Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why Do You Read?

So in Clerks II there is an ongoing argument between fans of the Star Wars trilogy and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy over which is supreme. Both Lucas's movies and Tolkien's books were formational experiences for me, so I don't feel any need to make an either-or comparison. If push really came to shove, though, I think I'd have to come down on the side of LOTR. I don't make this decision lightly, but based upon the controlling mythology of the stories. I know I'm not the first to describe them in these terms and much more has been written than this, but here's my take.

In Star Wars your hero just happens to be magically imbued with a powerful force. We eventually find out he is the son of one of the great powers in the universe. He is destined for greatness and he fights the great. The prequel trilogy only expands upon this theme. This is a battle of the high and mighty against others who were born to power. This is an incredibly powerful mythology--How awesome would it be to discover you have this great power and can do incredible things? Everyone wants that in some form. But while I can fantasize about wanting to be a Luke Skywalker, I know there is no truth in it. Finally I must accept that I am just another ordinary person and that particular fantasy is just an escape.

While LOTR may have Gandalf and destined-to-be-king Aragorn, the true protagonists are the Hobbits. They are as down to earth and ordinary as they come. They don't succeed in their quest because they are inherently great, but because they are able to find extraordinary strength of character and courage within themselves. They are you and me succeeding in a crisis situation despite our mortality and weakness. This may be called a fantasy, but it is one that we can actually put ourselves into and identify with. Ideally, it is one that can inspire us to live our own lives like courageous Hobbits and discover our own versions of greatness. It is a story that might make us better people.

And that's what I'm really looking for in a good fantasy, not just escape, but something that will help me examine my own life and come out a better person because of it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

For October

Our next book is a classic young adult fantasy. It's about a lonely teen who's had a difficult childhood and learns he has a natural affinity for magic. His wise, aged mentor suggests he attend a renowned school for wizards to hone his abilities. From there he has many adventures. It is not Harry Potter, however, but A Wizard of Earthsea, written by Ursula Le Guin in 1972, and has a much more mature sensibility than the stories about that recent boy wizard. It has been beloved by many and was recently made into a miniseries by the Sci Fi Channel (which the author didn't care for). I'm looking forward to reading it and hope you are too.

Of the Big Wee Hag

The thing I appreciate most about The Wee Free Men and Terry Pratchett's other books about aspiring witch Tiffany Aching (A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith) is the role of magic-wielding witches. Magic is not something to impress or for personal gain or power. The most important thing to know about the proper us of magic, in fact, is that it should be rarely used. Instead, what makes one a good witch is an inquiring mind, common sense, and the ability to see beyond the obvious. Observe much and speak little but with authority. These are skills that anyone can develop, regardless of magic ability, and is a path to wisdom. The book is a lot of fun, but teaches a good lesson along the way.