Books + Comics

Oh, the Places I Went

The Chronicles of Narnia: good for more than just lazy Sundays.

Collage by Sonja

In my lifetime, I’ve ridden on the back of a luck dragon named Falkor, played flamingo croquet, and bottled up every human emotion and important memory left in my village (’cause I’m such a giver like that). Technically, I haven’t done any of those things, but because I read so much fantasy literature as a young lass, it feels like I did.

If a book was labeled “young adult fantasy” or “children’s fantasy” or “book for a total dork,” I probably read it. I was in love with Lois Lowry’s Giver trilogy, which was set in a society where people live without emotions, and everyone’s memories are projected onto one young boy. Freaky, right? Lowry’s twisted dystopia sucked everything enjoyable out of life, which made me infinitely more thankful for the world we live in. I also loved the futuristic Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, in which every citizen is given plastic surgery to look perfect. The society depicted in the series isn’t that far off from how the world works now, and the book also contained some weird tech concepts and a human rating system that reminded me of Facebook. And I can’t forget every witty and cynical book by Eva Ibbotson, like The Secret of Platform 13, about a magic paradise hidden under a railway platform, or Island of the Aunts, which concerns a group of crazy old women who kidnap children so that they can help the women take care of weird sea creatures on their uncharted island. (Here’s the thing, though: I was never into Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. I know, I know, how could I not be? I love witches, wizards, and freakishly powerful jewelry, but, for whatever reason, I never really connected with either series.)

I did some pretty awesome exploring at a young age. Whether I was reading about underground goblin kingdoms, psychedelic fantasylands, or time-warped dimensions, I was always so, SO into it. But what was the big deal? Why was I, like so many other kids, totally engrossed and emotionally invested in books about, like, Christ-like lions and elderly women who turn into centaurs?

Because kids lead boring lives, that’s why. Each of these books, no matter how cheesy, helped me escape my dull, elementary existence. All fiction takes us to an imaginary world, but fantasy books do so in the EXTREME. What’s more interesting: a novel about a teen girl who is trying to grow up while dealing with boys and the pressures of high school OR a novel about a teen girl who is trying to grow up AND save her sister’s life by fighting to the death while dealing with boys and the pressures of a murderous government?? The second one, duh. The first is too much like my own life!

Weird books filled with made-up languages and imaginary creatures were my anti-drug as a fourth grader (though, let’s be real, it’s not like I needed an anti-drug). They developed my imagination—I now have an unrealistic confidence in my ability to save my village/my kingdom/the universe. I even started writing my own fantasy book in third grade! So what if I only got about four composition book pages into it? It was still the first thing I had ever written (and attempted to self-publish). Those books inspired me to do something bigger than myself, which probably wasn’t hard seeing as I was eight. And not only was I into stories about fantastical lands, I was also into stories about kids who invented fantastical lands. Art imitates life imitates art. Deep.

Sometimes I feel like I am done with the genre. I’m not going to lie: when I see adults reading Harry Potter, I think it’s a tad bit inappropriate, because a lot of fantasy books aren’t that challenging. But I recently got on the Hunger Games bandwagon after several adult Rookie writers insisted that I read them. As I got older, I realized that a lot of adult books were just as fantastical as the children’s books I had read when I was younger. Isn’t Animal Farm technically a kid’s book? Yeah, it serves as an allegory about the October Revolution—but, c’mon guys, it’s about talking animals. Watership Down is similar in that it’s set in a highly detailed society of rabbits (they have their own mythology!), but the book is essentially a really dark, heroic epic. Wicked:The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the novel that the musical was based on, is a sexually-charged retelling of the Wicked Witch’s life story. See, there are tons of fantasy books for adults that are complex and well-written!

The more unlike life on Earth the book is, the more I’ll probably like it. The weirder the languages, the stranger the creatures, the more dangerous the destination, the better. I couldn’t physically explore Narnia, but at least I came close. ♦

59 Comments

  • MissKnowItAll March 13th, 2012 7:04 PM

    Reading is probably the best way to go exploring without leaving your room. I was obsessed with Harry Potter (cried when I didn’t get my acceptance letter to hogwarts) and still am. The Chrinicles of Narnia were so good and Coraline is also an excellent (and scary) book.

