suitcase.
4. Bill Bryson
For those of you who have Wanderlust and are not familiar with Bill Bryson’s work, I recommend you stop what you’re doing right now and go buy one of his books immediately. He is a prolific Travel-Adventure author, who also knows a thing or two about history and science (see: A Short History of Nearly Everything). Much like David Sedaris his prose has pronounced witticism, and a flare for self deprecating humor. I have only read two of his books- A Walk in the Woods & A Short History of Nearly Everything – but from what I have seen, I’m all in. Almost all of his books are set on the road, dredging up my deepest desires to visit new places, every five minutes. He writes honestly and openly about his experiences, the people he meets, and his failed expectations. I am particularly excited to read some of his books covering England and his experiences there, as he called it home for many years. His Ex-Pat perspective will no doubt leave us in stitches, aching for an adventure of our own. I look forward to reading his whole collection (he has published over 20 books!), and stealing inspiration to write my own ridiculous tales of life abroad, and all around.
I first found Barbara Kingsolver in high school. Everyone was reading ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ (perhaps it was assigned? I don’t remember…) so I hopped on board. It was elegant, hard to read, engrossing, sad and different from so many other things I had read before. I loved it; I loved her voice. It is one of the sole reasons I decided to study Anthropology in College; I found the whole concept of immersing yourself in Culture fascinating. Though I didn’t grow up to live among a tribe in Africa, I have continued my study on culture through reading and engaging experiences. So many of her works are a study on humanity, in one sense or another. She focuses largely on Arizona and Appalachia (as she has called both those places home), and she offers up beautiful characters and captivating stories. She also has several non-fiction works, which are delicate and informative. In ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle‘ she gives all free spirits the notion that one can seek sustenance from the land, exist in harmony with family, and still live a cultured life. She certainly had me throwing away clothes, reading by candle light, and buying yeast to make my own bread. I find her works very moving; there is always so much heart behind the story, making it all too easy to get lost in the journey.
She has written 14 books (a mix of fiction and nonfiction) and I need to read them all! To be honest, I usually wait until I see one I haven’t read at a thrift store and pick it up, so maybe I’ll keep on the path. Looking forward to my next find, and diving deep into the heart of humanity.
2. Lev Grossman
Lover’s of ‘Beauty and the Bitch’ know that we love Lev Grossman. I think ‘The Magicians’ trilogy is going to be a part of Fantasy Pop-Culture for decades to come. It’s a beautiful story centered on broken, relatable characters. Their lives are tragically not fixed by the one thing they thought would make it better: Magic is real. Lev Grossman weaves his story with love, fear, sacrifice and homage. He blends themes and ideas we know and love from well known Fantasy tales (The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), but does so in a way that he honors them, borrows from them, and spring boards into an original story.
He has a few other writing credits to his name, but has spent his primary existence as a writer working as a journalist- most recently with Time Magazine. He has an impressive career, and I am very excited to see where it goes next. He has the unfortunate duty to follow up a popular fantasy series: where will he go next? My hopes are that he has some other crafted Magical tales to tell, but I’d be happy with a book of essays or something of the like. Whatever he does, you can be sure the eyes of the world will be on him. He has a whole new set of fans thanks to ‘The Magicians’, the adapted TV show on the SyFy network. We’ll all wait with baited breathe until he publishes again- but in the mean time, BRB while I binge watch some Magicians and dream of Magic.
1. JK Rowling
So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for 20 years- you know a little about Jo Rowling. (listen to our upcoming HP Episodes and learn WAY more than you wanted to know!) She is the Mother of Modern fantasy for so many people; she brought magic to a whole generation of kids who grew up to voraciously consume other Fantasy as a direct result of her influence (It’s me! It’s me!). ‘Harry Potter’ is the best selling book series of all time, and will live on the become classics, influencing generations of children to come.
