Lee’s Homeschool Reading List (3)

Princess and the Goblin.jpg

I think I’ll ask for this for Christmas!

Today I offer up one of my own favorite series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a reader recommendation for a fantasy novel by George MacDonald from 1872.

For ages 12 and under–or over

The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Paperback - First Paperback  Edition - First Printing - 1963 - from Bookmarc Books (SKU: 015121)

A Princess of Mars and its sequels, by ERB–his justly famous novels of earthman John Carter’s adventures on Barsoom, the planet that we know as Mars.

These ignited my imagination as a teenager, and I still enjoy them today. My favorite is No. 5, The Chessmen of Mars, in which a barbaric nation devotes itself to a game of Martian chess played with real warriors who have to battle it out on the chessboard. This weird creation is simply fantastic; but all ten novels in the series are good.

Recommended by Heidi (I haven’t read them yet, but I can’t wait to do so, once my own book is finished), The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, and other works by him–these sound like real winners. MacDonald was a huge influence on a lot of fantasy writers–and not just fantasy writers, either. G.K. Chesterton had very high praise for The Princess and the Goblin. It sounds like a work of truly unfettered imagination.

Political Science–and Tarzan

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1988, Hardcover) for sale  online | eBay

Speaking of orgies of sexual harassment (https://leeduigon.com/2021/10/08/californias-state-legislature-a-tar-pit-of-sexual-harassment-2017/), and the fact that #MeToo went away when they kept finding big-name liberals chasing women into the rest rooms, I learned everything I needed to know about this aspect of politics from just two sources.

First was an account of Czar Peter the Great’s visit to London in 1698. They called it his “Grand Embassy.” The English government provided him and his entourage with a luxury townhouse, servants, and free everything.

And the czar and his entourage, who had apparently never sat on chairs before, wrecked the place. The Grand Embassy behaved like a rock band. They brought horses indoors to race them up and down the marble staircase. They strewed garbage everywhere.

Because they could. No one would dare tell them to stop.

Equally illuminating are Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan stories. In these, the biggest, strongest ape is king until another ape can kill him; and while he’s king, he gets to mate with any female he wants, he’s entitled to first choice of whatever food is going, and there’s no way to hold him accountable for anything he does. Reading these, I got to thinking, “Gee, that sure sounds familiar! Where have I see this before?”

Or rather, where have I not seen it?

That’s the politics of this world: do whatever you please for as long as you can get away with it. The Big Ape rules. That’s the politics of the City of Man.

We prefer the City of God.

‘”John Carter” Movie: Boo! Hiss! Away Wi’ Ye!’ (2012)

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Those old Bob Abbett covers were the best.

I started reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter” books in junior high and have enjoyed them ever since. These are glorious works of art, the best books Burroughs ever wrote. And of course I used to wonder how they might translate to a movie.

Aaaaaagh! They don’t!

‘John Carter’ Movie: Boo! Hiss! Away Wi’ Ye!

Just more proof that Disney Corp has taken the noon balloon and has nothing to offer anymore.

You may wonder what I’m doing, talking about movies on a Sunday.

Well, when the movies are this bad, someone ought to say something. It points to moral and spiritual problems elsewhere.

My Next Book

WindHeaven

The Wind from Heaven is almost ready for publication. Typesetting is all done, and final proofreading is in progress. And after that comes Behold! That should be ready sometime next year.

Ah! But spring is almost here, which means it’s almost time to start writing another one. I’m happy to say I’ve already been given two key pieces of it–one of which has solved a major problem with the plot. There’s stuff going on in Durmurot, and in Lintum Forest, that has to be addressed.

In writing a series of any kind, the writer has to beware of repeating himself. Edgar Rice Burroughs got bogged down with Tarzan and ran off a dozen or more books featuring lost cities. People enjoyed them anyway, but sheesh! You couldn’t throw a brick in Africa without breaking a window in a lost city. I don’t want to do anything like that.

But the new stuff excites me, and I hope it excites my readers, too. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for a catchy title. Sometimes I get badly stuck for a title.

What new stuff? Well, I can’t tell you that, can I?

 

When I Discovered Fantasy…

2 Pellucidar books by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Ace F-158 F-280 | eBay

I was 13 years old when a friend lent me his copy of Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs–adventures in the inside-out world of the hollow earth, complete with dinosaurs and monsters–and it blew me away. I had no idea there were books like this! I couldn’t get enough of them. Happily for me, ERB wrote dozens of books. I’ve still got ’em (paperback price: 35 cents!), and I still read ’em from time to time.

Burroughs introduced me to other worlds, pure fantasy, anything goes. Just like Tarzan went to Pellucidar once.

But then in high school, sophomore year, I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, and oh, brother! This took fantasy fiction a notch higher. I find it bordering on the impossible, to describe how much I enjoyed it. I spent the next ten or twelve years of my life trying to write a fantasy like Tolkien’s. What the heck, everybody else seemed to be doing it–you never saw so many unsatisfying imitations published.

I learned an awful lot about writing by reading and re-reading Burroughs and Tolkien. I also learned to give up trying to imitate them, and just write like myself: took more than a few years to learn how to do that, too. The end result is my Bell Mountain series.

I envy those of you, out there, who’ll someday discover top-flight fantasy, as I did, and just go to town on it. I know reading isn’t as fashionable as it once was. But as much as I love movies, there’s nothing better than a roaring good book. No special effects genius, no cast of actors, no director can ever quite match what that special book can do with your imagination.

