Monday, November 4, 2013

#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Swords and Sorcery - the realm of fantasy in children's books"

"The Hobbit (or there and back again) by J.R.R. Tolkien. Hugely influential. 

With fantasy series such as "Game of Thrones" and huge blockbuster movies such as "The Hobbit" making tills go cha-ching, it's never been a better time to devote an entire week to a much loved subject for children's books and for our #ReadItMD13 theme this week - dipping into swords and sorcery. 

For me, The Hobbit was where it all started. It was one of the first 'big and proper' books I read, and it drew me in like nothing I'd ever read before. The tale of Bilbo Baggins and his comfortable everyday life being turned upside down while embarking on a quest to help the dwarves reclaim The Lonely Mountain and a fantastic treasure, guarded by the evil dragon Smaug. 

Tolkien's gift was the ability to create worlds and characters that stayed in the memory long after the book covers were closed. With simple (but quite beautiful) illustrations, and of course now the huge draw of a whole cinematic world to refer to as well, Tolkien's books still set the standard for others to follow and have hugely influenced fantasy books for decades. 

Following hot on his heels, another author also set children's literature alight with a fantasy series par excellence...

"The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis. A story for children, but one adults can't get enough of either. 
C.S. Lewis was a member of the "Inklings" (along with Tolkien), a band of Oxford academics who met to scribble down ideas in a pub just down the road from where I'm typing this (The Eagle and Child in Oxford). Squeezing into such a small (cosy) pub must've given the pair food for thought as they quaffed ale and dreamed up amazingly rich worlds. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia" stretches across several books but by far the most well known and well loved is "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe". Containing all the essential elements of a good fantasy yarn - evil monsters, fantastic heroes and an amazingly rich and inventive world, it's a book that has always been in my bookshelves in one form or another. Reading bits to Charlotte has been enjoyable, I always worry that classic stuff will be lost on her but Lewis' genius was to put children front and centre of the story as the heroes, and that makes it engaging to children of any age. 

For slightly younger children there's still plenty to choose from when it comes to knights, dragons, swords and magic...

"The Worst Princess" by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie. The best princess, as far as we're concerned!
We have to tread lightly, and comb through the usual "Brave Knight / Beautiful but helpless princess" books to find good ones but Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie's superb "The Worst Princess" ticks all the right boxes for us, and serves up a funny and entertaining story with a brilliant message for young girls. Princess Sue spends most of her life preparing for the day her handsome knight will arrive and whisk her off to his castle. Only when this finally happens, "The Worst Princess" realises that she actually prefers excitement, adventure - and silly pretty dresses are completely impractical when it comes to stomping the neighbourhood in search of fun. 

It takes a dragon to stir things up a bit, and once our wonderful princess realises that dragons are rather fantastic as friends, she sets out on a whole new life of adventure with her new found friend - leaving the rather dozy (and slightly scorched) prince behind. Hooray!

There'll be plenty more to come during the week as we look at more books with a fantasy "swords and sorcery" theme. Stick with us for the week, it's going to be fantastic!

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