- Hermione is an amazing witch, smart and intelligent, but realistic. She is not always easy to get along with and can be somewhat of a know-it-all. But I identified with her when I first read the books as a kid. And as an adult, I still love her.
- Dumbledore because out of reach mentor characters are my favorite. See also my love for Gandalf & Merlin.
- Butterbeer because it sounds delicious. And because you can concoct close enough versions with adult beverages that taste pretty yummy.
- The Marauder’s Map is such an amazing bit of magic. I wish I lived in a world with Moony, Prongs, Padfoot and Wormtail. It would be so useful to have such a great map!
- Fred & George are the best comic relief. I still love their exit from Hogwarts during the end of Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix. It is the best.
I love Maria’s song in the Sound of Music. But I’ve never been super decisive about favorites. And it is almost impossible for me to name a favorite book or author because there have been so many books that have moved me, changed my life or that I keep coming back to. I wanted to share some of my favorite things.
Today I’ll start with Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. Because I love Elizabeth’s story & Austen’s wit. But also, this book represents so much hope to me. Jane and Elizabeth are in an impossible situation with their financial situation, but they are able to overcome their obstacles and find their place in the world.
I struggle with the resolution of marriage as being the way to overcome one’s obstacles in life. However, I think that Jane Austen was an astute observer of her society and used her pen to showcase the issues of her female main characters and how society constrained them at the time. Pride & Prejudice showcases the precarious class status of upper class women at the time. It show how the patriarchy kept women in an insecure situation, financially. Finally, I admire Lizzy because she is so willing to speak her own mind. She is perhaps the most candid of the characters in the novel. And she is unafraid to offend or surprise.
I discovered fantasy as a genre when I read the Hobbit as a thirteen year old – the sense of adventure carried me away. But truth be told, if the whole of the novel had taken place in Bilbo’s Hobbit-hole, I would have been just as happy. As much as I loved the fantasy and adventure that Tolkien evoked, I enjoyed the sense of place that he provided.
Before that fateful book, I had been dedicated to classics (for both children and adults) such as Anne of Green Gables, the Scarlet Letter, and Treasure Island. Classics provided me a strong sense of place and characterization. I wanted to be Anne – I longed for red hair – and lamented my own brunette strands. I suppose my longing for her hair is an irony considering how much Anne hated it, but I wanted to be so much like her I didn’t care.
Prince Edward Island is as much of a fairytale place to me as the Shire or Middle Earth.
And as much as I loved the books that transported me to the past, after reading the Hobbit I was inspired to seek out more fantasy and more adventure. I went on to read the Lord of the Rings through the rest of middle school and early high school. Then I moved on to other fantasy authors, such as David Eddings and Mercedes Lackey.
However, I still longed for the novels that transported me to the past like a great classic can. I discovered Jane Austen quite by accident in 2005, when a friend and I went to see the version of Pride & Prejudice where Keira Knightley played Elizabeth Bennet. And no matter how you feel about Keira Knightley as an actress, that movie made me curious about the novel. What I loved about the movie was the way the music swept me into a time and place that I could not otherwise go.
What enticed me to pick the novel up was a review of the movie that described the movie ending as over-romantic and sentimental. I wanted to see how Austen envisioned the ending. So, with the movie in mind, I picked up the novel and fell in love with classics all over again.
More specifically, I fell in love with Jane Austen as a writer. I adored her sense of wit and irony. I loved her subtleties. Finally, I enjoyed what were essentially “happily ever after” endings.
In the interim years, I enjoyed my passions of fantasy and Jane Austen separately until I discovered a sub-genre of fantasy that married my two passions into a single entity. I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, The Magician & Mrs. Quent, and A Natural History of Dragons. These books brought my two favorite types of stories together.
However, what cemented my love of the fantasy of manners genre was Shades of Milk & Honey. This world brings together the social constraints of Jane Austen, with incredible world-building and the sort of magic that makes me fall in love with fantasy all over again. Mary Robinette Kowal’s imagining of glamour as a woman’s art constrains what the magic can do and how it is used. However, even with the plotline of a young woman trying to find a man to marry, Kowal brings a sense of adventure. There is a fantastical edge to the world that promises to ask questions beyond the parlor. A perfect marriage of genres, if you ask me.
What is your favorite fantasy of manners novel?
Everyone has books they don’t love, but some of those books you desperately want to love because your best friend, mentor or boyfriend loves that book. It makes hating a particular book agonizing, at least for me, because a person I admire loves the book. It is interesting to see how what we don’t like or love can shape us as much as what we do.
In junior year of high school, my then-boyfriend handed me Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. At the time, I wanted to love it because he loved it. However, I found it super dry and boring, even though I wanted to love the dry British humor and the jokes. I could not get into the story. Adams’s characterization did not grab me. A decade later, I want to love it because I don’t want to give up my geek card.
Another example, is a friend who told me that she doesn’t like The Hobbit. She said she read it as an adult and did not like Tolkien’s prose. Her major complaint is that Tolkien relied on deus ex machina (literally translated machine of god) as a plot device. Gandalf became the character that solved seemingly unsolvable problems out of nowhere.
However, for those of us who read the book as kids or young adults, the story carried us away and left an impression. The impression that the Hobbit left on me was that of magic, action and adventure. I credit the Hobbit as my discovery of the fantasy genre, so it is fascinating to know that I love the book in a way that my friend does not.
It is amazing to think that how and when a person discovers a book or author can affect their enjoyment of that author. I know for myself, I was an ambitious reader in middle school, and I read Oliver Twist around the time I discovered the Hobbit. I read the book and did not enjoy it. I found Dickens prose to be florid. The characters and plot were interesting enough, but I hated having to slog through seemingly endless passages where it nothing important appeared to happen. Nor have I enjoyed any Dickens since (with the sole exception of A Christmas Carol).
These days, I worry about friends revoking my geek card, because I have had a difficult time getting into Terry Pratchett. He created the series of comic fantasy novels in the early 1980s, and the series is called Discworld because the world is a flat disc balanced on the back of four elephants, which then stands on the back of the enormous turtle Great A’Tuin.
I feel like I should love his work. I want to love his work. And yet, I tried to read the Colour of Magic and could not get into it. I found it amusing, but the prose tried too hard. I couldn’t get into the story and put the book down half way through.
I can hear the internet right now, but there are so many great Discworld novels. And there are other places to get into Terry Pratchett, why did you start at the Colour of Magic? (P.S. I started there because I wanted to start at the beginning–perhaps that is my mistake.) But, how can you not love Pratchett? That particular novel did not strike my fancy and it makes me feel odd when many of my friends love those stories no end.
However, I am holding out hope. I am determined to find a Pratchett novel that I love. I borrowed Equal Rites from the library and I ended up loving it! That novel carried me away into Discworld in ways that the Colour of Magic did not.
What novel do you hate that you wish you loved?