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The Dark Tower

27 Jul

Stephen King’s magnum opus

Fabulous Realms

As a novelist, Stephen King needs no introduction. He is perhaps the bestselling, most widely read horror author of all time and among living writers he has no equal in any genre in terms of success, popularity and influence. What is perhaps less well known is that King not only writes fantasy novels, as well as the horror for which he is best known, but he is also an avid reader and fan of fantasy fiction. It was in fact an early reading of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that led in part to the creation of King’s own fantasy epic, The Dark Tower series. Far from being a mere side interest The Dark Tower actually stands at the heart of King’s imaginarium – as he has said on many occasions, this series is not only King’s magnum opus, it is the glue that binds together his entire literary output…

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The Unwritten

20 May

If I mentioned a bespectacled boy wizard with an undead nemesis, two best friends and a flying familiar you might think I was talking about Harry Potter but what I’m actually referring to is The Unwritten, a clever, post-modern graphic novel series by Mike Carey. The comics follow Tom Taylor, who was the inspiration for a series of hugely successful children’s fantasy novels in the vein of Harry Potter, written by his father Wilson Taylor, who disappeared mysteriously just after writing the story’s conclusion. The Unwritten deals with themes related to fame, celebrity, and the relationship between fiction and human consciousness. Basically, Tom Taylor’s life was screwed up from the start because his father modelled his bestselling novels so closely on his son’s real life that the fictional Tommy Taylor’s fans constantly compared him to his counterpart (turning him into the most pointless variety of Z-level celebrity in the process). In Wilson Taylor’s final book it was even implied that the fictional Tommy would cross over into the real world, giving his delusional fans more excuses than ever to harass poor old Tom. Just when he thinks that his life cannot get any worse, the unfortunate Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that has secretly kept tabs on him all his life. In the process of escaping from them, Tom travels the world to discover the truth behind his own origins. Tom’s journey of discovery takes him to places where fictions have impacted and tangibly shaped reality in all manner of forms, ranging from famous literary works to folk tales to pop culture. In the process of learning what it all means, Tom finds himself having to unravel a breathtaking conspiracy that may span the entirety of the history of fiction. Literate, absorbing and totally original, The Unwritten will simultaneously leave you wanting more and make you question everything you have ever read.

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Robert E Howard and the Lovecraft Circle

15 Dec

Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936) was an extraordinary writer who achieved achieved more in his short lifetime than many who lived to be two or three times his age. Nowadays he is best known for his character Conan the Barbarian and for virtually creating the sword and sorcery genre, spawning a raft of imitators and giving him an influence in the fantasy field rivalled only by J R R Tolkien. What he is less well known for are the many strange tales of horror and suspense that he penned but these should not be disregarded, especially given that they have earned him comparison with other American masters of supernatural fiction, such as Edgar Allan Poe and his great friend and contemporary H P Lovecraft. The great tragedy of Howard’s short life is that, because he died so young, he never lived to see his works published outside magazines. It is also worth noting that in many ways Howard’s premature death remains a mystery, much like that of Poe and Lovecraft before him.

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Legends in Exile: The World of Fables

24 Nov

Although the majority of posts on this website concern authors, novels, short stories and films, one of my favourite forms of entertainment media is the graphic novel. Over the years I’ve read a number of comic books which are as compelling as any other form of storytelling and it continues to mystify me that this medium never seems to receive the same respect as the more traditional prose novels. Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Watchmen, 300, Slaine, Judge Dredd, 30 Days of Night, The Walking Dead, Witchblade, House of Mystery, Spawn, The Books of Magic, Promethea, Hellblazer and Preacher to name just a few are full to the brim with imagination, original ideas, witty dialogue and searing imagery. It is therefore no great surprise to me that a number of these properties have been turned into successful films and television series. Whilst Sandman and The Books of Magic are probably overdue for big screen outings, the one comic saga which I would like to see on film more than any other is Bill Willingham’s Fables.

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Moonheart

21 Oct

Charles de Lint’s Moonheart is a little bit special. As it says on the back cover blurb “They found them in the back of the little old antiques shop…” and, similarly, I found this book in the back of a little old bookshop in the town where I grew up and have never got sick of reading and re-reading it in all the years since. This was the first Charles de Lint book I ever read and it contains all of the things that his fans have come to know and love – ordinary people thrust into the world of magic that lies on their doorstep, ancient myths walking the modern streets, music, magic, folklore, humour, warmth, imagination and much else besides – dare I say it, better than any book that he has written since. If it’s not too bold a claim, Moonheart is also in my view important because it is one of those few rare books which actually kick-started an entire genre – that of ‘urban fantasy’ – and though De Lint has had many imitators he has never been bettered in this field.

