Thoughtful Thursday: From the beginning

My sister Sarah emailed me earlier this week:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSomeone mentioned in a comment on your Name of the Wind review that this book is what got them re-excited about Fantasy the way Dune was the book that got them excited about SF or something like that.I’ve been trying to think… what book got me excited about fantasy or SF? Can you remember? Does Lion, Witch and Wardrobe count? Is there a book that you can point to? I think there is more than one at different times in my life and different types of SF/F.

  • Dune is probably the first real Space Opera I read – I don’t consider it SF
  • Anne McCaffrey’s dragons
  • Telzey Amberdon because I’ve always loved psychic powers – which goes back to the dragons :) Which came first for me? Catseye and the Beastmaster stories by Norton or Schmitz‘s Telzey stories? Hmmm. This may take some more thought.

This got me started thinking about when I started reading fantasy as a genre. As a young teenager, I read Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong and Midori Snyder’s Oran Trilogy in quick succession and I never looked back. That’s when I started pursuing fantasy novels specifically, in stead of reading them if someone else recommended them to me.

So, dear readers: what book started you down this magical path? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win the book of your choice from our stacks.

Oh, and Sarah? We don’t have reviews for lots of those books you mentioned, in case you get bored this weekend. :)

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. Andrew /

    I think what really turned me onto fantasy, (and reading in general!) was the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Reading wasn’t particularly cool in elementary/middle school, but Brian Jacques provided just enough action(!) and adventure(!) to get any young kid hooked. I think I read my first Redwall book in 3rd or 4th grade and read them up through middle school until I outgrew them a bit.

  2. For me it was The Eye of The World by Robert Jordan, before this I didn’t really read at all. I had tried reading the lord of the rings and thought it was incredibly boring (I still do tbh even though its the “father of fantasy” and all that). One day my mom randomly brought it home from the library for me and suprisingly I actually read it. After that I had to read the rest of the ones that were out and went on from there. I think my life would be really different today if she had never done that, I spend so much time reading who knows what I would be doing instead if I never got into it.

  3. For me the transition from comics to novels was Tarzan and then Conan because I was introduced to them through comic books first, and I kinda stuck to that kind of action-hero fiction regardless of the genre. I did read Thieves’ World when I was about 20 and I loved it but afterwards, for the most part, I went right back to reading mostly action-adventure types of books. Even though I “window-shopped” the SFF section of bookstores a lot, Sword & Sorcery was almost solely my selection for fantasy.
    But when I happened across an almost new copy of A Game of Thrones in a used book store, only months after it had originally been published, I picked-it up. I’d never read anything like that before and it ignited my passion for Fantasy.
    So as frustrated as I am with George R. R. Martin for taking so long to write those books, I do owe him a debt of gratitude.

  4. I was into fairy tales as a kid, so maybe that was the seed.

    Around junior high age, I went through a phase where I didn’t want anything to do with fantasy; I distinctly remember being annoyed when I won Jane Yolen’s A Sending of Dragons in a library contest, instead of something I wanted more. Funny thing was, I really liked it! LOL. I was just a little confused because it’s a book three. So I went back and read the other two. Liked them, too. Around the same time I also read a couple of short story collections that had some fantasy and some non-fantasy, and found myself liking some of the fantasy stories in spite of myself. But I didn’t really expand into the rest of the genre at that point.

    What really hooked me was a string of books I read in my early 20’s that I was reading because they reminded me of each other on the surface but kept inching me closer to fantasy. I got hooked on Anne Rice in college. I then bought Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon in part because it sounded kind of like an Anne Rice book based on the cover blurb–and it turned out to be very different and I loved it anyway. Then I bought Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin because its summary made it sound a bit like Waking the Moon! ;) Again, it was totally different but I loved it anyway. At that point I was doomed, because Terri Windling always sticks those lists of recommended reading in the Fairy Tale Series books, and I read a ton of those and then branched out from there.

    Somewhere in there I also read lots of the Wheel of Time books and got annoyed with them eventually, and also read MZB’s Mists of Avalon, which I did like.

    Game of Thrones came my way later. I had a friend say “It’s like the Wars of the Roses. But with fantasy!” And I was doomed.

  5. Melanie Goldmund /

    I think Below the Root (and the two other books in that trilogy) by Zilpha Keatley Snyder must have been my introduction to fantasy novels. Or maybe it was Children of Morrow, by H. M. Hoover. I really can’t remember which one I read first. They were both in the children’s section of my local library, and I probably discovered them around the same time while searching for anything that even sounded faintly like fantasy or sci fi. (I grew up watching Star Trek and couldn’t get enough of space travel and life on other worlds.)

    I suppose the Chris Godfrey books by Hugh Walters count as sci fi, not fantasy, but they were among my favourites way back when, too, and I still remember them fondly.

