Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Fantasy, by Matthew MacNish

Technically, all fiction is fantasy, in that it is simply tales woven within our minds, about things never happened. Yet still, I've always said there must be truth and honesty in the telling, even if that isn't the same thing as a story being factual.

But that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about Fantasy with a capital F. Fantasy in general, sure, but Middle Grade Fantasy too, as this is Project Middle Grade Mayhem, after all.

Fantasy comes in a lot of flavors. High Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, and Grimdark, just to name a few. There's even Young Adult Fantasy, and Middle Grade Fantasy. But what does all of it have in common? Well, it's imaginative. It's escapist. It's other-worldly.

Sometimes that other world is right under our noses, like in Neil Gaiman's NEVERWHERE, and sometimes that other world is simply under our cities, like in Hilary Wagner's NIGHTSHADE CITY, but always it's something secondary to reality, something fascinating, and dreamlike, and dare I say? Poetic.

Before I go on, listen to George Martin of Game of Thrones fame talk about his love of fantasy:



See what I mean? Who wouldn't rather finish out their days in one of those fantastical lands? Sure, some of them are rife with danger, but they're also so alive with color, and passion, and verve, and beauty.

I haven't personally written any stories I would truly call fantasy (or Fantasy), at least not yet, but I've always loved to read it, and I hope to someday have the courage to try my hand at writing it. My father instilled his love of reading in me from an early age, after reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings aloud to us children. From there my elementary school teachers introduced me to Lloyd Alexander's Prydain, and Padraic Colum's King of Ireland's Son, and countless other tales of myth and magical mystery.

These stories awoke something deep within me. Not just a love of story, but a kind of sense of a safe haven in imagination. A place to go when I had a bad day, or life got me down, or something difficult occurred that I needed time to unpack. Not to say that running away from all your problems forever is the wisest way to lead your life, but sometimes a little escape can help you catch your breath again.

I'm a big fan of most of the famous Fantasy tale-spinners, the Tolkiens, the Le Guins, the Martins, the McCaffreys, but I'm really enjoying discovering what a wealth of modern Fantasy there is, especially being written "for children," and especially for Middle Grade Readers.

I have recently loved books like IRON HEARTED VIOLET, by Kelly Barnhill, and FROSTBORN, by Lou Anders, and I certainly enjoyed NIGHTSHADE CITY, KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, and THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING, back when I read those titles.

What are some of your favorite Middle Grade Fantasy novels? What is one you think I should absolutely read next?

26 comments:

  1. The genre of fantasy caught my attention when I read Terry Brooks' Shannara series as a kid. Like science fiction, it's an escape. Not sure I'd ever want to tackle writing it though.

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    1. A lot of effort is needed to build the world, to be sure.

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  2. I recommend the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins and of course the Time Quintet series by Madeleine L'Engle. A Wrinkle in Time was my first fantasy book and it's still one of my favorites.

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    1. I loved A Wrinkle in Time, so I will have to look for the others. Thanks, Robert!

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  3. I picked up The Girl Who Circumnavigated a while ago, and I've been saving it for when I need to go there.

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    1. I have the sequel too, but I haven't gotten to it.

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  4. We share a Prydain love.

    I know so little about fantasy. Perhaps you could do a post one day where you define all those types mentioned above?

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    1. Hmm. That might be cool. Though Grimdawk and Low Fantasy probably wouldn't be too appropriate for a MG blog. Maybe just descriptions of them though...

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  5. Reading the Hobbit in fourth grade (on my own, not part of the curriculum) was one of the game-changing experiences of my young life. The Chronicles of Prydain were a huge part of my middle-grade years, and i still return to them now and then. So good!

    I recommend Tad William's The Dragonbone Chair: Book One of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn more than any other fantasy. It isn't strictly middle-grade, but it does feature a young protagonist. It's mostly high fantasty, I guess, but has the epic feel of Toklien without being a rehash or a D&D novel, and some truly dark-horror elements as well.

    The three books in the series make up one of those door stopper sets that will keep you reading for a good long time.

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    1. I have read The Dragonbone Chair (though not the sequels, and it was decades ago), and I do concur.

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  6. Matt, you LOVED my book? Those are the most awesome words any writer can hear from a fellow writer. You seriously make my day. I heart you! :) Thanks so much.

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    1. I really did, Hilary! I enjoyed it very much. I still need to read the sequels. So many books, so little time!

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  7. Oh, man, you don't want to revisit L'Engle. I just read the Time Quintet, and it is absolutely awful. And I loved Wrinkle as a middle schooler. The reviews are on my blog.