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Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

14 Oct

Although it first appeared at the end of the eighties, Neil Gaiman is still best known as the creator of the wonderfully dark and imaginative Sandman comic series. Whilst this approbation is undoubtedly well-earned, it does something of a disservice to this multi-media writer’s other fine contributions to literature, film and TV (including the movie Stardust, the American Gods novel and some of the best episodes of shows ranging from Doctor Who to Babylon 5, not to mention his involvement in the formative stages of other landmark comics such as The Books of Magic and Spawn). I cannot think of another creative talent who has excelled in all of these areas as Gaiman has and this is best illustrated by Neverwhere – a story which has appeared in book, television and comic format.

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Downton Abbey and The Great Game

8 Oct

This may seem an odd thing to say but when I watched the latest episode of Downton Abbey the other day I was inspired to re-read a work of fantasy I once came across that now seems to have been largely forgotten by the book-buying public. Dave Duncan’s Great Game trilogy is now about a decade and a half old but remains as bold, unique and sometimes shocking as it was when I first read it as a Law student many summers ago. The reason why Downton Abbey reminded me of Duncan’s books is because they partially share the same Edwardian/First World War setting of Julian Fellowes’ popular drama serial. Intrigued? Let me tell you more…

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Prospero’s Children

6 Oct

‘Prospero’s Chilren’ was an unexpected treat that I stumbled across quite by chance several years ago. The book had received little publicity and its author Jan Siegel was a writer that I had never heard of before. Nonetheless my attention was caught by the book’s cover, which featured the haunting artwork of Alan Lee and the arresting tagline “A mythical key is about to be found… but what kind of door will it open?”. Of course, I had to find out the answer to this question and I was not disappointed by the result, which has made this one of the most treasured books that has sat on my shelves ever since then.

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The Hooded Man

5 Oct

There have been many screen versions of Robin Hood, ranging from the swashbuckling derring-do of Errol Flynn in the 1930s flicks to the classic 1950s teatime serial starring Richard Greene. The end of the last century saw Kevin Costner don a mullet and a shaky English accent for a film that was nonetheless a box-office smash but more recent incarnations of the legend of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men have unfortunately been rather less well loved. There was the best-forgotten BBC TV version in the noughties, starring Jonas Armstrong as Robin ‘in a hoodie’, and the equally unloved recent Russell Crowe film. Perhaps the reason why latter versions of the Sherwood myth have failed to hit the right note is simply because we have already been given the truest, most perfect re-telling of the old folk tale in the form of Robin of Sherwood, the eighties TV series which remains one of the finest fantasy series the UK has ever created.

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The Forbidden Planet of Faerie

24 Sep

There’s a street in London called Shaftesbury Avenue, which runs though some of the most glamorous parts of the British capital – Oxford Circus, Covent Garden and Leicester Square – but is otherwise unremarkable, save for its length and how busy it is. There is little to signify the fact that secreted somewhere along this road (you have to look really hard to find it) is one of the best bookshops in the world – Forbidden Planet. American readers will probably be very familiar with the name already, as there are several large stores that are part of the same chain in the States (the one in New York is particularly famous). For those of us who live in England, however, Forbidden Planet is particularly to be treasured because there is virtually nothing like it anywhere else in this country (and believe me, I’ve looked). Even ignoring the vast collection of graphic novels and associated memorabilia within these hallowed walls, this bookshop is home to by far the largest, most varied and most eclectic selection of fantasy, science fiction and horror to be found in the UK. I stumbled across the place quite by accident while trying to find a spot to avoid the rain and for a book lover like me, it felt like coming home! I mean, this place had everything – brand new best-sellers from the USA in their original covers (several months before they were available in any other store), old favourites which weren’t stocked anywhere else, genuine collector’s items which had been out of print for years (or in some cases decades), works by authors whom I’d never heard of before but devoured eagerly nevertheless, magazines, journals, hardbacks, paperbacks, fiction, non-fiction, illustrated books and absolutely everything in between. Needless to say, I’ve been back on a regular basis ever since and London’s Forbidden Planet has been a never-ending treasure trove of reading material for me for many years now.

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