Does it serve God? Does it give God the glory? I’d say that depends on what the reader does with it. Tolkien was a devout Christian, and I’m sure he hoped his books would do that. Just as I’m sure that for many readers, they did.

‘My favorite Authors’ (2011)

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Note the cover price–50 cents!

I can’t believe I left Walter R. Brooks off this list. His Freddy the Pig books are among my all-time favorites. Who else would have written about celebrity spiders?

My Favorite Authors

I know, I know–none of these has ever been called Serious Mainstream Literature. You’d never catch Tolstoy writing about celebrity spiders; and Jane Austen wasn’t big on lost cities inhabited by maniacs.

But these are the authors I’ve learned from, and these are the authors whose works I love–and return to again and again.

‘A Potboiler with a Vision’ (2013)

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Bob Abbett’s covers were my favorites.

I love the “Barsoom” novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Not just because they’re fantastic escape reading, and no end of fun–but sometimes he also came out with something wise and prescient.

A Potboiler With a Vision

Synthetic Men of Mars is one of those books that gets smarter as you grow older. If you haven’t read it since you were a teenager, read it again now. It’ll blow you away.

The image of the uncontrollably expanding shapeless mass in Vat Room #4 will stay with you for a long time to come.

Where Wytt Came From

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See the little monkey on Tarzan’s shoulder? His name is Nkima, and he’s the biggest braggart in the jungle–which is kind of funny, because he’s mortally afraid of… everything.

He is also the inspiration for my character, Wytt–who is afraid of… nothing.

What?

People often ask me where my characters come from, and how they end up in my Bell Mountain novels. And if I had to guess, I’d guess that Wytt is probably my most popular character. A lot of readers have told me so. But where did Wytt come from?

If you know me, you know I’m a Tarzan fan. And Nkima is my favorite character in all the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I mean, he’s so full of it! And it’s all hot air. This amuses me: a trait that would be unbearable in a real human being is a lot of fun in Tarzan’s monkey sidekick.

As the Omah creatures began to take shape in my mind, I asked myself, “What would Nkima be like, if all his bluster and bravado were perfectly genuine?” What if he really were as brave and bold as he makes himself out to be? What would that look like, in a little character no bigger than a monkey or a squirrel?

And then I had him–Wytt, Jack and Ellayne’s self-appointed protector and guide, who takes on enemies many times his own size, and lets them have the rough side of his tongue while doing it–and gets away with it. This little tiny hero armed with a tiny stick chewed to a point, who’s always up for any challenge that confronts him. No job is too big for him.

Yeah, he’s kind of easy to like. If Wytt’s your guardian–baby, you are guarded, but good. And given the numerous perils in which Ellayne and Jack have found themselves, he’s been kept rather busy. He’s even had to save Martis once or twice: and Martis is a professional assassin who ought to be able to take care of himself. But some of the adventures are a bit dangerous even for him.

I’m sure Wytt will be up for the next book, whatever the adventure turns out to be.

‘More on My Writing Methods’ (2012)

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The good old stuff

I’ve refined my technique (I hope!) during the seven years since I wrote this–and where did that time go?

More on My Writing Methods

One is always working to refine one’s technique. But one thing hasn’t changed: if you want to be a writer, you still have to listen to other writers. Agatha Christie and Edgar Rice Burroughs are still there to back me up.

Anyway, after seven years of working at it constantly, my literary voice is more my own, and mine only, and someday maybe new writers will try to learn from me.

That’s a rather humbling thought.

How I Fell in Love with Fantasy

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Someone around here was enthused enough to prefer my books to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Well, what can I say?

I first read The Lord of the Rings in high school, and it overwhelmed me. My imagination was already on fire, thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs–first his Pellucidar novels, and then his tales of adventure on Mars. But Tolkien–!

I was astonished that such a book could ever have been written. Burroughs’ books are short; Tolkien’s was a monumental trilogy. You wind up spending a lot of time in it. The marvelous thing about The Lord of the Rings was that it positively came alive for me: it made me believe in the story that it told. Perhaps it was the mass of detail: Tolkien’s imaginary world is vast. To this day, after many re-readings, I’m sure I could find my way around the Shire, and I’m sure I’d like it there. And I’d know which places to avoid–Mordor, Mirkwood, and the Mines of Moria.

I’ve never seen any illustrations of LOTR which satisfied me. That’s because Tolkien’s art made his people and places real to me, as if I’d actually been there, seen them; and any illustration is, of course, someone else’s imagination, and can never show me anything exactly how I’d already imagined it myself.

It gave me a burning desire to write fantasy. I can’t even guess how many pages I turned out in notebooks, and on my old manual typewriter, trying to imitate Tolkien, trying to match him. But I can say it took several decades for me to realize that the world didn’t need another Tolkien: any fantasies I wrote would have to be my fantasies, and no one else’s. And that took another couple of decades to accomplish.

It’s important to remember that when LOTR came out, there was nothing else remotely like it. Since then, the fantasy genre has been suffocated with Tolkien wannabes, shamelessly ripping off his once-upon-a-time unique creation. I still love Tolkien’s Elves and Dwarves and warriors, etc., but find everybody else’s cheap imitations intolerable. I suspect that if my first reading had been now instead of then, it wouldn’t have had the impact that it did.

Burroughs and Tolkien inspired me, and I doubt my own books would ever have been written if I hadn’t read theirs first. I still stand up and salute The Chessmen of Mars, and in my imagination, search for the road to the forest of Lothlorien.