So. To say the least, it must be pretty intimidating to follow up on it’s massive success. She has since written one book under her real name-‘The Casual Vacancy‘ (Which every super fan has probably read [kinda good, a little boring, a little shocking, a little sad, very British])- and she has written a mystery series under her Pen Name Robert Galbraith – the ‘Cormoran Strike Series‘. I personally love this series so far, though it can be shocking at times (think body parts in boxes, arriving through the post). It chronicles a disabled Veteran turned PI who has become very broken. He lives on the edge of poverty, is famous adjacent, and also works alongside a beautiful broken woman- who helps keep it all together when he’s not looking. Needless to say, I am all caught up on EVERYTHING and I need more. I know patience is a virtue, but I live everyday in a daze hoping she pulls a Beyonce and drops a novel on us (SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY). Looking forward to more Mystery books, and anything and everything she wants to send our way. Hoping she steps back into the fantasy realm – or maybe even a post-Potter Wizarding World book- but I can probably keep holding my breath.
So. Forever waiting for the next best Book,
By the way:
Ahhh: all of those hours I’ve wasted staring open-mouthed at my TV screen and frantically mashing buttons are finally paying off! This list of books practically wrote itself. In fact, I am shocked that none of these books have been adapted into video games. In a world with games like Skyrim, Witcher and Fallout, the sky really is the limit. And the introduction of interactive mobile games redefines what a simple algorithm can achieve. The future is now. Let’s play it!
Hyperion is a mind-bending and Hugo award-winning science fiction novel published in 1989 by Dan Simmons. It’s the first of the Hyperion Cantos series and, honestly, it’s so complex a masterwork that it is very difficult to summarize (especially without spoilers). Let’s just say this: there are seven pilgrims traveling to the world of Hyperion on the eve of the destruction of the known universe. Like Canterbury Tales, each pilgrim is given a chapter in which to relate his or her story and motivation for the pilgrimage. Each main character has a unique history, set of abilities and secret. Each fears the Shrike, the horrible god(?) covered in thorns who adorns the cover (read: an epic, epic final boss battle).
There are many reasons why this book would make a good video game. First, there are seven very different main characters to choose from, including a colonel with all the latest body armor and weapons, a hard-bitten female private detective and an immortal Catholic priest. A video game based on the book might allow the player to choose their character or switch protagonists between chapters, but I think I would most enjoy a tactical turn-based RPG that allows the player to control each of the main characters in the party. Even while reading this book for the first time, I was struck by the obvious tank, cleric and spy in the narrative.
But the main reasons I would want to play this game are the hauntingly beautiful worlds that each character inhabits and must travel through in order to reach the final stage of their journey. With today’s technology, the sea of grass featured on the cover, in which giant monsters prowl and chitter, would be stunning and horrifying. The various worlds of the protagonists could be huge, widely varied, full of sidequests and enthralling.
For the record, the SyFy channel is currently in the process of producing a miniseries based on Hyperion and its sequel, Return to Hyperion, but a huge, open-world video game would, in my opinion, be even better.
This trilogy by Isaac Asimov is a classic of the science fiction genre (there are also sequels and prequels, but I haven’t read those, so I can’t speak to them). Epic in scale and heroic in imagination, these books chart hundreds of thousands of years of human civilization, leaping gracefully over decades and millennia to tell the story of Hari Seldon and the branch of mathematics that he created (psychohistory). By applying mathematics to the cosmos, Seldon finds that he can predict the future, though only on the largest of scales. He foresees the unavoidable fall of the Galactic Empire and a resulting 30,000 year dark age in which human beings all over the Milky Way suffer horribly and all our progress is undone. But he also foresees a way to minimize that dark age to just 1000 years. He creates The Foundation (a collection of artists and scientists) to preserve human history and knowledge. There’s a lot more to it, of course, but I don’t want to spoil any of the twists and turns (of which there are many).
I think that this series would make great inspiration material for an educational game (a la The Oregon Trail) that teaches math to middle school or early high school students. The themes of the work are complex (societal evolution and adaptation, historical hypothesis, individualism) and the plot is innovative enough to keep students interested. The game could function by doling out juicy plot twists only when students have successfully shown mastery of successive mathematical theorems and skills.
Hm. Maybe if this game had existed when I was younger I would not be so horribly, embarrassingly bad at math today.
This series (The Gentlemen Bastards), of which three are currently available, is planned to be seven novels long before it’s finished. Scott Lynch is also planning a sequel series of another seven books. So: flavors of Edding’s Belgariad/Malorean series and Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Fantasy on the epic scale.
