Friday, September 26, 2014

Inspirational and Influencial Reads

Today I am answering this question: "Do you have any summer reading suggestions, like books that inspired your books or books you think everyone should read once but no one has ever heard of?"

Keep in mind, my answer is based purely on what I think at this moment. And what I think at this moment is subject to change next moment. Also, this moment might be a forgetful one, and I'll leave out something completely vital! But as I sit here early in the morning, my hot drink scalding my mouth at every sip, Monster purring away beside me, and piles of packing surrounding . . . these are the books that pop to mind that have been inspirational to my own work and that I think everyone should read.

 The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I read this book so many times as a child and young teenager! Of all the lovely works by George MacDonald, this is the one that had the most unconsciously profound effect on my own work. I re-read it a year or two after Heartless released and was surprised to see how many similarities my work shared with MacDonald's. Not in plot, necessarily, but in style, approach, and thematic material.

MacDonald also inspires me with his subtle use of allegory. He is rarely overt when it comes to allegorical threads in his work but allows them to weave so surreptitiously through the tale that some readers might miss them entirely. As my books have progressed, I have tried more and more to mimic that aspect of MacDonald's writing. He is a writer whom I will probably spend much of my life trying to emulate.

Another of MacDonald's works that I recommend is Phantastes. Now this book is a much more difficult read, often as strange as Carrol's Wonderland tales but not so funny. Indeed, much of the book I read thinking, What on earth is this supposed to be about? I don't understand! It's not a simple story like his Princess and the Goblin or some of MacDonald's delightful short fairy tales.

But then you get to a certain passage right at the end. And you realize, Oh! That's why I read this. That's what this is all about. And suddenly the journey is worthwhile.

Phantastes is directly responsible for the invention of Starflower. I sat down and penned out the first notes and ideas for Starflower after coming to the end of Phantastes. As most of you know, Starflower has many other strong literary influences as well, most notable of which is "The Hound of Heaven." But Phantastes is where it started.

I could go on and name quite a lot more of MacDonald's works. But I'll leave off here with a general, sweeping statement of, "MacDonald's fairy tales. Some more than others. But all of them, ultimately."

I'll quickly mention a handful of epic and sort-of-epic poems that have had a distinct and ongoing influence on my work, many of which you can find and read for free online. These include Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and various translations of "Beowulf." For ease of reading, I recommend Seamus Heaney's version of "Beowulf" to start with, though I've read two or three other translations over the years as well, and each adds a unique perspective and flavor.
C.S. Lewis's work has always been an inspiration to me, as will surprise none of you. But his lesser-known Till We Have Faces is directly responsible for my ongoing fascination with veils as a literary symbol. It's a wonderful, profound work, a little more subtle on the allegory than his works for children and very beautiful.

I think students of literature and aspiring novelists can find something wonderful and inspiring from anything written by Shakespeare (practically). My own work has been most directly influenced by A Midsummer Night's Dream (surprise, surprise), and my favorite is Hamlet. If you read no other Shakespeare, I hope you will at least read those two, or one of those two.

 A book that I discovered partway through writing the first draft of Veiled Rose was The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Since then I have read that book so many times--and my copy has become so ratty and dog-eared--it takes only a glance to see how much I love it! It's an odd little story in many ways . . . at one point, we meet a band of Robin Hood-wannabes who are sitting around their campfire deep in the woods, eating tacos. At another point, a prince lounging with his lady in a mystic glade pulls out a magazine to thumb through. But otherwise, it's all set in a fairly-typical fantasy kingdom! Odd, yes. And I found it completely enthralling.

Beagle writes the story with that perfect mixture of humor, horror, and heartbreak. It's not a story for everyone by any means . . . but it's one of those stories that is completely for me. We all of us have those authors we discover whom we feel wrote their work ideally tailored to our specific tastes. That's what The Last Unicorn is for me. I also adored the novella sequel he wrote years later, The Two Hearts. I read it while on a plane for Okinawa and totally broke down in tears, right there, on the plane, probably horrifying all those around me. But it was just so beautiful, I couldn't help it!