  6. I loved fairy tales when I was a child. We had a copy of The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, and my mother used to read it to me and my sister at nap time every afternoon. The illustrations were gorgeous and stayed with me all my life until, to my amazement, I found a reissue of the book in a bookstore one day. My not-yet-husband immediately bought it for me, and I’ve reread and reread and reread it, over and over, since then.

    But I really got into fantasy as an adult when I took a seminar in SF and fantasy my senior year in college. Among other books, we read Zelazny’s “The Doors of His Face, the Lamp of His Mouth”; George R.R. Martin’s “A Song for Lya”; and Ursula Leguin’s “The Lathe of Heaven.” I did my seminar paper on LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy. And I’ve never looked back.

  7. The Hobbit. Absolutely no question or thought required.

    After that and the other Tolkien, I’m not really sure what fantasy grabbed me next. The Pern books, maybe? (technically SF, but has always read like fantasy). Eddings Belgariad saga was a big winner with me, as was Feist’s earlier Midkemia books.

  8. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is what got me re-excited about fantasy books after a long break. Hey George, thanks!

  9. I read the hobbit when I was 10 yrs old. I was a little too young for it, but I read it carefully and looked up words I didn’t know. I savored every page of it. I did the same for the Lord of the Rings. I got hooked into the Xanth novels at 15 and that’s really where fantasy took off for me. I read 20 of them back to back. After I was done with them I read everything my library had in the genre. I then joined the SiFi book club, and stuck my mom with a pretty big bill. Their magazine had so many good books in it, and all I had to do was fill out a card and mail it in.

  10. Prydain, first and foremost. I read Narnia and some others earlier, but Prydain was the one that first rocked my world with wanting MORE MORE MORE of this wonderful stuff. A few years later, I discovered Anne McCaffrey & Katherine Kurtz at roughly the same time, and I graduated to “grown-up” fantasies. Once I realized that adults had an *entire section* in the bookstore devoted to fantasy, things sort of steamroller’d from there. :)

    Some other key gateway books the re-invigorated my fantasy love over the years have been: Forgotten Beasts of Eld (McKillip), the Belgariad (Eddings), Song for Arbonne (Kay)

  11. I think what really got me started down the genre road was one lazy boring summer in high school, when a friend handed me a copy of Mercedes Lackey’s “Magic’s Pawn,” and said, “Here, I think you’ll like this.” I hadn’t read fantasy before, but from that moment, I was hooked. From there I went to Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series, and then any fantasy book I could get my hands on at the library. It’s a slippery slope!

  12. I read A Wrinkle in Time in elementary school and then a high school teacher turned me on to Tolkien. I read other stuff for years then until I stumbled across Goodkind’s Sword of Truth and Jordan’s Wheel of Time.

  13. I’m from Germany, so obviously I grew up with all sorts of fairy tales – most prominently the Brothers Grimm of course. My favorites though were by Hans Christian Andersen. I was born in 1986 and I remember Sundays when there would be the Czech fairy tale movies on TV… I loved them all and still have most of them on video. When I started reading excessively, I naturally turned to more fairy tales and fantasy.
    I started with anything by German writers Otfried Preußler (The Satanic Mill), Michael Ende (Neverending Story, Momo), Walter Moers (The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, The City of Dreaming Books), Ralf Isau (Museum of stolen memories) or Kai Meyer and moved on to Tamora Pierce, Patricia C. Wreade, Lloyd Alexander and T.H. White.
    Then, unfortunately, I read the Lord of the Rings and was so disappointed that I stopped reading Fantasy altogether. I figured, if THE fantasy book of fantasy books was so awful, then there couldn’t possibly be anything good out there in the adult fantasy world. I turned to SF – mostly Stanislaw Lem, who is still my Sci-Fi hero (I have a Master’s in Political Science… I like my literature heave on political undertones :D)
    What brought me back on the right path was GRRM. My brother basicially forced me to read ASOIAF a few years back. I think I locked myself into my room for a week and finished all four books in record time.
    From then on it’s as though a light went on and I finally found my way around adult Fantasy literature.

  14. I was always a big reader but never found my niche. Then when I was 13 I picked up this book called Legend by David Gemmell. Never looked back.

  15. Also, does anybody remember reading the faraway tree series by Enid Blyton. I used to love those books as a child.

  16. Franziska, fellow political scientist here. Where would you recommend starting with Stanislaw Lem?

    Also, if you like political and SF, try This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman.

  17. I don’t remember the faraway tree series, but I do have the adventure series that I loved as a child.
    I can’t remember when I didn’t read fantasy. I did take a hiatus for a couple of years when there seemed to be nothing but huge epic fantasy series being produced – small bookstore selection I’m sure. After thinking about this more, and looking at the few hundred books on my shelves. I am struck by how many of the books that appeal to me have some type of psychic powers in them. Either a character (major or minor) has those powers, or there is a bonded animal or both. Is it really that pervasive, or is that the only type of book I read? Can I blame it on Zenna Henderson? I always wanted to meet The People. :)

  18. The books that I loved best when I was a kid/teenager were all science fiction novels:

    Heinlein’s juveniles (e.g. Red Planet)
    L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time
    Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide books
    Dune, when I was old enough to follow it

    I enjoyed Lewis and Tolkien, too, but probably what finally got me really into fantasy was Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster, Robin Hobb’s Farseer saga, and Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.

