Sunday, May 31, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (P)

Into the P's and past the halfway mark, well we probably did that last week or the week before, but anyway. I thought there may be a few more P authors than the 3 I came up with, and it's partially my bad for never having read Tamora Pierce, who my wife informs me is excellent and would totally make the list if I had actually read any of her work. For P I've got a universally loved author, one who is very little known even in his own country and another one who is well known and successful, but controversial at the same time.

Terry Pratchett April 28, 1948 - March 15, 2015. He needs no introduction, everyone knows that bearded face with the impish smile. Pratchett wrote and published his first book (The Carpet People) at the tender age of 17. It wasn't all that commercially successful and he moved into journalism as a career, but continued to write, at the time science fiction. The Carpet People came out in 1971 and Dark Side of the Sun in 1976, this was followed by Strata, about the discovery of a strange flat, disc shaped planet, in 1981.

It was Strata that would give him the idea for his greatest success. Discworld. The first Discworld book The Colour of Magic was originally published in 1983, but a wider audience discovered it in 1985 with Transworld's mass market paperback release. Following the release of the 4th Discworld novel Mort, Pratchett was successful enough to be able to write full time. By 1996 Terry Pratchett was the highest selling and earning UK author (he like many others would be eclipsed by J. K Rowling).

While Discworld itself spanned all sorts of types of fantasy across it's flat expanse, Pratchett also ventured over it's edge to write other things out of his most popular work. He collaborated with Neil Gaiman on Good Omens, a humorous spin on the popular Omen books and films.

He wrote the Johnny books for teens and the Bromeliad trilogy for younger readers. There was a rerelease of The Carpet People, in which Terry Pratchett fixed what he saw as problems with it, most of them being caused by the fact that he was 17 years old when he wrote it.

He wrote a few standalones, two of which were the successful Nation and Dodger. He was working on a science fiction series with Steven Baxter at the time of his death. The final book in that series will be completed by Baxter and published later this year, as will the final Discworld book, which follows the character of Tiffany Aching.

Terry Pratchett's contribution to literature and society in general earned him a knighthood, which he treated with the same gentle, slightly mocking sense of humour for which he was rightly famous. He passed away at home, aged only 66. It was a sad day for the world when Sir Terry Pratchett left us.

Terry Pratchett wrote so many books on such a wide number of subjects that it's an impossible task to choose just one, so I decided to go with Discworld as a whole. Discworld is an unmatched feat of world building. Clearly the idea for the setting came to Pratchett when he wrote Strata, which although it's not classified as a Discworld novel, is where the concept was born.

The first official Discworld novel follows the adventures of the inept wizard Rincewind, as he attempts to guide the naive tourist Twoflower around the parts of the planet he is more familiar with. I liked The Colour of Magic, but I didn't love it. I think I picked up the second book The Light Fantastic because of The Luggage, which to this day remains one of my favourite Discworld characters. The Light Fantastic was, in my opinion, a better book than it's predecessor. It was with Equal Rites that I believe Pratchett took everything to a new level. He wasn't the only funny fantasist around at the time, but Equal Rites dealt with a different cast and another part of Discworld that audiences had not yet seen. The others either wrote standalones, or used the same characters over and over, which meant that the jokes quickly became stale and overused. Then with Mort, he threw another curveball. Most people have a favourite Discworld novel, and for me, it's Mort. I found the first three entertaining, but a bit hit and miss, however Mort consistently hit it out of the park. By that stage Terry Pratchett had three separate types of Discworld novel: Rincewind, the Witches and Death. He later developed the City Watch books, the Wizard books, the Tiffany Aching books (which are in part aimed at younger readers, although adults read them and find plenty to like) and the Moist Von Lipwig books. He also wrote the occasional standalone, which doesn't fit in with the other established themes or characters. Things like Pyramids or Small Gods, these tend to be defined as the Discworld Cultures books.

Because of the diversity, its hard to actually have a reading order for them, and if a reader encounters a particular stream that they don't like, they're bound to find another that they do. The books are more satire than out and out comedy, although that is also present, and it's a hard grim person who can't get at least one good belly laugh out of each novel in the series. I read them as they were published, and despite that, and it was the 4th in a series that totalled over 40 books I still regard Mort as my favourite.

I can't speak about Discworld without also mentioning the two best known cover artists. Josh Kirby was the original cover artist, and his chaotic, cartoony style just suited Terry Pratchett's writing about Discworld. Kirby was so beloved and so successful that the author and artist actually released a lavishly illustrated Discworld book called Eric. It was later published as a mass market paperback without all of Kirby's art work, and it suffers for that, it needs the artwork to work properly. When Josh Kirby died in 2001, the covers were taken over by Paul Kidby. Kidby's style is totally different to Kirby's. He often uses an iconic image or painting to match the story, but it still suits the books perfectly.