I return to The Last Unicorn and Beagle during those dry spells in my writing when I simply need to refresh myself with excellent work.

Okay, the truth is, I could fill this whole post up with "serious" works of literature because I firmly believe that any well-written book of any genre has the potential to be inspiring to any novelist of any other genre. That's just the nature of great writing.

But I'll take a moment to talk about some of my favorite lighthearted reads as well.

It's no secret to anyone reading this blog that I am a huge fan of Sir Terry Pratchett. It might surprise some of you who have read his work since he can be both very silly and very irreverent, often simultaneously.

What I love about Sir Terry Pratchett, though, what keeps me coming back to read his works again and again (and there are PLENTY of them to read!) is his use of real people as protagonists. By this I mean Pratchett doesn't go in for "the hero" or "the heroine" like other novelists of fantasy do. Nor does he write "the villain" all in terms of black and white.

He writes about people. Real, natural, foible-filled people. Once in a blue moon he'll feature a hero or heroine with unusual powers (Tiffany Aching, Moist Von Lipwig, Granny Weatherwax--though even in these instances, his super-characters are so much more real than everyone else's), but for the most part, he likes to focus on the Ordinary Hero in the Unusual Circumstance.

Often his regular hero/heroine must rise to the occasion, to become something more than he or she once was. Sam Vimes is a fantastic example of this, though he never loses his Vimesishness (thank heaven!). We love him because we love to watch him struggle. Nothing comes easy to him. He doesn't have any natural brilliance or secret power to fall back on.

Terry Pratchett writes people we feel like we could actually know. He writes people we feel like we could actually be. And for this reason, Sir Terry will always be one of my all-time favorites.

If you're curious to start reading his work, I recommend both Nation (a YA read and one of my favorite books) and Guards! Guards! (which is aimed at adults but which is also one of my all-time favorites).

There are SO MANY more books I could recommend here, but I think I'll end on an obscure note, a little-known trilogy which I think everyone should read--but not as teenagers. Wait until college-age, perhaps. I know I wouldn't have appreciated this work as a teenager, but a few extra years and I loved it.

I'm talking about The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Edith Pargeter. This series, made up of The Heaven Tree, The Green Branch, and The Scarlet Seed is set in 13th century England and focuses on the turmoil between England and Wales during that time. But it's really not about war and politics, though war and politics come into it. It's a book about art. About the artistic spirit which lives on after death. It's a book about cathedrals and statuary, a book about love and passion. It's the story of Harry Talvace and later on his son, also Harry Talvace.

I don't know if I can really call this trilogy an influence, per se. I've only read it once, and I don't know if any book can truly be an influence after only a single reading. But it's a wonderful work and one I know I will read again.

Anyway, I hope you found some interesting titles among these I've listed! It's not an exhaustive list of influences and recommendations by any means, but these are all books I have thoroughly enjoyed.

What are some of your all-time reading picks and recommendations?


Unknown said...

Ooh! I'm pleased that I've read almost all of those. Although I've never read the Last Unicorn... I think Diana Wynne Jones is the biggest influence to me, because she weaves myths into such new stories, and she doesn't feel the need to tell the reader every last detail; she lets them figure it out. And your books, of course. : )

Sarah Pennington said...

I love The Princess and the Goblin! I should reread it sometime . . .

I've been thinking of trying Terry Pratchett's Discworld books for a while now, since they sound really cool, but was concerned that they'd be inappropriate for my age. But now I think I'll definitely give them (or at least Guards! Guards!) a try! (And Nation and The Last Unicorn went on my TBR list as well.)

