Posts Tagged With: fantasy

Trilogy: His Dark Materials

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1)

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, #3)

His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

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I was pulled into this from the first paragraph, and found myself with so many questions about the world and the characters. I was delighted when the series wound up, and my various questions had been satisfactorily resolved. The writing style, plot pace, and characterizations were excellent — my biggest complaint is the ending. It’s entirely logical and internally consistent with the world and character Pullman created, and it was also really depressing to me. I was kind of blindsided by the ending because I’m not used to the sort of ambiguous/ realistic endings in YA, and certainly not in fantasy YA. I wanted a happy ever after — but at the same time, it was really well written, and it made sense, and the characters are of the sort that you know they’ll move on and be fine. Furthermore, I’m actually generally uncomfortable with happy-ever-after endings when the protagonists were paired off at an emotionally immature age, which makes my internal conflict at the resolution all the more confusing to me.

It’s kind of impossible to read these without being aware they’re a religious analogy — they’re most famously posited as Pullman’s “answer” to the Chronicles of Narnia. I enjoyed both series equally, to be honest. I read Narnia as a child and His Dark Materials as an adult. These days, when I read Narnia, it’s impossible not to pick up on the religious allegory and social commentary. When I was a kid, I thought of it as a really kick-ass fantasy series, and I just didn’t see any religious allegory at all. Not even the oh-so-obvious Christ motif. I can’t say what I would or would not have picked up on with His Dark Materials as a kid, but I rather suspect I would have been equally naive. As a fore-warned adult, I still didn’t pick up on certain themes — for instance, I wasn’t prepared for the whole Adam & Eve allegory, so I didn’t anticipate it until I was reading the final scene and it hit me like a ton of bricks between the eyes. I felt like an idiot for missing all those hints, and I don’t think I would have picked up on any religious themes if I hadn’t been primed to think of the series as an allegorical response to Narnia. I liked them, and I thought they were fun. The alleged religious debate is more like an interesting side-note in culture of the series than a real factor in the actual reading of it.

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Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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I read this when I was a teenager, and it’s one of those books that has always stuck with me. The vivid imagery of a society so addicted to surface pleasure and immediate gratification that they had willingly surrendered the ability to read or even own books . . . it was such a terrifying idea that I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it; the same way you might be fascinated yet repelled by a massive wolf spider that has made it’s way into your bathroom.

Bradbury’s writing is straightforward yet poetic, and I prefer this book over other futuristic dystopian fiction of the same time period because it ends on a hopeful note. I remember that when I finished the book, I felt eager and invigorated, ready to act and change the world for the better. In contrast, when I finished 1984 and Brave New World, I felt drained, exhausted, and hopeless, like it wasn’t even worth trying to prevent the posited futures because we could only fail.

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Chalice

ChaliceChalice by Robin McKinley

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This is a sweet and slightly alternative McKinley offering. She has such a way with words — her worlds always seemed suffused with a dreamy golden light, places where you always know that ill will become good. I love her writing. I grew up with her rendition of Beauty, and it was such a nice twist that the protagonist’s family was supportive and loving, not cruel and petty and jealous. This is typical of McKinley’s writing: She often writes female characters who are often stereotypically feminine according to the necessary social mores of the time addressed (attractive, polite, gracious), but they also have a core of strength to them. They are not malleable and easily influenced. They have support systems and strong bonds with other women. Internalized misogyny is usually absent from her worlds — I recall very little girl-on-girl hate, competition, or jealousy.

In Chalice, McKinley continues this trend, with a female character who may not seem stereotypically strong, but has a quiet core of patient strength and kindness. She is a woman in a position of power who is not a villain. She strives to live up to the expectations of others while forging her own path.

The writing is lyrical and occasionally repetitive, and it doesn’t display the same amount of wit and humor that many of McKinley’s other books showcase — it’s beautiful writing, but the whole thing is paced at a sort of dreamy, patient walk. I do recommend it, but I think it probably fits a lazy, nostalgic mood more than anything.

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Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

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I’m a big fantasy fan, and you have to give Tolkien props for practically creating the genre. In all honesty, though, I’ve always found the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to be a bit slow. While I enjoy poetic imagery and can understand the desire to wax lyrical, sometimes I get a little irritated at the sheer wordiness of this series. Every time I revisit these books, I remember why I prefer authors like Neil Gaiman or R.R. Martin for my fantasy fix. The Fellowship of the Rings is well-written and enjoyable, especially in the last few chapters, when the action really picks up. But be warned — you have to slog through quite a bit of speech-making, pointless discussion, and long descriptions of travel to get to that point.

Even so, this is a classic of the genre, and should be read and experienced by any fantasy lover at least once. A point to keep in mind is that The Lord of the Rings was published at the tail end of an era in which books had been the predominant form of entertainment for centuries. In 1954, television was not yet common in every home, and while films were available, they were a theater-only treat. In a sense, Tolkien is one of the last authors to write in the same literary style as Dickens, Twain, Austen, and the Bronte sisters (though obviously in a different genre).

Authors today — even authors of epic fantasy — write differently. They know they have to compete with the internet, television, movies on demand, and mobile devices. Plots come at a faster pace these days, and the action and reaction occurs in swift succession. There is no time or desire for writers who begin their books with long, meandering paragraphs and tend towards tangential writing. In order to be a success, the book must immediately grab and hold the attention, and keep it throughout. I’m not saying any of this is bad — I’m just pointing out that Tolkien was writing for a much different audience. Reading his books requires cultivating a different frame of mind.

That challenge is largely ameliorated by the second book, though — The Two Towers and Return of the King chronicle the bulk of the action, so pacing picks up quite a bit. Long story short: The entire series is a bastion of the fantasy genre, and a must-read for any fantasy fan. Luckily, by the end of the first book, the pace starts picking up. By the second book, it’s whipping right along, and the third book is also a great read.

As a side note, I have recently learned that the estate of Tolkien is apparently displeased with Peter Jackson’s film rendition of his work. That makes me feel a little odd in my high recommendation of the films, since Tolkein’s descendants apparently feel they’re not at all representative of his work. Still, I really do feel like the films do a good job of representing the tone and feel of these books, and I generally do not like films based on books I’ve read. I believe the total of films based on books I’ve read that I actually like is somewhere at 5 (if you count each LoTR installment separately) — the other two are Stardust and The Princess Bride. 

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