    You should check "What Time Is the Tea Kettle?"

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    1. I'll check it out, Andrew. Thanks!

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  8. "Not to say that running away from all your problems forever is the wisest way to lead your life, but sometimes a little escape can help you catch your breath again."

    Matt, you are Merlin today--or whatever wise sage takes your fancy. I too love Fantasy (Huge Game of Thrones fan), my baptism being The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin when I was 10. I have as a goal to read Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence this year. Wish me luck.

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    1. Good luck! Have you seen Hayao Miyazaki's adaption of Earthsea? It's called Tales of Earthsea.

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  9. Two fun series that I am alternating reading right now are The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas and The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer Nielsen. Both are from the first person POV and I find myself drawn more to that now in MG, than third person. I love all things medieval and Nielsen's series, starting with The False Prince, gives us an orphan-thief turned king - what fun! I am drawn more to fantasy that is grounded in reality and this is an intriguing, action adventure in that vein. The Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan is my go-to for medieval flair grounded in reality but that's more YA than MG only because the main character is a teen, but it's entirely fitting for MG (my 11 year old son is reading in class).

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    1. I've read the first three Ranger's Apprentice books, and I did like them. I find first person POV to be pretty rare in MG, though certainly prevalent in YA. I'd be curious to read a MG that used it, so thanks for the recommendations, Donna!

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  10. My middle grade fantasy novel The Children of When has just been accepted by a publisher. It's the first in a planned series of three books, and will be released some time this year. So excited, but no idea how and where to promote it without it already being published. Any suggestions?

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  11. Not sure you're in the ideal venue for such a question, JustJen49, but the general consensus is to blog a lot, get to know bloggers, and get to know publicists. You can buy a lot of hits and likes and follows, but I have found that the best promotion is based on word of mouth that's garnered organically.

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  12. I LOVE fantasy novels and grew up on them. Have you ever read TAILCHASER'S SONG, by: Tad Williams? Not technically middle-grade but talking cats + adventure = middle-grade me's dream.

    Also Robert Jordan's WHEEL OF TIME must be mentioned. I grew up on that and am re-reading for a final time right now.

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    1. I have not read TAILCHASER'S SONG by Tad Williams, Marissa, but I'm a fan of Tad Williams, so thanks for the recommendation!

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  13. I love Fantasy with a capital F. I need to read more of it. I like writing it too, but I've found myself gravitating more to real stories lately. By real, I mean contemporary. Not sure why, just have.

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    1. Ah, I missed your comment, Elana! Sorry about that.

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  14. I've got so many books I could name, but I'll try to restrain myself-

    First recommendation, "Time Stops For No Mouse" by Michael Hoeye. I know I mention it a lot, but there's a reason, it's a great book and nice start to a short but engaging series.

    Seriously, I sometimes fear I'm the ONLY person that's read this series, I know I'm not, but in my "inner circle" of fellow writers that tends to be the case.

    I wouldn't take the time (and some money) creating fan trailers for ALL 4 BOOKS if they weren't awesome, at least to me. I did it because this series needs more love, and I hope my videos spread the word, especially for folks so time-starved they don't always read reviews for various reasons.


    Other Great fantasy novels include-

    "A Rat's Tale" by Tor Seidler (illus. Fred Marcelino)

    "The Wainscott Weasel" by Tor Seidler (illus. Fred Marcelino)
    SO HAPPY this book got reissued last year, so much I made a fan trailer for it!

    "The Daring Adventures of Penhaligon Brush" by S. Jones Rogan
    Fast-paced adventure that doesn't skimp on character development!


    "A Taste For Rabbit" by Linda Zuckerman

    YA animal fantasy that's not "Redwall" like or has a paranormal bent? It's possible. Enough said.
    (I know this is an MG focused blog, but I'm making a point about substance in my area of expertise)

    I know this is a middle grade focused site, but another book I want to recommend for readers of YA+ is "The Bear Comes Home" by Rafi Zabor. This is a great book for teens and adults who think are just kid's stuff (and there's nothing wrong with that) but if romance can evolve and grow with the reader, why can't animal stories follow suit?

    (Made a fan video for this book, too!)

    Note: While the book is for YA+ readers, the video's not explicit

    "Animal Farm" and "Charlotte's Web" shouldn't get all the glory, or have all the fun!


    I need to do a blog post about contemporary "realistic" fiction because that's a world I don't always visit as a reader or writer for various reasons...

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    1. I haven't heard of any of these, Taurean! Thanks so much.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!