Sunday, November 1, 2009

The birth of a fantophile

I was going to do the 3rd chapter of Church & State, but was prevented by the fact that I haven't yet gotten around to reading it. I still wanted to post, so luckily saw something the other day that piqued my interest enough to write about it.

As I believe I've mentioned before I'm a fantophile. I'm not even sure if this is the accepted term or whether it's actually a real word, be rather cool if it's not, I've always wanted to create my own word and have it come into popular use. A fantophile by my definition is someone who enjoys reading fantasy novels. By fantasy I mean things along the lines of Lord of the Rings, not adult erotic fiction, although a number of the paranormal romances creeping into the genre now fit that description.

The other day I saw an article on a blog asking a number of fantasy authors what book first got them interested in the genre. The twist on this was that they were asking recognised authors. I've seen the same question asked regularly on various SFF themed forums. What prompted me to write about it was the depressing lack of orginality shown by many of the authors and the respondents in answering the question. So many of them said The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. There's nothing wrong with either book. I loved The Hobbit myself (less so Lord of the Rings, but that's probably a subject that deserves a post all its own), but it was far from the first fantasy novel I read or what got me interested in the genre. Most of those that didn't reference Professor Tolkein credited novels that were squarely aimed at readers 10 and over. This puzzled and made me wonder what they read before and when they started to read for pleasure.

I started reading almost as soon as I could start to recognise words, my primary reason for going to school was so that I could learn to read, and when someone asks me what book or books got me interested in fantasy I don't answer The Hobbit. I don't even answer The Chronicles of Narnia, which is another popular answer. Not sure if the fact that Tolkein and C.S Lewis (the author of the The Narnia Chronicles) were friends and colleagues is coincidental or not. If I think about it and am pressed for an answer then I reply Enid Blyton.

Outside of her home of England and the Commonwealth Enid Blyton is best known for The Famous Five; a series of children's whodunnits (she wrote 21 in all) about 4 British kids and their dog Timmy, who solve mysteries. She also wrote The Secret Seven, The Adventurous Four and Five Find-Outers and Dog. I hadn't even heard of the last 2 until I started to research this post (yes, I do research these!), and they weren't as popular as the FF, in fact The Secret Seven was largely the Famous Five with 2 extra cast members. Outside of that series Enid Blyton also became notable for her creation of the Terror of Toytown; the wooden doll Noddy. Even today Noddy is fairly popular in England and Australia.

I read the Famous Five books and the Secret Seven and I read a lot of Noddy. I still have a number of Noddy books, the ones before they were made politicallly correct by removing golliwogs and anything else that certain members of society thought may upset the youth of today. The books that I loved of Enid's were when she gave full rein to her imagination.

Aside from sleuthing pre teens and talking toys Enid also wrote a lot about fairies. Fairies, pixies, gnomes, goblins, brownies, things that don't even have names, Ms Blyton did them all. Enid Blyton's fairies were of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century kind, the ones that small girls like to think live at the bottom of their gardens. The ones that have gossamer wings and fly around wearing party frocks.

Two of the series featuring magical creatures were The Wishing Chair and the Faraway Tree. In the Wishing Chair series (there were 3 of them: The Adventures Of The Wishing Chair, The Wishing Chair Again & More Wishing Chair Stories) two siblings; Mollie and Peter find an old chair in an odd shop. They purchase the chair for their playroom, not knowing that it can grow wings and fly. It doesn't just fly anywhere either, it flies to magical lands. On their first journey they encounter a mischievous pixie by the name of Chinky who is being held prisoner by a giant. They rescue him and he goes to live in their playroom. Although Chinky is an integral part of the books he turns out to be a handful and most of the trouble that the kids and the chair find themselves in is largely due to the annoying pixie's nature and tendency to get himself into situations. In the second book the siblings and Chinky have to rescue the chair from a magical race called Slipperies, who have kidnapped it and cut off it's wings. The 3rd book was cobbled together from stories in the first book and some of Enid Blyton's anthologies. Although there was an amazing imagination and a fair bit of originality in The Wishing Chair books they were not a patch on the Faraway Tree books.

You now know how and why I became a fantophile. I'll introduce you to the Faraway Tree some time later.

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