Tag Archives: Fantasy books

Fantasy For Beginners: 10 Books To Get You Started

My second post for FriendsOfBooks is up! This time I explore a genre that has hit popular fancy in the recent years, on account of blockbuster movies based on classic books. Think dragons, think talking trees, think wizards, I’m talking about Fantasy. I’m looking at my bookshelf and the ten most striking stories that I think fall under this. Genres are difficult to classify so this of course, is my take. But I think it’s a good enough introduction to Fantasy, if you’re a newcomer to the genre. Welcome in and happy reading!

Fantasy is the world between children’s storybooks and geeky-cool sci-fi. Fairies, dragons, elves, talking objects, witches, vampires and warlocks are some popular Fantasy characters. The genre draws liberally from folklore and fairytales but goes beyond with more intricate plots, complex characters and often, life lessons. By its very definition, Fantasy involves stories, characters and situations that don’t really exist. It overlaps seamlessly with science fiction on one end and fairy tales on the other. Thus you are never too old for a fantasy story. Let’s look at some of the books on my Fantasy bookshelf.

Click here to read ‘Fantasy For Beginners – 10 Books To Get You Started’ on FriendsOfBooks.

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Peter Jackson may have set out to make a great movie but he also ended up kicking  off a new movement. After the massive success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the annual Harry Potter movies (racing to keep up with the book releases), fantasy has become a genre to be contended with. Book sales for the above stories went through the roof and carried with them a number of other stories from the Fantasy realm.

Fantasy is the world between children’s storybooks and geeky-cool sci-fi. Fairies, dragons, elves, talking objects, witches, vampires and warlocks are some popular Fantasy characters. The genre draws liberally from folklore and fairytales but goes beyond with more intricate plots, complex characters and often, life lessons. By its very definition, Fantasy involves stories, characters and situations that don’t really exist. It overlaps seamlessly with science fiction on one end and fairy tales on the other. Thus you are never too old for a fantasy story.

Let’s look at some of the books on my Fantasy bookshelf.

1. The Hobbit – J R R Tolkien

A prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J R R Tolkien’s story of a hapless hobbit caught in a band of adventurous dwarves is an ideal introduction. Through The Hobbit, you encounter most of the LOTR life-forms like dwarves, trolls, orcs, wargs and wizards. The story is lighter and easier to read than LOTR as it skips from cosy hobbit-holes to troll dinners to forest saviors and mountain orcs. There isn’t a forbidding evil force as in LOTR but there is a formidable dragon called Smaug waiting atop a mountain of treasures. Bilbo Baggins’ shenanigans keep the reader chuckling as he negotiates good food and security in these troublesome situations.

2. Eragon – Christopher Paolini

Eragon hit the top of reader lists, catapulting its fifteen-year-old writer to instant fame. Sequels followed soon after – Eldest, Brisingr and Inheritence – locking in fan attention. However the movie version didn’t captivate audiences as well as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings franchises did. The story begins with a teenager named Eragon who finds a blue stone from which hatches a dragon called Saphira. Shortly after, strangers appear in the village making inquiries of the dragon and then they kill Eragon’s family. Eragon’s flight with Saphira and his ensuing adventures make up this popular book.

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Often authors don’t write with specific genres in mind so classifying a story becomes tricky. On occasion, fantasy may overlap with children’s books. I enjoyed some of these as a kid but I think they also fit on my Fantasy shelf.

3. The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe – C S Lewis

The basis for the popular Chronicles of Narnia movies, this book begins when a young girl opens a wardrobe to find a gateway to the magical realm of Narnia. Lucy and her siblings in and out before getting caught up in Narnia’s adventures. At the end of it all, they are crowned Kings and Queens of the land. Many years later, as adults, they come to the portal again and find themselves back on the other side of the wardrobe as children.

4. The Wizard of Oz – L Frank Baum

“I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto!” says Dorothy Gale when she’s swept away by a tornado and right into the magical land of Oz. Along the way, Dorothy frees a Scarecrow, mobilizes a Tin Man and finds a Cowardly Lion. Together they set out to find the Wizard of Oz who, they hope, will help them find what they need. Their journey is beset by adventures with strange animals, deadly plants and wicked witches. They must bring together their brains (but the Scarecrow has none) and courage (sadly lacking in the Cowardly Lion) and passion (the Tin Man has no heart). Will they reach the Wizard and will he give them what they need? Will Dorothy ever get home?

5. Peter Pan – J M Barrie

This story of a boy who never grew up and who led a band of lost boys in Neverland has captivated readers and viewers alike for ages. Peter Pan is set in the grim reality of early twentieth century London where children were often kidnapped and sent on to gristly fates. The story weaves a lovely fantasy about what happens to those kids later. The main characters, Peter Pan and Wendy Darling are torn between the joys of freedom and the warmth of love. So this is also a story about different choices and how lives turn out in consequence. And finally it is also a thrilling tale of pirates, fairies, flying boys and magic.