It’s strange, though, that Lies of Locke Lamora didn’t feel like the beginning of a series when I read it. It felt intimate. The story of Locke, an orphan turned master(?) thief in the island city of Camorr, is rich with personal detail but relatively limited in scope of characters and influence. That net is widened in books two and three, but there’s no large company of characters yet and Locke is still by far the most realized and fleshed-out character in the series. But the writing is witty and Locke is a seductive, interesting protagonist who fails almost as often as he succeeds (no Mary Sues here!).
Anyway, this would make a great Civilization-esque exploration game for mobile with lots of sea warfare and violence as well as a good dose of sex and plenty of snooty nobles. Would make my morning commute and search for booty (!) significantly more fun.
I’m think most people read this in high school, if not more recently. The story of Winston Smith, a sad and downtrodden man hiding from his totalitarian government and attempting to find love and freedom in a world in which those concepts (and even the words) are being aggressively snuffed feels just as prescient today as it did when George Orwell first published the novel in 1949.
However, this classic could be given new and horrifying life by adapting the main ideas into an interactive mobile game in the same family as Pokemon Go (I would call it Big Brother). The player is a rebel who must reach certain landmarks in his or her city in order to catalog (photograph) them before the government destroys them. Along the way, he or she must avoid TVs, computers and traffic cams (telescreens through which Big Brother watches you), any government buildings (renamed Ministries of Peace, Love, Plenty and Truth) and randomly chosen other players who are suspected of being Thought Police. If you get too close to any of these obstacles, the game declares you caught and brainwashed and the landmark is “destroyed”.
In addition to the basic game mechanics, Big Brother might include literary and trivia mini-games, real-time news updates translated into Newspeak and a chat function so you can meet up with other rebels. It’s actually pretty horrifying how easily our world, with just a few cosmetic changes through our phones, overlaps with the dystopia in 1984.
They should make this game in five or six years, once virtual reality has improved. I cannot imagine a more horrifying book in be inside of. In fact, I’m now so deeply upset by my own idea that I am going to quickly publish this blog and then go take a bath and attempt to wash away some of my fear sweat. For more info on why I think House of Leaves would make such a terrifying virtual reality game, please check out the blog I published on 4/1/17 (“Top 5 Future Classics in Literature“).
Did I miss one or two or twenty books that would make fantastic video games? Which of these would you most like to play? Please don’t hesitate to comment below and let me know!
I have a confession to make: I have been spending all my time watching video game playthroughs and now I have multiple stacks of books to read. By multiple I mean like five or six. Large stacks. But I made an ambitious reading list for the next few months, so hopefully I’ll go from poser to a genius in that time. Here are five fantasy or science fiction books that I can’t wait to dive into. This is a T5W – more information at the bottom of the post!
I started this book about two years ago but was interrupted halfway through by a move. Honestly, I wasn’t disappointed to take a break. I’ve heard it called the best science fiction book every written, but Dhalgren is also a weird, Joycean ride through a hellish cityscape on the back of a schizophrenic wanderer. It is very violent and very dark. Also often confusing. But there are gay characters (the protagonist himself is bisexual) and the darkly poetic language, though unsettling, is also hypnotic. Samuel R Delany successfully creates a strange magical world in which anything seems possible. I’m excited to finish this up ASAP.
I bought this book a few months ago as my introduction to Salman Rushdie’s work. I know his name, of course, but haven’t read Midnight’s Children or The Satanic Verses. Maybe I should have just started with those but Two Years… is described as a blend of “history, mythology and a timeless love story” on the front leaf. Funny, that’s often how I describe myself.
Two Years… is about the various descendants of Dunia, a princess of the jinn (genies, which live in a world that coexists with our own) and her mortal lover. Strikes me as Heroes plus Fable (one of the characters is a graphic novelist) and it’s less than 300 pages long. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it and have a new favorite author soon!
Okay. I have to admit to you that I was initially interested in this book because the author shares a last name with Agatha Harkness, my favorite Fantastic Four hero (she’s a witch who tutored Franklin Richards and The Scarlet Witch). I mean, check out those eyebrows. How could I not love her?