  19. Michelle Grogan /

    Does Enid Blyton count? All the magic elements in her children’s books entranced me, then moved on to Mercedes Lackey and Tamora Pierce as my first ‘real’ fantasy books.

  20. My uncle loaned me and my brother The Halfing Gem. I think I was in the 9-10 range and it blew my mind. Looking back, its hard to imagine how I got into the third book of a trilogy, but I remembered wanting to read more and more of it. From there it was off to the races with the other Salvatore books and on to other Forgotten Realms books. I also found the Xanth books and Robert Asprin’s Myth-Adventures books, which are some of the best books I have ever read.

  21. I’ve loved fantasy literature ever since I read McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, Ursula Leguin’s Earthsea series, and McCaffrey’s Dragonsong trilogy. Of course, I began in college with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings which I had not read. I was astounded at what I’d been missing. At that time, since we were studying The Inklings (Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien) I also enjoyed the Narnia series although we did other things by Lewis. I can’t stop reading fantasy now, and my all time favorite author is Lois MacMaster Bujold because of her character development. You come to know her characters–they seem like best friends and you are sorry when her stories end. My favorite by her is The Curse of Chalion–what an extraordinary character she has created in “Caz”. My other all time favorite recently is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell because of it’s quirky tidbits about faery and magic. It’s unique–nothing like it anywhere. Ahhhhhh, so many authors, so little time. What can I say–no time–I have to get back to reading.

  22. Oh, and I forgot to mention all the fairy tales I read in sixth grade–I adored the quirky ones, especially MacDonald and Edith Nesbitt. But I read everyone–Grimm and many others. So I guess I was into fantasy before I knew it . . .

  23. My uncle started me off with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. After that, the first books I read without recommendations were Zelazny’s Sign of the Unicorn and Moorcock’s The Vanishing Tower, both from my school’s library. I was lost by reading the middle books of the series, but that was all the library had. Still, I was intrigued enough to beg my dad to take me to a used bookstore, where I bought both series. And that was the beginning…


  24. My entrance into fantasy began with an entrance into science fiction in primary school: Danny Dunn, Tom Swift, Miss Pickerell, The Borrowers, and Star Trek and the Invaders on TV (I used to sneak down and watch episodes from around the corner of the hallway–I’m sure my parents never knew I was there)

    In 4th grade my new school’s library opened up the worlds of Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton, along with Lightner and Peril on Mars and I thought it couldn’t get any better than that.

    Then, in 5th grade, in the Sibley’s book dept (a local dept. store sadly no longer in existence), my dad handed me a book and said “I think you’ll really like this.” I still have that copy of The Hobbit prominently displayed on my shelf of meaningful books. I begged my mother for the Fellowship of the Ring, finished it sitting on my bed in my room and without a moment’s pause went from turning the last page to turning the first page and seamlessly rereading the whole thing then and there. I had to wait to get the Two Towers and then again to get the Return of the King and believe me, I still can recall the agony of that wait.

  25. Ruth, I’d probably start with ‘Solaris’ (yeah, it’s the book that movie with George Clooney is based on – but it’s a brilliant book!) just to get a feel for him and his style. However, ‘Memoirs Found in a Bathtub’, ‘Golem XIV’ and ‘The Cyberiad’ are three of his works that I’d probably recommend most :)

    And thanks so much for the Friedman recommendation. I love her Fantasy books, I’m sure I’ll love her SF, too :)

  26. SandyG265 /

    I started with reading science fiction. I read Heinlein’s juveniles and then moved into Issac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. The first fantasy books I read were Andre Norton’s Witchworld series.

  27. The first book that incited my passion for reading, in general, was Alanna, Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. Before i discovered this impeccable book, I was ignorant of the pleasures of reading and exploring new worlds in which fantasy and fiction are made real. I, quite frankly, cringed at the sight of books. At school are we not taught that books lead only to work? However, this action-packed book about a heroin who decides to trade places with her brother in the hopes of doing a “mans only job”, inspired and intrigued me. I felt kinship with the protagonists. Her triumphs and failures became my own. Thus, I spread my outreached hands and grasped at other books of other genres. The one fantasy book that I picked up that sparked my interest in fantasy was Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook. I found, yet again, another book about a heroin who must overcome obstacles that would weaken and even kill the strongest of men. These books are my impetus to read and will forevermore adorn my bookshelf.

  28. Melanie Goldmund — If you live in the U.S., you win a book from our stacks! Please contact me (Kat) with your choice.

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