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In talking about worlds that don’t exist, fantasy could take the form of predictive stories and merge with science fiction. Some modern fiction that doesn’t carry Science Fiction’s serious, high-brow tones, could fit into Fantasy.

6. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

This book finds a home in every geek’s heart, right next to the Star Wars mania. What started as a BBC radio series, caught popular sentiment so hard that it didn’t take the story long to make it into print. Due to its orgins, there is a reckless pace and rambling flow to the story, that curiously only makes it even better. The book starts with the Earth getting blown up to make way for a hyperspace
bypass, an event that, typical of governmental procedures, no one on the planet knows anything about. Steeped in British humour, the Guide lists such useful tips such as the importance of towels, how to make a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster (which feels like having your head smashed with a golden brick that has a slice of lemon wrapped around it) and the danger of listening to Vogon poetry (‘Ode to a lump of green putty I found in my armpit this morning’).

7. Discworld – Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett paints a picture of Discworld as a flat world, carried on the backs of four elephants, which themselves stand together atop a giant turtle. The stories feature fantasy favorites like vampires and witches and glide from modern pop references to current political events to sheer funny fiction. My favorite Discworld books are not by title since every single one I’ve read is a real gem, but the ones with brightly illustrated covers since they capture the madness of
Discworld beautifully.

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Then there are the stories that really don’t sit comfortably in the genres they should seem to belong to, at a glance (Science-fiction, Horror etc). I think they’ll all find a home in Fantasy too.

8. Harry Potter – J K Rowling

No modern list of fantasy can be complete without a reference to the world’s most famous schoolboy. The story of a 11-year-old orphan who discovers that he is actually a wizard, has enthralled readers across the world. Harry Potter is undoubtedly the cult classic of our times and brought an entire generation of children back to the world of books. The series successfully combines two very popular genres – boarding school stories and fantasy. It draws liberally from
earlier fantasy references like trolls, dragons and wizards but also adds more contemporary facets like time travel, sports matches and subtle political satire. Turn your nose up at the pulpiness of the story or ravage it like it’s the last food on earth, you haven’t lived in our times if you haven’t read Harry Potter.

9. Twilight – Stephenie Meyer

Possibly the second most popular teen cultural reference after Harry Potter is the love story of a human being and a vampire. These books have also been categorized as horror and teen fiction. But the story’s origins are pure fantasy, right from the blood-thirsty ‘bad’ vampires to the boy next door who turns into a ferocious werewolf.

10. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass – Lewis
Carrol (Charles Dodgson)

Rumour has it that Alice was based on a nine-year-old girl that Charles Dodgson (who wrote under the name of Lewis Carroll) befriended. One afternoon, while out boating with Alice Liddell and her equally young sisters, Dodgson set about telling them a story to amuse them. The story began with Alice noticing a rabbit in a waistcoat who kept glancing at a pocket watch and muttering, “I’m late!”. Alice followed the rabbit down a rabbit hole and began a series of adventures ranging from changing in size, attending a mad tea-party, listening to a mind-twisting story and meeting all kinds of creatures, fictitious and otherwise. Dodgson was a professor of mathematics and perhaps that’s why there are hidden references to logical and mathematical conundrums. Also, the first book ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is based on pack of playing cards while the second traces a chess game through the movement of the key characters in the book. Read the books for these hidden gems or just for the story – Alice is a delightful read for children
and adults, either way.

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If you liked this post, also read another of my FriendsOfBooks posts: ‘10 Great Vacation Reads For Children‘.

Modern Lady of Traditional Build Meets Magic & Muggles

No.1 Ladies Detective AgencyMy latest fascination is for the Botswana of Mma.Precious Ramotswe. I’m talking about the main character of ‘The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency‘ and her world. There are those who write well, there are tales that make you think. Alexander McCall achieves both with his series about a  proud African lady detective. Mma.Ramotswe has an opinion on politics, morality, relationships and business. She is a modern lady of traditional build.

It has been a fair while since I could wax eloquent about a book. Alexander McCall Smith gives us six:

  • The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency
  • Tears of the Giraffe
  • Morality for Beautiful Girls
  • The Kalahari Typing School for men
  • The Full Cupboard of Life
  • Blue Shoes and Happiness

Mma. Ramotswe’s Botswana is gentle, unostentatious and simple. The problems she attempts to solve involve other people’s errors of judgement and plain human folly. Her methods combine logic, intuition and some traditional Botswana values. And they work! You know how the mark of a good book is that it gives you something to think about every time you read it? I’ll add to that, a good book, like a good person also helps you see a side of yourself.