  • queserasera March 13th, 2012 7:09 PM

    i know, it’s totally cliche when people say books take you places, but it’s totally true! animal farm was super tragic and i started hating pigs after that hahaha. i think my favorite fantasy novel ever is the phantom tollbooth! that book totally turned my little 6th grade mind upside down~

    http://mercurialmanic.blogspot.com/

  • KinuKinu March 13th, 2012 7:10 PM

    this is amazingly coooool!! I was a huge reader when I was little( I still am) and whenever me and my sister are talking and I want to go read a book,I always say goodbye.See ya in a few hours,days,months.Like I was leaving for some HUGE adventure .I got into it.LAME
    but if I was reading the book aloud I would say it in a British accent cuz the character was British.I’m LAME!! But that was I got out of the house in my head. Traveled the world under my covers.
    GREATNESS,Hazel!!

    FALKOR IS AWESOME!!!!

  • youngfridays March 13th, 2012 7:13 PM

    “I couldn’t physically explore Narnia, but at least I came close”
    Yes! I was obessesed in year 5 and 6 with the Narnia Chronicles.
    But earlier, I always read books about space and history… hmmm interesting child haha

    xoxo
    faithmrljak.blogspot.com

  • bedazzledbandannas March 13th, 2012 7:19 PM

    this might be the first Rookie post where I’ve actually read almost everything referenced! I feel so accomplished. but I was also (and still am) obsessed with fantasy (including Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings!) and got about ten composition pages into my own fantasy novel when I was nine.
    I also loved the Mortal Engines (Philip Reeve) series. And the His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman) series, and The Wind Singer trilogy!

    • PetitePrince March 13th, 2012 8:01 PM

      OH His Dark Materials !
      I’m not anymore the little girl who used to sneak into her bed to illegaly read books until well, very very late, yet I’m not ashamed to say it is still one of my favorite books.
      One of the great thing about this book -beside the fact that it is totally addictive- is how the first part is really written for children even though it might gave them odd thrills (like this moment when Iorek literally crushes some random person’s head into his big polar bear mouth), but the second and third are really more “grown-up”. Even though the scene is set in a (oh so fantastic) imaginary paralele universe, the characters are so real and complex (I’m weirdly fascinated by Coulter link with Lyra).
      I read the trilogy at 7, 9, 12 and 16, and each time I understood that I had missed something the previous time. And it is a delightful feeling to be surprised again and again by a book that you already know by heart.

      • Liv March 13th, 2012 8:19 PM

        The HDM trilogy is simply the best! There’s a little bit of everything in them for everyone. Marisa Coulter and Lord Asriel are like the trgaic king and queen of all badassery, and I’ll ship them to my grave.

      • bedazzledbandannas March 13th, 2012 11:22 PM

        yes! that’s exactly how I feel. I didn’t really get some of it at seven. but after re-reading them several times, I feel like I’ve been opened up to new meanings I had missed before. and I’m still 16, so hopefully I still have a few more re-reads to go. :)

      • ai-ai March 14th, 2012 11:29 AM

        A while ago I was talking about this with my friends at school and they didn’t understand me at all, so I’m really happy to see that other people who were like this exist! I remember having a crowning moment of “OMG I GET IT!!” when I was reading the books for the second time at 12. And I felt kinda stupid for not seeing all those biblical and symbolic things earlier.

      • all-art-is-quite-useless March 14th, 2012 4:36 PM

        HDM! I these books are so great, but when I’ve tried to talk about them no one ever understands, or just says “Isn’t that like that film, The Golden Compass?” (I’m British, so the first book is called The Northern Lights, unlike the american editions and the film), which means I have to explain how much better the books are than the film (because any of my friends who have seen the film without reading the books, didn’t understand what the film, because it didn’t explain certain HDM jargon and whatever that well, think the books are as boring)

  • arepg March 13th, 2012 7:20 PM

    I’m *so* with you! As a kid (and still) I really loved reading about characters who were different than me: fantasy scenarios, characters with different lives (S.E. Hinton was my favorite!), etc.