And A Discovery of Witches is, in fact, about a witch (just not Agatha). This is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy, but all of them are out already. This is important because what I’ve read of the first book makes me think this is a very bingeable series. It follows the story of Diana Bishop, an alchemical history professor and talented witch who accidentally calls for a very powerful book from the library stacks at Oxford. I haven’t gotten to the part that explains why only she could call this magical tome, but I assume that will be addressed at some point.
The world that Harkness has created is interesting because it is heavily peopled with witches, vampires and daemons (think genius-level, slightly mad creatives). And I do mean heavily. Diana feels pins and needles when other magical creatures look at her and at one point she practically has a panic attack in the library because there are so many magical creatures staring at her. That seems to be a little out of the ordinary in this world (it all has something to do with the book she called, I think), but I’m intrigued by the idea of a world that is both the one we live in and a deeply magical one. Mythical beings would have to be very, very good at keeping secrets for that to be true, though. Anyway, this is another good summer read. I just hope it doesn’t get too Twilight-y.
These are the second and third books in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. I bought the first book, Annihilation, on a whim in BookPeople and was astonished by its creativity, eeriness and deft plotting. It was a hurtlingly quick read, often horrible and scary but blooming with unexpected moments of stark beauty.
This series feels like a blend of Cthulhu mythos, Brave New World and House of Leaves. In Annihilation, a team of four women (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist and a surveyor) from the not-too-distant future journey into Area X, a dangerous and abandoned parcel of land that has been reclaimed by nature. Almost immediately they find an “underground tower” that’s not on the map and their team, which has been carefully constructed by the government, begins to implode. The story is told through the biologist’s field journal, but she an extremely unreliable narrator. As the story progresses, the chaos increases. We’re left wondering if this is a journal chronicling supernatural forces or one charting a descent into madness. Seriously good writing. Lots of poetry and genuine chills. I’ll be buying these two for the beach this summer.
What do you think? Have you read any of these? Please comment below or on Facebook and let me know about your upcoming fantasy and science fiction reads!
The world of tomorrow is here.
This is a T5W. More information below.
Top 5 works of literature that will be considered “classics” in 50 years.
Obviously skewed by my interests.
They’re what you might call legendary children.
Just give them time.
This series spans 14 books and a prequel novel. Publication began with the Eye of the World in January 1990 and concluded with A Memory of Light, published January 2013. Over almost 23 years, 4.5 million words paint epic fantasy on a massive scale. The story of tragic Rand Al’Thor, The Dragon Reborn, and the machinations of the continent (!) around him is an intricate tapestry. There are many richly characterized women, some of who may be queer (depends on how you define a “pillow friend”). All three protagonists are straight white men and there’s only one afterthought of a gay male character, but Jordan’s writing is otherwise sensitive and inquisitive. After the author’s death in September of 2007, the last three books were finished by Brandon Sanderson, who breathed new life into the works and finished The Wheel of Time according to Jordan’s copious notes.
This series is incredible and especially notable for its sheer bulk and scope. Reading them all is the fantasy version of reading War and Peace. Yes, it’s good. But it’s also a challenge and a test.
“Are you a real fantasy fan? Have you finished The Wheel of Time?”
It’ll be that kind of classic.
People whisper about it at parties. Stutter over espressos about it. Their knuckles tremble and flex about it. It’s a work within a work within a work; House of Leaves. It’s about a family and about a hermit and about a drug addict who’s also a man and about a stripper named Bunny. Supposedly. It’s about a house that moves and grows, elongates madly down the space between atoms, becomes a labyrinth that should not be, a thing that is and can’t be but is still cold, cold. And it seems like there’s something in it.
House of Leaves is already a cult classic. Danielewski’s innovative use of typography and the tools of writing (footnotes, appendices, spacing, text size) to further the theme of the plot leads to a unique, intoxicating experience. You have to bend the book to read it. You have to search long pages of technical writing to find one asterisk that relates to a footnote that explains how she felt about him. But the main text you’re skimming is also connected to how she feels, maybe triangulated between a scientific theory and a scientific analogy. That sort of thing. It’s a powerful, affecting read.
