I was not into fantasy fiction or sci-fi when I was a kid, and I was suspicious of people who were. I equated fantasy lit with Dungeons and Dragons, which I thought was hopelessly geeky. Not that I wasn’t a nerd myself–I definitely was. But not that kind of nerd. And I apologize to all my friends who were D&D aficionados once upon a time and I will say I’m more mature now and will not make fun of you.
The reputation of fantasy has changed dramatically since I’ve been an adult. Since the advent of Harry Potter and Twilight (yes they’re in the same sentence, whether or not you think they deserve to be), fantasy has gone mainstream. Certainly not everyone lined up at midnight to buy the newest Harry Potter books, some replete in wizard robes and hats, with wands at the ready. But with more than 400 million copies of the books sold and movies grossing tens of millions of dollars, I’d say it’s a fair amount of people. The Twilight series, though not as well-written and perhaps popular as much for the aesthetic appeal of the movie actors (I’m Team Jacob myself) as the storyline, has been similarly successful.
Harry Potter was probably the fantasy gateway book for me, accessible because it’s also a young adult book (another genre I love that has become increasingly popular among full-fledged–if reluctant–adults). And I’ve become more open to the rapidly growing fantasy catalogue because my husband is, and has long been, a fan. Please note that I still refuse to read or watch anything related to the Lord of the Rings, although it has produced so many common cultural references, I feel like I should, just like I took a class on the Bible as literature in college. He introduced me to Philip Pullman‘s compelling His Dark Materials trilogy, which delves into challenging questions of religion and philosophy as much as it explores fantastical worlds.
Now I’m reading George RR Martin‘s The Game of Thrones, the first in a series of medieval epic sagas with a cast of characters worthy of a Russian novel. It was actually recommended to me by my OB/GYN, but then my book club decided to read it. My book club reads a relatively broad spectrum of literature, but we have dipped into this genre only occasionally in our 13 years. Other sci-fi or fantasy books we’ve read together included Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games, the first in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy (coming to a movie theater near you next spring). I loved both of those books, and devoured others by Card and the whole series by Collins. Despite the extreme violence in The Hunger Games (if you know me at all you will know I have a very low tolerance for bloodshed or fighting or killing and have to close my eyes a lot during such scenes in movies), I was absolutely fascinated by the characters’ strengths and struggles. It’s really a human story set in a bizarre world. Just as Game of Thrones (also an HBO series) is, according to Ben Wyatt on one of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation. In a recent episode the character Donna asks Ben why he’s upset, and jokes “Did they cancel Game of Thrones?” Ben responds emphatically, “They would never cancel Game of Thrones. It’s a crossover hit! They’re telling human stories in a fantasy world.”
So I was intrigued today when I heard on NPR an interview with ND Wilson, a fantasy writer I didn’t know, discussing the first book in a series he’s written for young adults. The Dragon’s Tooth is set not in a castle in England, but at a roadside motel in Wisconsin. Wilson said he wanted to create a book that American kids could relate to, that was fantastical but also grounded in a reality more accessible than the damp and chilling atmosphere surrounding Hogwarts or Narnia. Wilson said his characters Cyrus and Antigone are not magical because they are imbued with special powers but because they work hard to figure things out. They learn Latin. I’m guessing this book is pretty nerdy in its own way. And it sounds awesome.