    It seems like reading about many diverse characters and situations opens kids’ eyes to the ways that there are so many different people in the real world, too, potentially making them more tolerant and understanding of difference. At least, that’s what I want to believe. Plus, they’re wicked delightful.

    —Rebecca @ Crunchings and Munchings
    http://crunchingsandmunchings.wordpress.com/

  • AnguaMarten March 13th, 2012 7:26 PM

    i freaking love fantasy. my favorites were/are harry potter, discworld, coraline, american gods, animal farm, phantom tollbooth, alice in wonderland, percy jackson, tiffany aching, seven realms, skellig, castle in the air, the graveyard book, artemis fowl, and probably others.

    • wilde-steinbeck March 14th, 2012 2:34 AM

      AHHH The Phantom Tollbooth is so good!

    • ai-ai March 14th, 2012 11:35 AM

      I still keep asking myself “What would Tiffany Aching do?” when I have a lot of chores and things I don’t want to get started with. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I’d love to be such a trustworthy and diligent person as her.

  • Vetra March 13th, 2012 7:30 PM

    Yeah! I am from Indonesia and fortunately our publisher also publish imported books and ta-da Eva Ibbotson’s cool novels came to my life!!!

    I am so thankfully Indonesia publisher publish it!
    And thankyou to Hazel for share your story, this is just really like me :)

    • nabilaLP March 14th, 2012 3:26 AM

      i’m also from Indonesia and i absolutely LOVE Eva Ibbotson :D Island of the Aunts(or Monster Mission) is my favorite, Dial-A-Ghost a close second. As a kid I was obsessed with fantasy books, also: books about girls in boarding schools(Enid Blyton, anyone?).

      http://theeighthdwarf.blogspot.com/

  • Mags March 13th, 2012 7:42 PM

    In defense of children’s and young adult books, I have to say that I’ve read some YA that was ten times better than any adult book. YA/children’s literature can be incredibly complex and amazing.

    • wilde-steinbeck March 14th, 2012 2:33 AM

      What books? Not trying to criticize, just honestly wondering! I often read YA literature and find my self groaning out loud at how oversimplified (and sometimes, scientifically inaccurate) it is.

  • tellyawhat March 13th, 2012 7:43 PM

    The Giver was a trilogy???

    • Phoebe March 13th, 2012 7:52 PM

      It’s part of a “loose trilogy” along with “Gathering” and “Messenger Blue.”

      • Leanna March 13th, 2012 10:23 PM

        I didn’t know this either. Something else to add to my list for next time I go to the library.

  • moonchild March 13th, 2012 7:43 PM

    OH MY GOD THE GIVER! That was my favorite book in second grade! (And third, and *maybe* fourth) And also, HARRY POTTER! skldjfsldkjsdlfkfjsdlkfj yeah, I ranted about that on a DIFFERENT post so… . I’m not gonna say anything about that. And also, I loved a Wrinkle In Time! SOOOOOOOO good. :)

    The thing is, with these books you are ACTUALLY in a different world. It’s not just a different life to live, its a WHOLE NEW WORLD where our standards don’t matter… Like a new start. The hp world TOTALLY immerses me. When I feel JUST COMPLETELY DONE with this world, I can just be a wizard, and be like, OH MUGGLES. THEY ARE SUCH LOSERS. :)

    Gwen
    http://under-a-bridge.blogspot.com/

    • moonchild March 13th, 2012 7:47 PM

      Oh and also, Animal Farm was so good. IT MADE ME CRYYYYYY.

      And I actually filled 20 pages of a composition book with MY fantasy novel!

      AND OH MY GOD THE NEVERENDING STORY! I TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT THAT!

