was in fifth grade a library book changed my life, first by trying to kill me,
then by inspiring me to be an author.
to write a book report, you see, and my mom didn’t have time to take me to the
library. She pointed out that my older
sister had just been the library, and there were a bunch of books in our room,
so why didn’t I try one of those, hm? The trouble was that the books were right inside the bedroom door, on
the slippery wooden floor. Next thing I
knew books were flying everywhere and I was facedown with a throbbing elbow and
a book smashing my nose. The book under
my nose looked interesting, though. It
didn’t have the prettiest cover I’d ever seen, but it did have a couple of
things going for it: it had dragon on the cover (my favorite movie as a kid was
the animated Flight of Dragons), it had a gold Newbery medal sticker which I
was sure would earn me extra points, and I was pretty sure that it was also on
the shelves in my classroom, which I hoped would also earn me extra points. (Fifth grade was a year fraught with
drama. I needed some extra points with
was called The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley, and it was amazing. It had everything you could want in a book:
adventure, magic, romance, a princess with long red hair who has a magic sword
and slays dragons astride her courageous white war horse. Oh, how I wanted to be Aerin! How I wanted a horse like Talat! That book report was a joy to write! And in the course of writing it, I discovered
something: This was Robin McKinley’s job. Her job was to write books about magic, and adventure, and dragons, and
red-headed heroines! I decided right
then and there that one day this would be my job, too. I didn’t know how you went about becoming an
author, but I figured it would be a good idea to study what other people had
done, so I went out looking for more books like The Hero and the Crown.
keep in mind that this was a good fifteen years BP (Before (Harry) Potter), so
there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from, especially for an
eleven-year-old. I’d read The Hobbit and the Chronicles of Narnia, of course, but until I started really looking I’d
thought that’s all there was. I loved
The Hobbit, and still do, and I loved Narnia, though I really wanted to smack
Susan Pevensie for caring more about make up and boys than Narnia, and the
ending of The Last Battle really freaked me out. And really, how many times can you reread
those books before you get tired of them? So I went looking, and I found...
first off, I found more Robin McKinley, like The Blue Sword, a Newbery Honor
book and a companion to The Hero and the Crown, and The Door in the Hedge, a
marvelous collection of short stories that I reread until my copy was in
pieces. Shelved next to McKinley was
McKillip, Patricia, which is how I found the wonderful and strange Forgotten
Beasts of Eld. On the shelf above the
M’s, under J-K-L, I found Jones, Diana Wynne, and that became another
life-changing experience. The three Diana
Wynne Jones books that the public library had were Dogsbody, Howl's Moving
Castle, and Stopping for a Spell. Dogsbody
was something I didn’t even have words for.
It was delightful, and heartbreaking, and at the end of it all, in a
strange way, a love story. Not only
that, it was somehow both science fiction and fantasy, which I had never seen
before. Then I moved on (alphabetically,
of course), to Howl’s Moving Castle and Stopping for a Spell, which again I had
no words for.
they were funny.
there is humor in The Hobbit. There’s
humor in McKinley’s books and Lewis’s books and a lot of other books. But in the first story in Stopping for a
Spell, some children turn their old armchair into a large man wearing a pink
striped suit just like the upholstery of the old chair, and then they have to
try and turn him back. Just the chapter
headings in Howl’s Moving Castle are so funny they made me laugh out loud. Fantasy books could be funny? Laugh-out-loud funny? My joy knew no bounds! Now my fantasy quest took off in two directions:
the Search for the Epically Chunky, and the Search for the Funny.
Search for the Funny quickly found me in the hands of Daniel Pinkwater, who writes
hilarious and incredibly imaginative books like The Last Guru, Alan
Mendelssohn, Boy From Mars, and Lizard Music. After Pinkwater’s madcap tales I found Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide
to the Galaxy and its laugh-til-you-stop-breathing sequels, and from Adams I
leaped to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens.
shocked me then, and still does a little, when people say they don’t like
fantasy, or won’t read it. For me,
fantasy was everything. Fantasy was an
escape from the humdrum world. Fantasy
was fun. It was adventure. It was romance. It was a career and a future.