Lit Kid: boldly going

If I’ve written about books I associate with my mother, it’s only fair to look at my father’s influence too. And I have, already, quite a bit.

The Hobbit. My Friend Mr Leakey. Riki Tiki Tavi. These are just a few.

My dad wasn’t always around at story reading time. There were several years where he travelled for work – maybe fortunately for me, after the stage when I had learned to read for myself.

But before that stage, he did read aloud to me in the evenings – and he must have done so well, because I have so many of the phrasings still in my head.

I am still fairly sure that the choice of The Phantom Tolbooth came from him. And maybe also Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, remembered by me particularly because of bits of the print being in red, and others in green.

It has taken me longer to learn that my father passed on some of the reading experiences he had been given himself – such as retrieving the book from a different place every night, as he did with Mr Leakey.

Another of these was to introduce me to science fiction, as his father had done for him, by starting me on John Wyndham’s The Crysalids.

He didn’t go wrong with either experience.

Sometimes, we can walk a path with someone, and our memory becomes all about that shared time together. But sometimes, we start the journey together, then one of us walks on, now knowing which way to go.

My father read The Hobbit to me. Later, when he was in his travelling phase, I took his copies of The Lord of the Rings, and soldiered on myself.

I skipped bits, I admit it. I was less into the battles. I wanted to know what was happening to the ring, and to Frodo and Sam.

Now at a later stage, I can show more interest in the characters of the other companions of the ring. I understand more of why they fight – and let’s face it, Peter Jackson’s films have done much to help demonstrate the impact of each of those characters.

But even so, as with The Hobbit, the quests are impossible without the quiet strength and perseverance of ‘the little people’, even as the bigger ones struggle with destiny and enmity between peoples and other things I didn’t really grasp at 9.

Similarly, my father pointed me to other classic reads that I have gone on to recommend to others. Not all of these are necessarily ‘kid’ lit – but both would surely fit with what is now known as young adult fiction.

One was the Dune series, by Frank Herbert; another, the Dragon series by Anne McCaffrey.

Dune has had a higher focus by dint of some adaptations. I’m not much of a fan of the 1984 film (though Sting is intriguingly cast in it), but the mini series was very well done, and faithful to the books.

Again, at whatever stage I read Dune, I certainly didn’t get it all. I didn’t read oil crisis into it (the books hinge on the availability of ‘spice’ as a similar must-have for trade, travel and more), and I’m sure there was more that the author intended.

But it was one of those early books to convey clearly what life could be like in a very different environment – one where water is so precious that your body water does not belong to you after you die, but is returned to the tribe.

That may sound gruesome, but it’s not meant to be. There is a fine combination of expressing the essentials – what has to be done to survive – and the choices and alliances that can be dared at higher levels of society.

Whatever your feelings about science fiction, read Dune (the first in the series) and the next few books, if only for some of the best modern Greek tragedy I’ve come across.

The Dragon books are also part of a very long series, and as you might expect, the earlier ones are better. If you like the ‘whole alternative world’ approach of the likes of The Hobbit, and fancy a few more dragons in your story, it’s a good place to begin.

Again, I was impressed by the ability to conjure up a whole world, intact, seeing the forces depending on each other, as well as the way they suggest opportunity, even for the unlikeliest of characters.

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But perhaps one of my enduring reading legacies from my father is an appreciation of a good short story. Science fiction is often seen to be about overblown space opera sized novels, but it doesn’t have to be.

Part of my own writing this spring is delving into this area. I have been fortunate enough to read some really good science fiction short stories.

I may not be anywhere near them yet, but I think I can follow a good example – or at least set off in the right direction.

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