      Ah the memories…

      • Marguerite March 13th, 2012 8:27 PM

        uh animal farm creeps me out – like im pretty sure i had nightmares- i really don’t like that book- i too was crying when the animals couldn’t stand up for themselves…

      • wilde-steinbeck March 14th, 2012 2:31 AM

        Animal Farm (and George Orwell overall!) is the BESTTTTT

    • KinuKinu March 13th, 2012 10:01 PM

      Yeah!! I started reading HP when I was in the first grade.As you can imagine,I was totally immersed in the WHOLE thing.Yeah,this is really mean but I would pass some stranger in the grocery store and be like,muggle…pfft.I WAS and AM a WITCH.
      My classmates were freaked out by this .of course.I was the only person in the class with a book longer then 10 pages and no pictures ,except at the beginning of every chapter. FREAKY.
      I used to whisper freaky chants if somebody called them…..IT WORKS!! they will never speak to you AGAIN

  • Stephanie March 13th, 2012 7:48 PM

    Loved this post, Hazel and totally adored all of these books you mentioned. I lived at the library when I was a kid as well as in the many worlds where these books took me.

  • Adrienne March 13th, 2012 8:18 PM

    Yes! This post is like my childhood. I love the Narnia series, A Wrinkle in Time, His Dark Materials series, and I can’t think of the rest!

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • Lydia March 13th, 2012 8:25 PM

    Eva Ibbotson! I LOVED HER! My elementary school memories are marked by all of my favorite books during that time.

  • March 13th, 2012 8:37 PM

    AAHHH!! This post basically describes my entire life. I love the Hunger games and the giver (I literally drove like two hours to a book store in new Jersy just to meet the author). also have to claim my love for Harry potter here, I think that was the only part of the article that differed from my taste in books.

  • joZ13 March 13th, 2012 8:38 PM

    I’m officially “grown up” and I still find myself in the juvenile section of my library looking for Joan Aiken and Diana Wynn Jones…if it’s good, it’s good!

  • missblack March 13th, 2012 8:51 PM

    Ohh I have been reading so much dystopian fiction lately…and fantasy too, actually. They’re some of my favorite genres although I’m always a little depressed after I read books like that because my own life is so much less awesome.
    When I was little I read Brian Jacques’ Redwall series like they were my lifesource and was determined that someday I’d be a knight like Matthias.
    Sadly that has not yet happened.

    Little&Trivial

  • Lurkingshadows March 13th, 2012 8:58 PM

    Uglies, the Giver trilogy, and the Hunger Games? Wow that’s amazing. Although the recent popularity and tainted image people are portraying of The Hunger Games is kind of driving me insane. Crazyness.

  • Katherine March 13th, 2012 9:28 PM

    One of my happiest memories is of the day I learned how to draw a tesseract, and on stormy nights I have been known (to the chagrin of my family) to throw open the door and declare, “Wild nights are my glory!”

  • fizzingwhizbees March 13th, 2012 10:02 PM

    Harry Potter may technically be a kids’ book, but it is definitely not just for kids! Besides, there’s nothing wrong with liking young adult books – the line that divides them from adult novels is kind of nebulous and arbitrary anyway.

    Also, EVA IBBOTSON YES VERY GOOD

  • Tyknos93 March 13th, 2012 10:26 PM

    I just LOVE reading. It’s difficult once you get out of like high-school, because your forced to. When you leave it’s just like why bother?
    I just got really into Edgar Allen Poe. He invited the detective genre and alot of his stories have supernatural and dark implications. I read to my kid brothers in accents and weird voices all the time.
    *ANNNNND I did one of my Senior year history papers on George Orwell!!

  • ghostlightshow March 13th, 2012 10:29 PM

    Fantasy novels were such a huge part of my childhood! And while I’ve mostly lost interest in fantasy novels and moved on to “adult” literature, I recently reread the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman and found it to be just as absolutely amazing and stunning and beautiful as I remembered it being all the many times I read it as a child. Also, was anyone else into the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix?

    • PetitePrince March 14th, 2012 12:57 AM

      I’m going crazy about this article actually.
      (I above explained my inconditional love for His Dark Materials)
      Reading the article and then the comments, I discovered book I never heard of and have to add a lot to my never ending “I want to read you list”.
      And it also reminds me how pasionated I was about fantasy when I was a kid. I actually have this memory of my best friend and me at 10, contesting to see who would first finish the new HP. We would drag the book EVERYWHERE with us, even in class, where we hurried to finish our exercises so we could read a few more pages while “waiting” for the others to be over. (We went through the 1000 pages in one week and a half. HAHA)

      Thank you soo much for sharing (:

  • wilde-steinbeck March 14th, 2012 2:30 AM

    This kind of makes me sad… I’m 13, and although I love The Chronicles of Narnia, I prefer John Steinbeck or Leo Tolstoy to fantasy any day. I tried reading The Hobbit… and I found it painfully dull! I physically can’t sit through a young adult novel; I’ve tried time and time again, but it seems like they’re always loaded with sexist, racist, and ageist stereotypes and I can’t do it! Even though I ♥ certain young adult novels, I feel like I relate more with Konstantin Levin then any teenage girl I’ve ever read about! What’s wrong with me?

