I completely missed the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, yesterday. I found this wonderful article on why The Hobbit has become so popular, over at The Telegraph: The Hobbit, What Has Made It Such an Endearing Success? It's quite a good article, with some food for thought on myths and legends and sources for fantasy. The Hobbit was my introduction to Tolkien and the world of fantasy, it will always be dear to me for that, never mind that it is such a fun story, so well-told, so rich that I can read it over and over and never grow tired of it. That makes it a special book, indeed.
Over at Reuters, there is a lovely article on Alan Garner and why he wrote the newest book, Boneland, in the Colin and Susan series. I have been reading The Weirdstone of Brisingamen for the last little bit. It is even more suprisingly good and deep and dark than I remembered from my long-ago reading of it. I am enjoying his use of setting, place names, and the people. I can feel how much the sense of location and the feeling of myth around works its way through the book, and Garner talks about this in the article I linked you to. He makes a valid point that landscape is necessary to people to not be alienated, that a connection to landscape is needed. This feeling for how the land is, comes through in his books, and I'd forgotten how strong it is.
Myth and landscape
Both article talk about myth, and how myth is needed for us as a civilization. We need stories. We need adventures and heroes, and to venture into the unknown and come back again.
Myth and landscape.....in fantasy, they are intertwined. Place, the story of place, how the mountain got it's name, why the river flows in that shape, how long the old tree has been growing in the field. Do you look around your landscape and feel some connection to it? do you watch it through the seasons? Do you feel a sense of home when you come down the road to your place, do the hills and grasses and animals seem to welcome you back?
We often have bears, moose and deer even here in Ottawa, when the animals come wandering in out of the fields and forests, looking for food. Here's a story from two weeks ago, in the west-end of our city: bears chased from west-end neighborhood. Is it any wonder that so many of our myths and stories feature talking animals, or shapeshifters, or ancestors who are honoured animals? We have skunks, raccoons, and rabbits as neighbors, even here in the middle of the city. I have seen snakes, frogs and turtles during my many walks in my neighborhood, thanks to the Mud Lake Preserve two blocks from our house. Does a bog creature live in there? perhaps, the water is deep enough.....
Magic and myth in the world
Fantasy is about taking that first step out there, into the wild, out of the city, into the forest, the river, the nature preserve, the countryside, and into myth, and legend, folk-story, fairy tale, the story of encountering the other. There is magic and myth in the world, and fantasy is our modern storytelling way into remembering it, and finding it again. It was reimagined for the modern age in The Hobbit. I for one am always grateful for the wonder and imagination that fantasy brings into my life.
The Hobbit doesn't use the sense of place in the same way that all of Garner's books use, and it's interesting to study them both and see the variety of fantasy at work in both authors. Both have a rich use of language as well, Tolkien drawing on Norse myths and sagas for his world and frame of storytelling, Garner drawing on Celtic myths and fairy tales for his. Tolkien is pure story, Garner is language and mood and landscape. Different kinds of fantasy, both rich and delightful in each of their ways.
I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here on this Saturday night. Mostly I am musing about fantasy, things being stirred up in my mind by both articles. Fantasy is one of my delights in reading, and I wanted to share with you some of what I think fantasy needs to be successful, like The Hobbit is.
What do you think? Have you read either author? Do you find fantasy stirs your sense of wonder and imaginings?