To Infinity, and Beyond

At the Hub, Jessica Miller has a fantastic post about the growing number of YA science fiction books. Right now, there are some great options for middle readers (A Wrinkle in Time, anyone?) but there aren’t a lot for slightly older teens. Even though I hadn’t thought about this before, I felt the same way. I loved L’Engle’s books and others like it, but there’s a fairly large shift between that and adult sci-fi or fantasy. When I read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End in seventh grade, I thought it was interesting, but I certainly was hooked enough to pick up his other books, even though he’s an excellent writer. I needed that bridge. As a result, whenever my husband tries to convince me that I actually do like sci-fi, I try to argue–even though I usually enjoy whatever I read or watch.

I think the shift might be inspired by the recent popularity of YA dystopian society novels. There’s obviously a huge market for YA sci-fi, and I’m glad there will be more books for these readers to enjoy. I also think this will be very helpful for female YA readers, who might have been intimidated by the current masculine vibe in the sci-fi section of the bookstore. (I know I was.)

In her post, Miller shares a list of YA sci-fi books. I know I’ll be picking up at least a few of these. Maybe this will finally help me admit that I am a fan of science fiction; I just needed that bridge.

Religion in Wrinkles

Austin Allen looks at how Madeleine L’Engle combines fantasy and religion in her potentially most famous work, A Wrinkle in Time:

“I think she’s being careful, ducking accusations of parochialism, and leaving everything up to the reader’s interpretation. But I also think the variety of her idols suggests a restless imagination, one that was more confined than inspired by doctrinaire Christianity. Her impulse toward sermonizing wrestles with her impulse toward a vision that is—like her extraterrestrials and shimmering presences—unclassifiable.”

This is one reason that I like L’Engle’s work in general. She acknowledges a greater purpose in the general and, even as she tends toward the Christian, suggests that whatever the universe is, it’s beyond our current power of comprehension. But that doesn’t mean we should strive to reach out toward it.

We Live in a Magical World

From The Horn Book’s interview with literary master Jane Yolen:

Do you believe in magic?

I believe there are prestidigitators who can do card tricks and saw-the-woman-in half tricks. I believe there are politicians who can make us believe up is down and wrong is right. I believe there are preachers who try to sell us a mess of pottage.

And then I believe that an owl in flight, a hawk in stoop, an otter rising out of the duckweed, a triple rainbow over the Isle of May, the New Jersey skyline as seen from the Highline in Manhattan on a night of the full moon, the small greenings of spring, honeybees on a blossom, and a newborn’s finger curled around mine are small everyday miracles, another word for ordinary magic. And that I believe in.

Oh — and if anyone can show me a real fairy, or a ghost, or a unicorn, I am so there . . . .

Challenge accepted, Jane.

Click through for more of Yolen’s thoughts on fairy tales, contemporary fantasy novels, and her latest novel, Snow in Summer.

PS–Yolen also has some great suggestions for writers on her website.

It’s a Dangerous Business, Frodo, Going out Your Door.

Even if you don’t read much fantasy, you’re probably familiar with the name J.R.R. Tolkien. Author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, he basically created modern fantasy and influence many writers in following generations. And today is his birthday! The Hub has a great post about Tolkien’s influence on contemporary literature.

To celebrate, here’s the trailer of the upcoming movie version of The Hobbit:

Let’s all be a little more adventurous today!

Making the Magic Happen

We probably all wish that we could cast spells and charms, but let’s face it: magic is hard. Even for writers. Although magical elements are really fun in novels, they can present an author a whole new set of rules. Over at Literary Rambles, Laura Lascarso talks about making magic real in writing. She uses Ella Enchanted, a personal favorite, to explore the development of a magical world. A couple of her suggestions:

Introduce magic early on. In the first chapter, there should be a hint of the supernatural. It’s not cool to get halfway through a book and discover that your main character is really a mummy without several big hints along the way. It works against a reader’s suspended disbelief. In EE, Ella is cursed by a fairy as an infant and it’s introduced in the very first paragraph. Straight away, the reader knows what kind of story this is going to be and can adjust their expectations accordingly.”

I think readers are a lot more willing to accept magical elements if they’re introduced early on. Otherwise, a reader might feel like the author has been disingenuous about the characters and their world. Plus, it’s more fun to see magical elements up front. Why hide them?

Lay out the rules for magic and then stick to them. In EE, Ella is cursed with obedience. The rule is, she has to follow a direct order. The book maintains that rule throughout the book—every time Ella is given a direct order, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous, she must follow it. If the rule were to change halfway through the story (without explanation), the reader would balk. Like in playing a game, you can’t change the rules in the middle.”

Wildly important. No matter what kind of world you create, your world needs rules–even magical ones. Trying to change these rules in the middle of your book will just confuse your reader and, again, make them distrust you. A reader can accept even the wildest concept as long as it’s cohesive.

Make sure to check out the full list. How do you keep your magical worlds in order?