One author who I've been recommending a lot lately is Brandon Sanderson. I especially like his Mistborn series, but everything I've read with him has been awesome one way or another. The Rithmatist is another favorite, and so is the Way of Kings series. (Be warned, though: The Way of Kings books are LONG. As in, 1000 pages each. And they move a bit slowly. But the character- and worldbuilding are magnificent!)

Unknown said...

TIL WE HAVE FACES is one of my favourite books; I feel like C.S. Lewis wrote that book for me.

I've heard of many of the other books on this list, and I must add some of them to my never-ending reading list.

My recommendations (other than your own books, of course!) are:

1) The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner (I feel you may already have read them, but for readers who haven't, DO IT!!!)

2) any of Shannon Hale's fantasy books. I read THE GOOSE GIRL when I was 11 and have been infatuated ever since. She writes real women and chivalrous men who are still real. Don't start me ranting about her amazingness.

3)the JULIE OF THE WOLVES series. Not fantasy, but I love wolves, and the books are written so hauntingly. For me, they evoke the longing of a dying world, much like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Those are just a few--but I noticed you mentioned you'd gone to Okinawa, Anne Elisabeth. Is that Okinawa, Japan?????!!!!! I am completely in love with Japan--I want to visit/teach there one day, and I must admit that I am a huge fan of manga and anime. XD

Meredith said...

Oh, all your recommendations are wonderful! I love Till We Have Faces, which is such a profound and candid story. And, I understand what you mean about The Princess and the Goblin. I can see how the style and approach influenced Heartless. So interesting. Have you read Terry Pratchett's Dodger? It's an excellent novel set in an alternate Victorian England. I love A Midsummer Night's Dream, too, and Hamlet is one of the greatest plays ever written! Othello is also one of my favorites of Shakespeare's works.

Books and poems that have always had a profound impact on me are: The Singer Trilogy, by Calvin Miller, The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope, (one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read), "Goblin Market," by Christina Rossetti, "My Last Duchess," by Robert Browning, The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, and Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. Could go on and on, but these are the books I return too frequently. I must put in a quick nod to your series, which, I have to say, is one of the most multi-layered and character-driven series I've ever encountered. Each book is like a beautiful quilt piece, and it's amazing to see how you're stitching all the threads together into such a beautiful story. I think it's phenomenal that Phantastes inspired Starflower.

God bless you.

Rina's Reading said...

I read 'The Last Unicorn' for the first time two years ago and immediately thought of you Anne Elisabeth, and not long after you mentioned it in a blog post I think. :-) Such a fun story.

Here's a book not widely known, but very endearing, delightful and lovely: 'An Ordinary Princess' by M.M. Kaye. One of my favorites and a great choice for a lighthearted reread.

Another fun fairy tale-esque series with a twist is The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede.

Hannah said...

Lovely list!

The Princess and the Goblins was an inspiration for me too when I was little. It gave me the drive to write a story (unashamedly similar to the Princess and the Goblins) that had all original characters, not some directly borrowed from other stories. ;)

Candice said...

What a great list! I'm actually reading The Last Unicorn right now - and I love it! I've never seen anyone recommend The Heaven Tree Trilogy before, those books are great! I've only read them once, but I'm sure I'll be revisiting them!

Christa McKane said...

Hello, Anne Elisabeth! I have a short question. Did you get your idea of Cren Cru from the Irish deity Crom Cruach?

Anonymous said...

I have only heard of 2 of those authors, I might look them up on Amazon. At the moment the library is probably wondering why all the Terry Pratchett's are being borrowed in Tamworth. I absoloultly love Pratchett!!!!
I also enjoy some K M Shea(some) and John Flanagan, and of course The Tales of Goldstone Wood.

Emilyn J Clover said...

Ooh the Princess and the Goblin, and Midsummer Night's Dream! I'll have to put some of these on my to-read list.

One bookseries that I have called my favorite for a while is the Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet, starting with Auralia's Colors. It's also about art and questions, and the allegory is subtle and not to be taken too literally as allegory. But it's very beautifully written and well-worth reading.