A couple of days ago, I suddenly rediscovered one of LibraryThing’s beta features, which I had looked at when it first debuted and then not thought about again until now: lists. In particular, the one that caught my eye was a list of fantasy gateway books. The idea of the lists feature is that it aggregates the individual lists from the members that create one, and generate a common list from it, in this case of books that first sparked the reader’s interests in fantasy.
I like this, and it got me thinking about which books made me so interested in that particular genre. Now, this particular list asks members to list a single book, which I have completely failed to do – what’s the fun in just one? But I’m having some trouble thinking back – what were the books that formed my tastes in early years?
There’s one that’s not even a question, the one I’ve put on spot number one, and the books that without question has been the most formative reading experience I had as a child: The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. I don’t know how many times I read that book back when I was twelve, or how many times since then – every couple of years, at least. It remains my favourite book. The series it’s part of is great as well, but this one was my first and will always have pride of place.
But I don’t think I can attribute my love of fantasy just to one book – if all the other ones I read hadn’t been good as well, I don’t think it would have stuck. The truth is, though, I don’t really remember reading much fantasy as a child. I remember reading sci-fi. Jon Bing’s Starship Alexandria series and, a few years later, Animorphs. I did read Narnia at some point, but I think I was into my mid-teens by then, having previously contented myself with the excellent BBC TV adaptation.
I do have a very vivid memory of reading Mio, My Son at what must have been a young age, and being so utterly terrified at the first appearance of Kato that I actually screamed aloud and ran away from the book. I have vaguer memories of reading Micheal Ende’s Momo, and I’m not sure if that was before or after I saw the film adaptation. I was 13 when Harry Potter first came out in Norway, and read that not too long after, so I suppose that has been an influence as well. I don’t remember when i first read Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but I think those came later, when I was already in love. The Belgariad certainly came after that again, so I’m afraid Eddings doesn’t get much credit for my tastes at all.
I’m trying to think back to afternoons spent snooping through the public library, digging out treasures and duds from its shelves, and completely failing to put any titles to these experiences. What books were big before Potter? What was the first fantasy I read? I have no idea. But I’m interested in seeing the other lists, where other people got started in on this peculiar genre, so I think I’ll make a point of going back to this one periodically, and see what’s changed.