Sorry about today. Family things cropped up. It happens. Anyway, a comment from tarkinlyon sparked today's topic. So, let's blame tarkinlyon if this doesn't work out. (I'm joking, of course. We can still blame Charlie for leaving you in my hands. Oh, okay. I guess you can blame me. If you really want to.)
Tarkinlyon asked which Fantasy books took me away to another place? Since I'm a habitual reader--I don't go anywhere without a book on my person--the list is vast. However, there were a limited number that were life-changers. So, I'll talk about those. Also? I'm not going to limit myself to Fantasy. I'm getting the impression that y'all seem to think women don't read SF. Or maybe it's just that you feel I don't? I'm not sure which. Nonetheless, here goes...
Learning to read wasn't easy for me. It wasn't until I understood that books were actually tickets to new and interesting places and adventures I couldn't otherwise have that I actually got interested in reading. The very first book to open the way for me was a biography of Helen Keller published by Scholastic Books. I knew that if she could do all the amazing things with her life that she did, I could do the same. I identified with her for a whole host of reasons. Then came A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I think it was the first SF novel I ever read. It blew my mind. Not only was the main character a female, but Meg's mother was a scientist. It was the first time I saw a grown woman in SF Doing Things. Combined with Mrs. Peel and Uhura on Star Trek, I got the idea that I really could do anything I wanted. I even fantasized about being an astronaut or a scientist. L'Engle hooked me on SF books as Nichelle Nichols did Star Trek.** I read SF like mad after that. I think it helped even more that it felt like contraband.
The next book that really affected my life was The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I became obsessed. I read everything about Tolkien and Middle Earth that I could get my hands on. I liked to draw. So, I spent hours drawing different characters. I re-read the books over and over. I read The Silmarillion at least three times. (That's hard core as anyone familiar with Tolkien's work knows.) That was when I started writing. My parents grew worried that I was turning into some sort of demonic, mental, freak. My books started vanishing from the shelves. I got lectured about my reading material. I was told I shouldn't write. (Girls can't grow up to be writers, see.) Finally, they consulted the family priest. Father Mulvihill, a Jesuit that taught High School, laughed and told them to calm down. "She's reading Tolkien? That's wonderful! She's fine. Tolkien was a nice Catholic writer. Here," Father Mulvihill said, handing them a boxed set of books. "Have her read C.S. Lewis next. She'll love it." I never got into C.S. Lewis. He was too preachy for me, but I never forgot what Father Mulvihill did for me. (And if you want to know where Father Murray comes from, it's Father Mulvihill.)
After that, I went through a phase where I didn't read anything but Fantasy. However, it started to get repetitive. <cue bored tone> Male [secretly royal] character goes off on a journey to find a [ring/stave/wand/gem-pick one save others for the rest of the series] of extreme power. While on the road he collects several friends [all male] who just happen to have abilities he might need in the end. Male character acquires magic item and incidentally picks up a princess somewhere in a treasure room. The End.</cue bored tone> After the 57th such mindless book, I dumped Fantasy and never wanted to go back. I read SF. I read Horror. I read Mystery. I read Classics. I did not ever read Fantasy.
I went through a Heinlein phase before I discovered he didn't seem to be even passingly familiar with the alien creature called "woman." (This, in spite of being able to imagine all sorts of alien creatures and understand them.) Dune was huge for me. (Except for the hokey ending.) I re-read the first book quite a few times. (My then Southern Baptist boyfriend was horrified. OMG! Spice might = drugs!) I read Omni magazine too. Later, I subscribed to Wired magazine when Omni went away. The only comics I would read were Gaiman's Sandman. I was serious about my SF.
And then I met my husband, Dane, who attempted to introduce me to this terribly nice Fantasy series called Discworld. I wasn't having it. Nope. No. More. Fantasy. Ever. "Okay," Dane said. Dane is--luckily for me--ever the patient man. "You like Neil Gaiman, don't you? Here, read Good Omens." Yeah. Good Omens was (to steal an expression from a punk friend) like having a bomb go off in my brain. Little did I know that Gaiman was a gateway drug into Terry Pratchett. With that, I discovered what I was missing by being so judgemental about Fantasy and even humor.
Now I read everything.
* For those unfamiliar with the term, it's a reference to a type of Disneyland ride.
** I did get into Jonny Quest and Dark Shadows first, however. I blame Jonny Quest for giving me the impression that girls didn't have adventures. They never bothered explaining what happened to Jonny's mother from what I recall. She simply didn't exist and never had. No one missed her. It was as if Jonny was some sort of mutant hatched from an egg in his father's lab. That, combined with my truncated experience with Peter Pan*** gave me the impression that girls weren't welcome in Adventureland.
*** Mom stopped reading at the part where Wendy is shot down by the Lost Boy and is entombed in that mausoleum er... the little house for daring to fly to, let alone set foot on, Neverland. Yeah. Yikes.