Further and related reading: I covered most of what Terry Pratchett wrote besides Discworld, but just Discworld is enough to satisfy most readers and it covered all sorts of subjects and territory. Pratchett's earlier science fiction is very reminiscent of Douglas Adams, especially Dark Side of the Sun. Funny fantasy was a thing in the early 80's, so Pratchett wasn't alone there. However not much of it was as good. I remember authors like Craig Shaw Gardner as well as Robert Asprin and Tom Holt and Robert Rankin. Gardner and Asprin in particular got hold of an idea and ran it right into the ground. The influences for a lot of the other Discworld work came from everywhere, Shakespeare was a popular source, but Jane Austen and the Brontes came into play, as did Charles Dickens, and he regularly poked fun at the sword and sorcery genre, one character was even called Cohen the Barbarian.

Otfried Preussler - October 20, 1923 - February 18, 2013. I did promise a not so well known author, and that is Otfried Preussler. While I say he's not that well known, he's been quite successful, selling over 15 million copies of his works in German and being translated into 55 languages. He's best known for The Robber Hotzenplotz books and The Satanic Mill (also known as Krabat). He spent five years as a POW during WW 2, and most of his working life after the war as a primary school teacher and school principal. The majority of his work was children's books, although he had plans for a memoir of his experiences as a POW to be published after his death.

I've only read one Pruessler, and it's the one above. I found it as a preteen in a library and took a chance on it. I read it multiple times before I had to return it, and then tracked down a paperback copy, with the same cover as above in a second hand store. It's largely an old fairy tale featuring mills, evil millers, the dark arts, boys being turned into crows and young love triumphing. It was also called Krabat in Germany, because let's face it not too many kids are going to be attracted by a book called The Satanic Mill. I read it many years ago, more than once and it's stayed with me ever since.

Further and related reading: as well as The Satanic Mill, Preussler also wrote the much lighter hearted The Robber Hotzenplotz series, which had three books in it, and 10 other children's books, although he remains best known for The Satanic Mill. It's actually an old Wendish legend, so if someone liked The Satanic Mill they may want to look up the original folk lore and go onto many of the other fairytale and legend retellings that have become very popular of late.

Philip Pullman is best known for His Dark Materials trilogy, but has quite a body of work behind him both before and after that trilogy. He, like a number of authors who write for children, was a teacher originally. His first successful series about the young female detective Sally Lockhart was as much historical fiction as anything. It was later made into  TV series starring former Doctor Who companion Billie Piper as Sally. That same series also featured actor Matt Smith, who would later become the 11th TV incarnation of Doctor Who

In 1995 the first book of His Dark Materials, Northern Lights hit the market and things really took off. This book and the series as a whole captured imaginations and got people talking and thinking about the themes in it. The first book was filmed in 2007, but didn't achieve the success that the film makers had hoped for, and it's unlikely that any of the other books will be filmed.

Pullman has continued to write since the trilogy, and is still writing, he recently adapted classic fairytales for a modern audience, and he speaks out on a number of social, cultural and religious issues. He's become known for his controversial stance on religion, being a committed atheist and one of the themes in His Dark Materials dealt with religious beliefs and faith.

The opening line from Northern Lights ('Lrya and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.') is to my mind an absolute classic. It immediately hooks the reader and it's the word daemon, that jumps out smacks them in the face. Lyra and her daemon'. What is a daemon and why does Lyra have one? That line hooked me and made me buy the book, then of course once I'd read the first story I had to read the rest. It's a great adventure and how can anyone not love Lyra's daemon Pantalaimon? In fact the whole idea of daemons is just brilliant. Consciences or souls given physical form. Able to change to almost any form when the host is young, but then taking on a permanent form once the host becomes an adult and loses the wonder of childhood. Lyra's also a wonderful heroine and great role model for children. The books are aimed at younger readers, although there's plenty for adults to enjoy and ponder on. Because of the author's religious beliefs or non beliefs they have copped some criticism, and I'm sure someone somewhere wants them banned, but I think beliefs are there to be challenged and should be, blind faith is simply that blind.

Further and related reading: As I said Philip Pullman has written across genres. His Sally Lockhart books, while not fantastical, are good rollicking historicals, and Sally is another great heroine and role model in the Lyra mould. It sounds odd, but I'd recommend reading the Narnia Chronicles, because many see His Dark Materials as a direct rebuttal to C.S Lewis' classic series. There is also elements of Paradise Lost in the trilogy, again with that atheist viewpoint of Pullman's. The idea of a conscience taking on a physical form was also something that Carlo Collodi explored briefly in Pinocchio, but the Jiminy Cricket in the book as opposed to Disney's film version is very different, he dies fairly early and is more of an actual cricket, than the dapper, singing anthropomorphised version that Walt Disney imagined.

I may have to move directly from P to R. I can't think of a Q author at present, but we'll see what I can dig up over the week.

1 comment:

  1. Tamora Pierce is an excellent author, especially if you're a young girl. She was showing that girls could do anything they out their minds too a long time ago. I first read her at 13 (the first Alanna book), and have read everyting she's written since then.
    Unlike a lot of people, I prefer the Emerlan books to Tortall, and of the Tortall, my favourites are the Immortals Quartet (which is the least favourite of most people).
    All the characters in the Emerlan books are great, and the 3rd book of the second quartet "Cold Fire" is one of the creepier books I've read that was aimed at a younger audience)

    I can't really add all that much to what you have said about Terry Pratchett (except that Night Watch is my favourite :) )