    [P.S. But The Hunger Games and The Giver are really good. Also, I love The Outsiders.
    (P.S.S. Animal Farm is sensational.)]

  • ellaronnie March 14th, 2012 3:06 AM

    I’ve never been able to read young adults books. I read the first two books in the Narnia series, but felt as if I was too old for books like that. So as soon as I turned 11 I convinced my mother to let me read books of murder and graphic sex scenes.
    I wish I read more fantasy. I’m trying to make up for it now.

    imaginenonsense.blogspot.com/

  • Joyce March 14th, 2012 3:30 AM

    I am so happy when I came upon this article. Fantasy literature = childhood.
    The Harry Potter series basically opened the doors for me to read more books. And it will forever be my all-time favorite book series. I have tried reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy but stopped for it did not connect to me at all. One of my favorite authors as a child and probably until now :P) is Roald Dahl. I read and cherished all of his books. And the Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate and The Spiderwick Chronicles are huge huge parts of my growing-up. When I was in high school, I read more of YA fantasy novels like The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Percy Jackson and The Olympians, The Hunger Games, and The Mortal Instruments.
    Right now, I rarely read books from such genre. I’m studying Literature and am now reading a lot of classic and contemporary novels, from Tolstoy to Garcia Marquez — and enjoying everything.
    Thank you for this article. It made me remember how fantasy books shaped me as a reader.

  • Abi March 14th, 2012 11:21 AM

    I can’t believe you mentioned The Princess and The Goblin!

  • aqueenbeeseaqueen March 14th, 2012 2:41 PM

    i literally like every single book you mentioned.

  • whisperedglasswords March 14th, 2012 2:54 PM

    I completely agree with you! Fantasy books are quite possibly the best invention concerning entertainment for kids, teens and adults alike! Honestly, though, I’ve never really judged adults if they read YA books since there are so many extremely good stories and authors in that genre. They might be written at a lower age level, but the enjoyment of the reading stays the same. :) I’m proud to say I’ve nearly all but two of the books mentioned here, and I feel quite accomplished! And, I must agree with you about the Giver Trilogy and the Uglies series being awesome. They’re some of my favorite, along with all of Cassandra Claire and Cornelia Funke. Oh! And not to mention Divergent, my latest favorite read…..god, I’m so obssessed with reading…. xD

  • Abby March 14th, 2012 3:36 PM

    I’m really proud that I got all of the references you made in the first chapter haha. I love you. But I also don’t like you a little bit because you don’t like Harry Potter… Oh well. I still love you. Also, The Giver was the weirdest/best book I read in elementary school. Also also, Bridge to Terabithia is SOOO GOOD. It made me cry when I was seven, and it still makes me cry today. I’m nearly eighteen ha.

  • koolkat March 14th, 2012 4:59 PM

    oh my god I remember being like seven and my mum reading A Wrinkle In Time to me! It was mind boggling, although I don’t like the rest of the series. This article basically summed up my childhood.

  • Saraleebread March 14th, 2012 6:42 PM

    I’m really into the Hunger Games right now (I’m not sure if it’s the whole I love Petta thing or the messed up government book is fun to read). But when I was younger I always read the Narnia books. I think the first actual chapter book I read was Harry Potter. I was actually more into the Nancy Drew Books over fantasy when I was younger. I still am. :D But I loved Narnia because it was different.

