No doubt there are a hundred others, but these stuck in my mind, but upon reading each of these books I wanted to write a book, too. I read a ton of Vonnegut, of course, but he only made me admire him. He didn’t’ make me want to be him, precisely. These people wrote something that made me LONG to live in their world. For me, it all started in the year 1981:
- Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion
At the age of 13 (and something like 50 years after their publication)… I was a good reader, in the sense I read whatever I was told to. Shelly Nicholson (dear friend of more than 30 years, to whom I was crushing in Junior High) suggested I read The Hobbit. I went through it, and was hooked. She suggested I move to LOTR and I did that. Double-hooked. Shelly suggested The Silmarillion. Forget it. I was gone. By the time Peter Jackson came along, I was all in. We can dissect his movie choices some other time (although by now there are plenty of people who have done it better).
- Agatha Christie and Jane Austen
Christmas break hits and my eldest sister, Karen, has a pile of books. We are hit by a remarkable blizzard that year, locking us all into the house for more than two weeks. School is delayed. It’s a whole thing. Note: we don’t have the internet at this point. There are a bunch of romance novels sitting around, for reasons unknown, but Karen also has a wonderful collection of murder mysteries. I dig in, and the world shifts. I also read one of the romances, and it was great. But I didn’t quite get the point. Twenty years later I got it, of course. Every one of those writers was building something. That same break, I went deep into the Jane Austen collections: Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma… all back to back… and the imprint on my soul was irreversible. At the end of the break, Karen throws me a revised edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and I’m done. I’m done!
- Thomas Covenant … O-M-G
Finally, it is Spring-time. We are back in Junior High, and I needed more fantasy and magic. My friend/impossibly brilliant crush Shelly Nicholson suggested I try the Thomas Covenant Trilogy. In hindsight, she was probably done with me following her around, but the suggestion was sound. Let’s face it: the late 1970s (years prior to my discovery of these works) were a brilliant time for fantasy and science fiction. Thomas Covenant was a leper who was transported to an alternate reality where his disease was cured, he loses his mind, desperately grasps at reason, has mysterious powers, and the opportunity to save the world… if only he could overcome his personal demons and stop being such a jackass. And by ‘jackass’, I mean incredibly insane. I talked to the author at an event years later, and he explained the logic of it… but while I sincerely respect his craft and reasoning, I didn’t quite buy into that part. If you’re curious, find the moment when Thomas Covenant puts the loam on and sees Lena later. Feel free to write me what you think. Yes. 10 novels later, and I am still addicted. 30 years later, Shelly and I talked about it and she admitted she wished she had suggested a Narnia book instead. ALL of that said and bear in mind the author built an ENTIRE world around the event-in-question, this series is brilliant, it made me want to write, and it is probably one of the finest pieces of fantasy literature I have ever read. Needing a break, I dive into Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. It’s like food for the soul.
- Deryni Chronicles
Katherine Kurtz is sort of a Catholic nightmare/genius. I think I randomly found this one on my own at the bookstore. I kept going to Shelly for new books, but she was possibly falling behind a bit. It’s not her fault. She never signed up for a fantasy stalker. Anyway, this one took a while, and lasted well into my 40s. The series started in 1970, but went at least until 2016. It resonated with my jesuit side, along with my FANTASY/MAGIC LOVER side. There are at least 5 different series, along with several stand-alone novels. All of them are brilliant.
- The Belgariad
Fast forward to 1983. I am wandering the aisles of Otto’s Used Books in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and come across the paperback copy of Pawn of Prophecy for 25 cents. I buy it to set aside. The cover is cool, but I’m currently digging through the delicious and intimidating world of Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, and of course Ray Bradbury. There’s too much going on. I set it aside for a month or so. Actually, my buddy Robert Stephens is looking for something to read, so I loan it to him. A week later he says to me, “READ THIS. Why didn’t you read it already?” I dig in.
- Myth Adventures
When I read this series, it was first time I found humor a compelling element in fantasy. Robert Asprin was a genius.
- Roger ‘effin’ Zelazny and the left-turn at Stephen King
The wild spring where I started reading a book every three days until my mother finally insisted I leave the house and go for a walk.
- Terry Pratchett
Discworld took the humor and fantasy thing to the next level. I wanted to be Terry Pratchett so bad I could taste it. If I could achieve even 1% of his brilliance, I’d be done.
- Anne Rice
When the undead become sexy. Say no more.
- J.K. Rowling
Let’s just go with wonderful, and so inspiring. The alternative is you sitting here reading this blog all day.
I kind of cut this one short, because I could write about these books and their authors all day. What author or series inspires you?