As you can see by my fancy title there, I’ve suckered you in to thinking that this blog post will be some highly educational essay on the Fantasy genre! Forsooth; it’s just a handy dandy little post in which I give you my own recommendations on a Fantasy Genre primer for the younger reader!
With the recent kick off of HBO’s outstanding Game of Thrones series, epic fantasy now has a fresh new light shined upon it. Seeing as the show is based on the much loved series written by George R. R. Martin, many of the viewers out there are already rabid fans. Not everybody mind you. There are a lot of folks that have been drawn in by the drama of the show, the political intrigue and the hint of something big looming down from the north. It’s those folks that this post is geared towards, the folks that may not have read the “Similarion” simply because it was more Middle Earth!
It’s no real question that I’m a horror nerd. I’ll also lay claim to being a science fiction nerd as well. When you dig all the way back to my roots, back to the earliest glint of nerdery in my eye; I’ve always been drawn to fantasy. Admittedly, it all began with the (EVIL AND SATANIC!!!) (Not really) Dungeons and Dragons games. Donning the role of a muscle bound warrior casting carnage left and right with my mighty blade seemed like a great escape from my own doughy awkward self. The games lead to stories, the stories to books and the next thing you know I’m risking a hernia dragging about a huge 800 page tome based on the adventures of a young boy drug out of his small town with a grand destiny slapped upon his shoulders!
It all sounds suitably dramatic but in reality; Fantasy just makes for a great escape from the daily grind. Even as a kid, working through homework every night and trudging through baseball practice; reading about somebody tromping around slaying monsters was just a nice break from the norm.
So today, here are a few series that kicked off my love of fantasy literature. The series that fueled much of my young day dreaming. For this first round, these books are all specifically directed to the younger readers out there! That’s where the fascination starts folks! The more you or I can fuel a child’s desire to read, the better future we’re all in store for. Reading is learning; who wants to hinder that? These fantasy books may not be up everybody’s alley, but if you are an old school fantasy nerd, this may be a great way for you to share some of your own loves with your kid.
One of my biggest delights is being able to turn to the daughter and say, “Hey, you should check this out, it’s pretty good!” The only thing that tops it is when she comes back a week later and says, “That was really awesome, especially that one part where that one guy smashed that monster dude!”
The “Dragonlance Chronicles” trilogy is where it all began for me and many of my friends. Though we never played the “Dragonlance” campaign setting specifically, the stories by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman bore a striking resemblance to a Dungeon and Dragons campaign in structure. The books were populated with well thought out characters that it was easy to identify with and the stories were steeped in the history of their made up world.
The stand out here is our band of characters that we follow along through the entirety of the trilogy. Each is essentially archetypes, which for a younger reader makes the characters easy to connect with on a deeper level. Every one that has read the series will inevitably wind up with one character that they identify with stronger than others. It’s this connection that makes the series so easy to dive into at a younger age but causes the books to feel a bit thin to an older reader.
Having tried to go back and read the first novel in recent years, I can honestly say that for grown up eyes…they’re really not all that great. For the younger set, say 11 to 15 or so, they make for some great adventure reading and a great introduction to the fantasy genre.
For an epic fantasy series, especially for younger readers, it is hard to pass up David Eddings “Belgariad”. Told in a straightforward style, we kick off on this grand adventure with the orphan Garion and his Aunt Polgara and his Grandfather. While it’s not to say that the story is barren or skeletal, the “Belgariad” is pared down as far as most fantasy books go. There is decent description, but none of it becomes over bearing so that a younger version of us won’t get bogged down in the finery. We get straight to what we want; adventure!
Where as the “Dragonlance Chronicles” gave us a whole host of characters to identify with, “Belgariad” focuses on the lonely Garion. As a kid, I was far from orphaned yet I was an only child. It wasn’t a far stretch to extrapolate my own lot in life with the singular boy as he came into his own power. Stretching beyond that, it quickly became easy to envision one’s self as the lone boy with a heavy destiny. Mix in Aunt Polgara and Grandpa Belgerath and the hints of a deeper power and we come full circle; what kind didn’t dream that one of his parents were some kind of super hero at some point in their life?
Escapism is the foundation of the fantasy genre, much like its cousin science fiction. Escapism is far easier when you can imagine yourself in the roll of your central character and the “Belgariad” plays with this notion and excels. Again, looking back from my adult point of view, this series did not age so well. This did nothing to tarnisht he fond memories of Garion floating down through swamplands on a simple raft with the prospect of saving the world on his shoulders. Something that I think any kid out there could still sink their teeth into!
The Riftwar Saga
Wrapping up this week’s “Intro to Fantasy” is Raymond E. Feist’s “Riftwar Saga”. Unlike the previous two series mentioned, The “Riftwar Saga” is suitable for younger readers with its focus on the young Magician’s apprentice Pug. Where this series excels is that it is a damn good fantasy novel, period. For readers young and old, Feist gives us a truly epic saga that spans some twenty plus books, computer games, role playing games and more!
Ultimately, Feist spins a dark story that really grabs hold of your imagination and holds on tight. Where other fantasy novels have a fairly standard formula of discovery, unknown destines and fate, The “Riftwar Saga” adds in a deeper element, forcing us to live with fantasy characters in their truest sense! Ever read a book with a humanoid talking lizard as your main character? You will with Feist.
As an added bonus, “Riftwar” actually ages quite well! With so many books (that I myself have not read all of), he can easily accompany your young reader all the way through adolescence if they were so inclined!
If you’ve made it this far, you have a solid list of book sto get your own youngster started on the path to some truly epic fantasy reading. Now, I know what you are scrambling to hash out in the comments below! “HOW CAN YOU NOT INCLUDE TOLKIEN?!?!?!” Yes, “The Hobbit” is a great book for the younger fantasy reader to cut his teeth on! However, everybody knows it and this list was more of a primer from my own experiences. The discovery of “The Hobbit” was something that came to me from my own personal exploration and I would like to think that my own daughter will get there herself as she sinks her teeth into the genre!
As always, feel free to share your own fantasy series that got you started on the arduous journey into nerdom! It’s always a matter of personal taste and at my age, there are always some great books that I’ve forgotten totally about! Tune in next week as we dig into some of the more obscure fantasy series that I’ve decided where my own favorites (*cough*The Black Company*cough*) and later, tapping into some of the more epic grown up fare out there!