My Irish heritage is almost purely nominal at this point, overwhelmed by it is by the centuries since my Irish ancestor realized she could ditch Ireland for the New World and the whole “mostly French” thing. But such things are mere technicalities when you’re named after an Irish county, turn ruddy in the sun, and the only drink you like is Bailey’s: I gladly and loudly declaim I’m an Irishwoman as much as I declaim my status as a French kid. So, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day (when everyone else joins me in being Irish), I thought I’d highlight a few things you can read (or watch!) to celebrate the Emerald Isle.
The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany
2013 looks like it’s shaping up to be the year I start exploring, in a little more seriousness, pre-Tolkien fantasy. I’ve always been fascinated by the early development of fantasy before Tolkien’s devotees accidentally crystallized the genre, and Renay and I have mentioned perhaps teaming up on some of these works. But I’m forging ahead now because I’ve heard one too many people say, “Oh, I don’t read fantasy“, and it’s either get started on this or get started on learning to spit acid. So it’s off to my other motherland with Anglo-Irish writer Lord Dunsany and his influential 1924 novel.
When I was reading Among Others, I was particularly struck by how difficult it was for Mor, the protagonist, to find speculative fiction as a young teenager in the 1970s or even full bibliographies of authors she loves. God, I thought, what must be like to forage for the stuff? I’m inordinately blessed, to live in an age where I can easily discover what the entire works of, say, Jacqueline Carey consist of and not have to just wander down the poorly lit fantasy/sci-fi section of my public library and take a stab. (I mean, I still do, because you can’t beat that atmosphere, but I don’t have to play bookish roulette.) Pre-internet fandom utterly fascinates me by virtue of how difficult it was to simply communicate and share information compared to the embarrassment of riches we have today. How did we find the kind of books we wanted to read? Well, from 1969 to 1974, there was at least one resource for the speculative fiction crowd—the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series.
Today, we’re going to take a look at one of the books that invented modern fantasy (not Tolkien, obviously), as well as a fantasy novel that does what I think speculative fiction does best–examine our existence and make sense of it. (I apologize for the picture quality on the covers beforehand. I wish I could find better.)