Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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*****= An all-time favorite
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****The Wand in the Word

Conversations with Writers of Fantasy

compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus

Reviewed June 30, 2006.
Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006.  202 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (J MCN 813.009 WAN).

I liked this book so much, I definitely want to buy my own copy.  Although it is packaged as being for young adults, any fan of these authors, or anyone interested in writing fantasy would enjoy it.  So many of my favorite authors are represented here.  I was especially delighted when I turned a page and found a picture of Franny Billingsley smiling out at me—Franny was also at the wonderful children’s writers’ conference I attended in Paris last November. 

These are the authors from Wand in the Word whose books I have reviewed on this site:  Lloyd Alexander, Franny Billingsley, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula K. LeGuin, Madeleine L’Engle, Garth Nix, and Jane Yolen.  Actually, I’ve read books by the other five authors interviewed, but before I was writing Sonderbooks.

One of the fun things this book includes, besides pictures of the authors and pictures of them as children, is a picture of a draft of one of their books.  We see that nobody writes perfectly the first time!

The writers talk about many different things in their interviews, musing about writing, about fantasy, about their approach to their work.  Leonard Marcus says, “A good interview, like any good conversation, is exploratory in nature, with much of the fun and satisfaction stemming from not knowing just where the talk will take you.”  He has given us some excellent interviews!

Here are some gems from some of these great writers:

Lloyd Alexander:  “Hope is an essential thread in the fabric of all fantasies, an Ariadne’s thread to guide us out of the labyrinth. . . .  Human beings have always needed hope, and surely now more than ever.”

“Paradoxically, fantasy is a good way to show the world as it is.  Fantasy can show us the truth about human relationships and moral dilemmas because it works on our emotions on a deeper, symbolic level than realistic fiction.  It has the same emotional power as a dream.”

“I think fantasy does show us the truth of our own lives.”

Franny Billingsley:  “Fantasy allows you to step outside our world and look at it with a little bit of perspective.”

“Writing connects me with myself.  This is what I most love about it, although it’s sometimes easy to forget because writing is so horribly hard—like digging in a quarry with a butter knife.”

What Susan Cooper likes best about being a writer:  “Being able to go into this other place and live there for a while.  Writing the kinds of stories I like to read.  But mostly it’s the sense of discovery, which you don’t get every day in real life.”

Nancy Farmer:  “The world is composed of great sorrow and great joy.  It has a grandeur beyond anything I can describe, but this I can say:  to know what you are and where you belong is the true meaning of Magic.”

Brian Jacques:  “I love it that as a writer you work with the poetry and music of words.  Words are as wild as rocky peaks.  They’re as smooth as a millpond and as sunny as a day in a meadow.  Words are beautiful things.  Every word matters.”

Diana Wynne Jones:  “Later, I came to think that if only people then had read a little more fantasy, they would have known Hitler for a dark lord.”

Ursula K. Le Guin:  “The word invent (or even making up) has always seemed a little too intentional and deliberate for what I do, which feels more like finding things, coming upon them—places, people, patterns.  But then, invention really does mean finding, coming to something, doesn’t it?  Exploration is a very good word for what one does when thinking about a story before writing and while writing it.  You are exploring a territory, finding out what happens there.  Only you do it with thoughts, images, words, instead of with your body.”

Madeleine L’Engle:  Fantasy is written in “the only language in the world that cuts across all barriers of time, place, race, and culture.”

“Something has to be true to be real, but it doesn’t have to be real to be true.”

“I have always believed that if God made everything, he had to have liked it.”

“Fantasy gives you options.  It’s an attempt to touch on reality, in a way that can’t be done better otherwise.”

“Writing helps you to keep open and not close down.  It helps you to keep on growing.”

Garth Nix:  “I still love popping into a library and just wandering through the stacks.”

Tamora Pierce:  “And that’s why I tell schoolchildren:  You know those things that you feel you have to know everything possible about—crocheting or dressage or ballet—and you go after it hammer and tongs for six or eight months and then get interested in something else and you go after it?  And you parents say you have no follow-through?  Actually, you’re laying the base for your creativity.  That obsession may not seem important now, but you’ll be able to draw on it later.”

Terry Pratchett:  “Fantasy is like an exercise bicycle for the mind.  It might not actually take you anywhere, but it does exercise the muscles that will.”

Philip Pullman:  “Imagination is not ‘making up strange things.’  Imagination is giving a true account of realistic things.”

“You can approach any task, even the dullest one, like washing dishes, and do it in a way that’s better than other ways:  simply and clearly and well.  There’s a satisfaction in doing something that way.  And of course the same holds true for writing.”

Jane Yolen:  “Memory and story are related.  When I write down something that happened to me, I am apt to change what happened to make a better story of it.  Story revises memory to get at the truth.  I’ve always loved the paradox that in storytelling you have to lie in order to tell the truth.”

“Never let anyone tell you you’re not any good.  You’re always going to get some rejections, so you have to have inside of you a sense that what you are doing is good and important.”

Review of another book compiled and edited by Leonard Marcus:
Dear Genius
Listening for Madeleine
You Can't Say That
Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing
Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration

Copyright © 2006 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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