writing life

Origins and Influences: Children’s Fantasy

Earlier this year, I started a series of posts about the works that influenced me, that inspired me to write or to want that kind of story and that have probably shaped what I write now. There were fairy tales and musical theater, girl sleuths and Star Wars. And then I got sidetracked and forgot to continue the series. So, back on track!

In addition to Star Wars, my fourth-grade year also introduced me to a lot of children’s fantasy. My teacher used to read a chapter of a book to us every day after we came in from recess. It was a great way to get everyone settled down again. She’d turn off the lights, so we just had the sunlight coming in through a wall of windows, and we’d sit at our desks (with our heads down if we wanted) while she read. I think that was my first introduction to fantasy. I don’t remember all the books she read, but I do know she read us The Hobbit. It was around the time the animated TV version came out, and they sent the schools a lot of curriculum material to go with it.

She also read us the Roald Dahl books, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and the Great Glass Elevator, the sequel) and James and the Giant Peach. I believe she also read us some of the E.B. White books, including The Mouse and the Motorcycle and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Of course, I wasn’t at all satisfied with the chapter-a-day pace, so if I got into a book she’d started reading us, I’d check it out of the library and read the whole thing right away, then go find everything else by that author. That’s why it’s hard for me to remember exactly which books she read — the ones read in class blur with the ones I sought out on my own after hearing the beginning of a book in class.

It was around this time that I first started getting the itch to write my own stories. I’d always been making up stories in my head, and I sometimes even thought in narrative, but I started wanting to try to write them down, and the books I was reading made me want to tell stories like that. I remember my first attempt coming from an assignment in that class, when we were supposed to write a story about a picture the teacher showed us. I think all she really expected was a paragraph or two, a page at most, but mine spiraled out of control. I had backstory for all the people in the picture and a full plot. I was nowhere near done with it when it was time to hand it in, but after I showed my start to the teacher, she let me take as long as I needed to finish it. Nearly a week later, I handed in something that was probably close to novella length, and I could have gone on but I wrapped things up fairly abruptly because I figured I was pushing it to take that long to turn in a classroom assignment.

I’d always been drawn to fantasy-related things, and there had been a phase in which I’d check any book with “witch” in the title out of the library, since Bewitched syndicated reruns were the most popular TV show among the neighborhood girls, but this was when I started exploring other kinds of fantasy beyond witch stories and fairy tales.

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