Perhaps it's a feeble excuse, but one major reason I haven't contributed in a little while is that I've been reading voraciously. When I have a lot going on in my life, I seem to gravitate towards books that really take my mind on a journey somewhere else. Some might call this escapism. Whether it is or not, I always welcome a well-written fantasy of the archetypal journey variety. What is life but a journey? And when our own journeys become confusing, how wonderful it is to have others' journeys—albeit fictional—to look to for inspiration and enlightenment.
A couple of weeks ago I read Nancy Farmer's latest The Sea of Trolls. Shelved in the children's section, I nonetheless found this coming-of-age journey to be ageless and timeless. When I first started reading—and from time to time throughout—it reminded me of that godfather of fantasy classics, T.H. White's The Once and Future King—still one of my favorite bits of required reading from high school.
Somewhere on the eastern shore of the British Isles in the 8th century, young Jack lives with his little sister, mother, and father in a peaceful Anglo-Saxon village. He whiles away his days as apprentice to a very Merlin-like bard who came to the area some years ago floating in a lone coracle. One day, though, the bard foretells the coming of berserkers from the wild realms of the Northmen. Sure enough, the warriors loot and pillage and do their Viking thing, capturing Jack and his sister Lucy in the process. But there's so much more magic to the story than that, and Jack enters a world of magical bardic verses, trolls, and Norse mythology come to life.
These are myths that still rear their heads in our Western belief systems even today, and have left their mark on our language—the stories of Beowulf, the sagas of gods and goddesses like Thor and Freya and Odin and the great tree of life Yggdrassil. And Farmer has really done her research well. If you want to journey into a past where the world of magic had not yet fled in the face of modern progress, this is a wonderful, wonderful tale.
Another book that deals with the loss of past closeness between the world of magic and our own world is Charles de Lint's The Little Country, a re-read for me. But I'd forgotten just how absorbing this story-within-a-story is. Cornish folk musician Janey Little, who lives in the tiny village of Mousehole in Cornwall, gets caught up in a world of magic, music, and a power-hungry dark conspiracy when she opens the pages of a previously-unknown book by her favorite author.
For the book itself holds magic, and a powerful secret that the bad guys will stop at nothing to obtain. At the same time, the reader is treated to a parallel story, that of young Jodi Shepherd's journey into a world where faeries, witches, and monstrous drowned sailors are all too real. To find out how the stories relate, you'll just have to read it. I highly recommend it, along with The Sea of Trolls, for some beginning-of-the-school-year escapism. And de Lint's book is also a great antidote to the non-plucky female characters that TadMack was recently grumbling about.