As in: I was afraid, genuinely afraid, of the dark for two months while I read this book. I was afraid of the dark as a kid, but that’s because I was afraid there was some thing (a monster, a shark, my older brother) in it. When I read House of Leaves, I was 21. And I became afraid of the dark because of the very fact of its darkness. I became afraid that the two feet of carpet at the bottom of the stairs had actually disappeared and, instead of traveling on toward my bedroom, I would fall and fall forever. I would be swallowed up by the dark.
House of Leaves is number four because it will remain a cult classic with the weirdos and the horror freaks and the cool kids, the hipsters and the mad.
Okay, I love this series. The characters still feel alive to me and I finished the last book years ago. But I should admit that this series included as a minor classic, important critically but perhaps not popularly. The Magicians is an important novel because it marks the taking back by an adult audience of childhood heroes. The Magicians is to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as The Batman movies (or even Deadpool) are to the Batman cartoons. They prove that fantasy and superhero stories are popular with adult audiences and that we’ll pay to see them, even if the kids can’t come. After all, about fifty years of us have been raised on them. These characters don’t have to be scrubbed quite so clean any longer. We’re too old to fully believe that. They need to be chaotic, realistic, irreverent, violent. Adult heroes.
The TV version is doing well, by the way. Season two is good but it’s no Game of Thrones. And now the show has moved completely away from the plot of the books, which may be a good or a bad thing. 50 years from now, The Magicians could well be read by graduate level literature classes as indicative of a cultural current, a blip on the American zeitgeist. For more info on this series, listen to Episode 1 of Beauty and the Bitch!
Please do yourself a favor by reading this book immediately. It’s incredible. Neil Gaiman has talked about how The Lord of the Rings begat the whole genre of fantasy. Before Tolkien published his masterwork, books that contained magic were just that – books with magic. It was only after his trilogy became a phenomenon that fantasy became a genre. Which was all well and good, until fantasy became enmeshed in the public eye with pulp novels, published frequently and with little regard for innovation and quality.
The Name of the Wind is a standout book because it’s not fantasy. It’s a novel with magic in it. And poetry, too. Well of course it’s technically fantasy. But I’m saying that it would be at home next to other coming-of-age classics like Rabbit, Run, Catcher in the Rye or David Edding’s The Belgariad. Patrick Rothfuss has an eye for detail and realism that makes even the most outlandish location or character come to life and feel real. There are deep currents and still waters, both.
Assuming that the third book…is published…eventually, and is well received, I believe The Kingkiller Chronicles will become classic fantasy, read in progression after Lord of the Rings and The Belgariad. They are the continuation by Rothfuss down a path toward completely humanizing heroes, showing their scabs and therefore peopling his scenes with emotionally accurate and heart-wrenching action.
1. East of Eden
This last one (in fact, my #1), is a surprise, I know. For one thing, East of Eden is already a classic. About 50,000 copies are sold each year. For another thing, you probably thought, based on the picks above, that I was going to limit myself to fantasy. Well. I don’t just read fantasy. I read books with magic. And East of Eden has magic, but in the vein of Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides: ancestral magic and forces hidden underneath the surface. Biblical allusions and families out of myth interweave to add a similar magic/cursed glow to the Salinas Valley.
But I’m not here about East of Eden’s classic status. That’s a given. What I’m arguing is that East of Eden should be read more often and be more well-known than any other Steinbeck work. But because, I’m sure, of worries about dark sexuality and the whole demonic murderess that is Cathy Ames, I never even heard about East of Eden in school. Grapes of Wrath? Obviously. I think we read that in sixth or seventh grade. And watched the movie, too. Of Mice and Men I read twice, once in ninth grade English and once in eleventh grade drama.
Both of those are good. Great. Powerful. But East of Eden is Steinbeck’s magnum opus. It’s much longer than Grapes of Wrath but a quicker read. And it’s more than deep enough to power sustained discussion. Of course, it’s not specifically about an important historical event like Grapes of Wrath. And it’s not teeny and readable like Of Mice and Men. But it would be amazing summer reading between eleventh and twelfth grades. Or immediately before college.
And once you read the book, it’s time for the movie. It’s time for Jaaaames Deaaaaan. Did you say legendary? Did you say important? Did you say jawline of a generation?
I think we should trust young people more. Expect more of them. They’re capable of reading Steinbeck’s best work. It’s not fair to keep them in the waiting room with his shorter and earlier works until they graduate.