  • canklesandclothes March 14th, 2012 7:24 PM

    I totally get the whole Hunger Games thing – in that, I’ve never read them. The amount of friends who have told me I have to. Like you, i just feel that it’s time for me to read more adult books. (Even though, hypocritcally enough, every now and then I re read old favourties like Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, or Narnia.) HOWEVER, with the endorsement of someone who also feels like adults need to read more challenging things, I’ll probably try them out for size at some point in the future. . .

  • middlechild March 14th, 2012 7:34 PM

    It’s so funny how much I can relate with this! I myself never liked Harry Potter. I think it was because everyone else had already read the books. I was a kid who liked to be different! I was also a HUGE fan of The Keys to the Kindoms series by Garth Nix.
    I miss being little and yet I like being able to stay up latter.

  • Hedwig March 14th, 2012 10:12 PM

    I think most of the lessons in kids books have yet to be taken to heart by many adults. If people think more about everything they can find thousands of wise thoughts in simple stories. Complex stories are just a bunch of simple ones.

  • beckyn March 15th, 2012 2:52 AM

    “because a lot of fantasy books aren’t that challenging.” UM. Excuse me. Have you even read any adult fantasy?

  • cleobea March 17th, 2012 2:57 AM

    OH MY GOD THE GIVER IS THE BEST BOOK EVER! I also read it with the best english teacher there is, so that adds to it. But I fell in love with reading with that book. I cried my eyes out at the end of that book. Sad it was over, more than anything. I convinced myself he hadn’t died. But then in class, I told the whole class it was death, and convinced myself of it too, but it seemed right. I love that book!

  • Kate March 19th, 2012 11:09 PM

    I’m so glad to see that other people love Eva Ibbotson! I loooove The Star of Kazan (and basically all of her books, but that’s the one I have and still reread).

  • hdotgermaine March 22nd, 2012 1:18 AM

    You HAVE to read the Edward Eager books. They were my absolute favorites growing up and they are all about fantasy.

  • lavendersparrow April 20th, 2012 7:22 PM

    I still read almost all the books that you mentioned even though I’m not a kid anymore. They still transport me into another fantasy world. When I first read the Chronicles of Narnia, I explored every closet and wardrobe in the house to see if they led me to Narnia. Great article!

    http://lavendersparrow.wordpress.com/

  • KayKay April 21st, 2012 3:06 AM

    As I child I was very selective about the fantasy books I read, meaning I pretty much only read fantasy books when they were assigned for class. However, I did get in to Harry Potter last June (I know, I know, ONLY LAST JUNE? OMG HOW CAN YOU, YOU RUINED YOUR OWN CHILDHOOD) and Hunger Games a while ago, which I both really loved. I also had to read Animal Farm for History class.

    However, my sister reads fantasy books, like, exclusively, which I think is great because having a wild imagination is usually very under-appreciated. I mean, come on, imagination is like a super power. You can create ANYTHING YOU WANT right up their in your brain. I think that’s pretty awesome.

  • royal_futura April 21st, 2012 6:29 AM

    My favorite, besides Alice In Wonderland which remains one of my favorite books to this day, was Julie Andrews’ (yes! THE Julie Andrews of The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, etc) children’s fantasy book The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. I loved that book so much, in third grade I dressed up as a Whangdoodle for Halloween (the description of the Whangdoodle was one of my favorite paragraphs of this book!) and none of the other kids in class had any clue what the heck I was supposed to be. It was magical!

    I also LOVED classic children’s literature such as the original Peter Pan, Treasure Island, etc. which were even more magical than their subsequent Disney adaptations. Who could forget the literary Captain Hook, who was such a potent comic villain: jealous, pouty, and vain.

    Also, does anyone remember Five Children and It? Written in 1902, it was a fanciful book about five children who find a grumpy sand fairy who grants them wishes which all go comically awry.

    And of course, +1 for the Redwall series mention. No one can make me cry like Brian Jaques and his baby hedge-hogs with speech impediments, sentimental wise-cracking hare soldiers and tough-as-nails warrior heroines. He got me every time!

  • Calla_Lily June 10th, 2012 9:13 PM

    I kid not, Wicked is my FAVORITE book! I was probably eight when I first started reading it. (I did get a LOT of strange looks from some adults…) I think I spent a period of my childhood wanting to be Elphaba. I still do, actually!