Sunday, March 1, 2020

Four Formative Series

He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. - CS Lewis (talking about J.R.R. Tolkien)
I found the time to read a lot growing up. Reading was my before-dinner ritual. Get home, finish homework, watch the Disney afternoon, read 1-2 hours until dinner. I read a lot of trash SciFi and Fantasy from the library, but I also ran across some series that stuck with me.
The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings - It took me a very long time to make my way through this whole series. I read the hobbit in 6th grade and Fellowship in 7th, and then I kept getting distracted by other school books and then restarting Fellowship each summer. I finally finished Return of the King in my freshman year of college. Throughout middle school, high school, college, and a little beyond I played Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP) and have read more than a hundred supplemental books from ICE. ICE was always good at referencing and using source material and I felt wholly emerged in the world of Arda. I love the way Tolkien handles magic in his world. It’s not spell craft, but magic. I was enthralled by the moment Frodo reaches Amon Hen and sees the Barad-dûr. Sauron and Gandalf opposes one another in a magical battle over Frodo’s will. That scene, not of lightening bolts and fireballs, but of force of will, inspired almost all my renditions of magic when writing my own fantasy stories. Magic is expressed by a push against the wills of others and the forces of the world.
The Ender Series - Was Ender’s Game requires reading for little boys? I think we all read the first one, but I have gone on to read every single book in the Ender Series and Shadow Series. I loved Xenocide and Children of the Mind in a way that I rarely found others did. I am not sure those books would hold up to an adult rereading, but as a kid, the way they played with the concept of self was fascinating and inspiring. The hive mind of the formics was a cool concept, but even more when Ender becomes his own hive mind with his two created siblings. I was moved by Ender’s recreation of Peter and Valentine. Peter, whose memories are all sociopathic from Ender’s memory, even though he knows that Peter actually created the Hegemony and brought about world peace. Valentine, trapped as a young loving innocent child even though she knows that Valentine was instrumental in Peter’s world domination. Such and amazing mind game for a young kid to think about: what if your memory of yourself doesn’t reflect who you actually are?
Dragonlance - What different world building than LotR. I think I read everything that came out through high school and college. Dragonlance Legends was my favorite set and Raistlin was my favorite character (wasn’t he everyone’s?). This was the series that inspired me into thinking about every villain as the hero of their own story. Raistlin goes from neutral to evil, and ends with a minor redemption. To me, he was always the protagonist, and that greatly influenced my viewpoint of stories and life. To think that no one is trying to be evil, they are trying to do what they think is right. Even when they introduced Dalamar, in theory truly evil, he was also loyal and thoughtful to his friends. Yep, everyone is the hero.
Be an Intergalactic Spy - I would not describe this as a narratively rich series. When I first started to learn to program BASIC on the Apple ][e, CYOA was my inspiration for my first massive program called The Quest which started out as spaghetti code. It was full of GOTOs where one choice progressed the story and the other choice lead to The End. You know, just like a CYOA book. I vividly remember when I had the inspiration in game that choices wouldn’t end the story, but instead you could accumulate gold and then maybe buy a sword and that would let you get past a dragon and BOOM The Quest slowly turned into a full text-based adventure. As a kid, this was the natural progression of a program, but as an adult looking back that was the moment I understand what programming actually was. The Quest in BASIC is one of the few programs I lost over the years I wish I still had.
Honorable Mention, Hitchhikers Guide - I didn’t get the humor as a kid. I found it weird and fun, but not hilarious. It planted the seeds in my brain so that later on in my life as my I started to understand satire I would think back to parts of this book and just start laughing.