I’ve been going through this series in the past couple of months (occasionally alternated with another book). I’ve also been feeling considerably content with life. Yes, a powerful character, even if she is fictitious can change your way of thinking. And Mma.Ramotswe has all sorts of tricks up her ample sleeve, including the basic yet complex trick of being happy. Read the books, they really are a joyful experience.

In the meantime I wonder what it must feel like to be J.K.Rowling at the

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

moment. She’s one of the richest people in the world, by virtue of her role as creator of Harry Potter, the one and only cult figure in my generation. At the moment, she is also one of the few people who knows exactly what happens to Harry, Ron, Hermione, Snape, Voldemort and the rest of the characters in the magical world that has regaled all of us for the better part of a decade. To those who compare her unfavorably with Tolkien, I think that’s a tad unfair. The influence is undeniable but then who’s denying it? Anyone who has read the works of the father of fantasy cannot help but show traces of his impact. Besides, think….she has brought an entire generation of children back into the world of books. Reading is fashionable again. I admit it isn’t her handiwork alone but she certainly has helped spawn an entire tribe of new readers, not to mention the sub-genre of ‘magical fiction’ that gives us such books as Eragon.

Her website has an amused/stern warning to the kids that frequent her house and rummage her cupboards that,

What they are looking for has long before been moved to a safe location!

🙂 Why blame the kids when hordes of adults are waiting with bated breath for the final instalment of the Hogwarts books?

A few thoughts from someone who’s been following the series closely:

1. Will Harry die in the seventh book? I think not. While Rowling has maintained a trend of killing off a key character in each book, I doubt she’ll attack the protagonist himself. It stops her from writing future (more money-spinning) Potter books, doesn’t it? On the other hand, as the debate goes, she might just do it, just to prevent other authors writing sequels. She has promised to not ‘go the Star Wars way’ and write pre-quels. I’d think her only option is keep Potter’s future open and available for the fans to lap up and keep her in money for a long, long time to come.

2. Did Sirius Black really die? Once again, I doubt it. After all, there wasn’t ever a body or even blood. Remember Gandalf the Grey in Lord of the Rings and his ‘death’ and re-appearance in the third book? Hmm, bear in mind the Tolkien influence.

3. Who on earth is R.A.B.? Her website says that ‘Regulus Black is a very good guess’. I’ve been running through my memory for other characters whose names fit those initials and I’ve come up with duds. No one else. Guess that’s pretty clear then, unless there’s a new character?

4. Somehow I thought Luna Lovegood would make a great partner for Harry Potter. Wasn’t expecting Ginny Weasley…that’s so Bollywood, isn’t it? But then again, I’m partial to the odd one…if I’d been a character in the book, I’d have been Loony Luna.

5. Harry isn’t really a powerful wizard per se. All his victories have been helped greatly by other people – Hermione, Dumbledore, Fawkes the phoenix, members of the Order. The sixth book keeps stressing on how Voldemort has marked him out to be his equal. What if Neville Longbottom, the other option, turns up with hitherto unsuspected genius? He fits the bill too, doesn’t he as the nerdy, unobstrusive, clumsy kid? I’ll bank on this one. I only wish they’d gotten a boy with better teeth to play the role. He’s turning out to be fairly ugly in the movie series.

6. Where’s Percy in all this? And whatever happened to that girlfriend of his who was Petrified in the second book..Penny something I think? If the seventh book really does tie off all loose ends, then there ought to be mention of this somewhere. And Charlie Weasley hasn’t made a satisfactory appearance in the series, except for a brief glimpse in The Goblet of Fire. Who’s betting he’ll be back?

7. I’d love to know more about Mr.Ollivander, the maker of wands. Where did he disappear and what was he all about?

8. Oh and by the way I have some strong notions on the movies. The actor who plays Sirius Black is a shattering disappointment. I was expecting an unshaven, tall rogue with all the dash and glamour of the Bad Boy. Instead they give us someone who looks like a neighborhood goonda gone to seed. While on this, I imagined Lupin to be this nice looking, fairly pleasant faced man. The werewolf-wizard instead looks like a shifty-eyed rascal even in his ‘human’ form. And what’s this about Snape? Instead of lean, lanky, greasy-haired menacing evil, we have someone who just looks like a grumpy Punjabi (incidently have you ever met a grumpy Punju? I haven’t.)

I’ll end this rambling here. The past few days have been spent immersed deeply in the lives of Mma.Ramotswe and Harry Potter and they’re starting to seem more real to me than the rains outside my window. Maybe X is right and I should stop reading so much. On the other hand Botswana and Hogwarts are infinitely more appealing than stressful workplaces, muddy roads, ex-boyfriends and matrimony-obsessed family members.

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