Fantasy booklist: some Englishmen

Some Englishmen. To see websites and other books, click on author’s name.

51Y2rs8yjWLTerry Pratchett is funny, as in laugh out loud goofy (the gods of the Discworld live in a place called Dunmanifestin), as well as …how you say…satirical. It takes me awhile to get satire. So no surprise I started with Nation, which doesn’t take place on Discworld, but in an alternate 19th century South Pacific island world. Nation is about what happens to a shipwrecked English girl and a boy who is the sole survivor of his village after a tsunami; how they learn to communicate and take care of the people who wash up on their shores. Nation is more heroic fantasy than Discworld, but without swords and spells. Although there is one battle, Nation is much more about what Le Guin calls “how we harvested the wild oats”. (See her essays in Dancing on the Edge of the World.) It’s about the way societies are built and grow, outside of A Big Fight. It’s a beautiful book, and if I’d had it for more than a few years would rate the * that means it’s now falling apart.

On to Discworld: Pratchett’s female characters are full of what my grandmama called ‘piss and vinegar’ – from the witches in Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, The Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, to the runaway girls and women, the female troll, vampire, and Igor in Monstrous Regiment, to Adora Belle, even though she’s only got a bit part in Going Postal and Making Money. (The con man turned post office director Moist von Lipwig is not only nuts about Adora Belle, he needs her around because she’s so scary. Without her he nearly reverts to his criminal ways, just to get the adrenaline pumping.)

Like Angela Carter, Pratchett notices a naked Emperor (and then points out the lack of clothing in a loud voice).

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

Because these went into film you may know what they’re about: amazing parallel universe worlds, and what happens when the barriers between them are breached. The first book begins in an alternate Oxford, where everyone has a daemon – an animal whose soul is linked to their human’s. The animal changes shape throughout an individual’s childhood but settles on one shape around puberty. For instance, the scary villainess’s daemon is a golden monkey, a sailor has a seabird daemon, while the protagonist Lyra’s daemon can be a bird, a mouse, a tiger, a moth. There’s also a polar bear who is deposed bear royalty and a drunk; a cowboy parachutist; zeppelins, witches, gypsies, and scholars. And that’s only the first book. In the second book, there is also a boy from our world whose father has disappeared, and whose mother has gone a little crazy with fear of the shadowy men who are after them.

Pullman also wrote The Sally Lockheart Quartet, which he describes as Victorian thrillers, that feature a smart young woman making her way on her own.

Imagining hope, the books

imagesBoth Ursula Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones have said that “writers of the imagination” can inspire hope as they imagine alternatives to destruction and despair…Marina Warner said something similar in From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, and probably so have plenty of other people. In honor of the sun moving into Sagittarius, the sign of optimism, what follows is a short, random list of hope-inspiring books and/or worlds, that offer alternative solutions to a number of things:

Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, Always Coming Home, The Telling, Tehanu, Dancing on the Edge of the World, etc. (science fiction and literary criticism)

Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, Black Maria, The Dalemark Quartet, long story short, pretty much everything (fantasy)

Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (essays about the classic romantic comedies — mostly starring Cary Grant, often with Katharine Hepburn.)

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (using anthropology, literary criticism, fairytales, and the kitchen sink, Hyde looks at what it means to be an artist, healer, teacher, or anyone else whose work is based on the gift, living in a money economy.)

Isabel Allende, Eva Luna (magical realism, the story of a girl who is born a servant and becomes a writer)

Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid (written in 1902, a scientist’s alternative to social Darwinism)

Emma Goldman, Living My Life (“If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution.”)(autobiography of an anarchist)

Terry Pratchett, Nation, Going Postal, A Monstrous Regiment, Witches Abroad, A Hat Full of Sky, etc., etc. (fantasy)

Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time (essays about work with heart)

Carolyn See, The Handyman, Golden Days, There Will Never Be Another You (fiction: in which many of her protagonists fight despair with hoping outside the box)

Marion Milner, A Life of One’s Own (the journal of a pioneer of lucid dreaming in 1920s London)

Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucky Strike (science fiction novella; alternate history of Hiroshima and the atom bomb)

Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark (essays) and The Fifth Sacred Thing (fantasy, a future California where San Francisco is run by little old ladies and Wiccans; L.A. is the evil empire where those who own the water run everything)

Nancy Farmer, A Girl Named Disaster, The House of the Scorpion (fantasy and science fiction: an 11-year old girl in Mozambique runs away from an arranged marriage, survives with the help of animals and spirits; the early life of the boy who is a clone of a 140-year old drug lord in a land called Opium, in what is now Arizona)

Francisco X. Stork, Marcelo and the Real World (fiction: Marcelo lives in a treehouse behind his family’s home; he hears inner music and is happiest working with the Haflinger ponies at his special school; what happens when his father puts him to work at his corporate law office for the summer so he can get some experience in the real world.)

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (fiction: a Japanese-American girl named Nao is the time being; so is the woman named Ruth who reads Nao’s diary when she finds it on a beach in Vancouver; so is Nao’s great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun)

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business, World of Wonders (fiction: see earlier post)

Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night (mystery featuring Lord Peter Wimsey: set in a fictional women’s college at Oxford in 1935, the theme is women’s education, equality between sexes, and the course of true love)

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (fiction, or a very strange roman a clef: the Devil comes to 1920s Moscow — where no one believes in him — except a woman named Margarita and a nameless writer who was driven crazy when his novel about Pontius Pilate was ridiculed by the powers that be. This book was banned in the USSR for 30 years, censored for even longer, and Bulgakov officially known as “a slanderer of Soviet reality”.)

Doris Lessing, The Four-gated City, particularly the appendix, where she veers into an s.f. future (fiction, the fifth novel in her Martha Quest series, roman a clef)

Sheri Tepper, The Margarets, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, The Fresco, The Family Tree, Beauty etc. etc. (science fiction and fantasy, focused on gender and environmental issues, funny and sometimes sad)

Eleanor Arnason, Changing Women (science fiction: a group of anthropologists from a reclaimed earth land on a planet inhabited by matriarchal ‘fur-people’)