The Noddy books by Enid Blyton. They came to me from my grandparents in England. I loved the imaginary world of Noddy; it was safe and intriguing, filled with self-aware toys (long before Toy Story) and the book I photographed actually figures wizards very prominently --- a prescient tale, given my follow-on fascination with Middle Earth.
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. Self-contained world, like Middle Earth, but on a much smaller scale, obviously. Book or Disney movies, you ask? Book, of course. While I do use the Disney films in class during my children’s lit unit (‘Evil in the 100 Acre Wood’ --- aha, got you wondering about that, haven’t I?), they’re a little too saccharine to really love. (And what’s with the half-naked Pooh?) There’s incredible charm and innocence to the original Milne stories --- and Shepard illustrations --- that Disney, with its crassly capitalistic corporate heart, seems rarely able to capture --- in most of its adaptations, truth be told. Sorry, Walt.
The White Mountains, first book of a trilogy by John Christopher. Discovered this when I was 11, and still go back to it every now and then. My introduction to dystopian science fiction, I think. Will Parker is a young boy living in a world dominated by the Tripods, giant machines that rule the Earth and keep the human population under control through the use of Caps, implants that enforce loyalty. Before they’re capped, Will and two others decide to run for the White Mountains, a haven of free humans organizing a resistance to the Tripods. These were boys my age, undertaking decisive, effective actions for themselves. Yep, I liked that. A lot.
Knee Deep in Thunder by Sheila Moon. I initially stumbled across this book in my elementary school library. What a terrific read, then and now. I believe it was also the first in a trilogy, although I’ve never come across the sequels. Moon did a masterful job at creating this vast, silent world that seemed empty but wasn’t, and a young female protagonist named Maris who was thrust into a bitter struggle between the evil Beasts and the otherworldly Them. But she was no pawn. She was my age, and she, too, was making mature, thoughtful decisions that could Save A World. Liked that, too.
The Hobbit and --- of course --- The Lord of the Rings by... gosh, what was that author’s name? Just kidding: J.R.R. Tolkien, of course. Hardly a surprise to anyone who’s read my blog before... in fact, people would be shocked if I didn’t include them. While Tolkien does have his flaws, as I’ve written elsewhere (for example, his female characters are mostly just awful, and his writing varies peculiarly from extremely free flowing to turgid), it’s hard to understate his importance in shaping my writing worldview. I was hooked on Middle Earth from the opening account of Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday... and, if memory serves, went back to finish The Hobbit after Lord of the Rings. But here, it wasn’t the characters that hooked me in; it was the complexity and completeness of both Middle Earth and the plot. It was an Entire World. Wow.
These last three in particular awakened within me a reading epiphany: these are worlds of immense wonder/terror/beauty/mystery... and I Want To Create Something Just as Wondrous. As I’ve said elsewhere, it wasn’t imitation, but rather inspiration --- I had no wish to simply write stories plopped down in the worlds extant in those books, but a deep-seated desire to create something of my own that would be just as amazing. Now, at that point in my life, I didn’t have anywhere near the insight or life experience or discernment or writing skills necessary to do that, but it sure didn’t stop me from trying. Which is, I think, a good thing: feed the dream, lest it wither and die. Keep on plugging. And don’t worry overmuch about being original --- as C.S. Lewis said: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
Right on, Jack.
Do you know any of these books? What were your favourites growing up? I’d love to hear your choices.