Sometimes, such as now, there is only so much reality a person can endure. It can be comforting to find an escape into other realms through books, movies, and TV shows. Though these imaginary worlds have their own concerns and disasters, it’s a relief to get wrapped up in the adventures of characters that are facing their fantastical struggles. Empathizing and identifying with well-drawn characters can provide respite from the fears and traumas of the pandemic. If you’ve ever searched for a hidden world in an old wardrobe or hoped to get carried over the rainbow to a magical land- I have the book and movie suggestions you’ve been seeking!
For children and the young at heart, I highly recommend four of my favorite worlds: Oz, Pern, Narnia, and Middle Earth. The Wizard of Oz has recently celebrated it 120-year anniversary. It was the first in a long, much beloved series about different children journeying through L. Frank Baum’s merry old Land of Oz a place filled with talking animals, yellow brick roads, mechanical people, enchanted creations, witches, and wizards. We are introduced to Oz when Dorothy Gale is transported there during a tornado, you may have read this book or seen the movie, but be sure to read about the other boys and girls who go on wonderful quests with marvelous companions and face down dangerous foes and monsters.
Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall of Pern trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums) takes place on the distant planet of Pern, a world threatened by a deadly parasite from space that can only be destroyed by fire. Luckily there are fire-breathing dragons that have formed telepathic bonds with their riders and they work together to fight the alien threat. The people of this world have lost their history and don’t know that they are the descendants of colonists from Earth. The society they have formed over hundreds of years is similar to medieval times. Harpers are essential in a world without telephones and computers, they bring music, stories, and act as ambassadors, but only men are allowed to be Harpers- until one brave and musically talented girl runs away from home and saves a clutch of Fire Lizards, small flying lizards that are somehow connected to the dragons. McCaffrey built a complex and remarkable world with a long history.
Another remarkable world with a long history is Narnia. C.S. Lewis wrote his books for children during and after World War II about how children from Earth are drawn to a world facing a terrible threat that can only be defeated with their help. Drawing on myths from many cultures and underpinned by deep moral lessons that are exciting and heart-warming. Start with The Magician’s Nephew and read all seven books ending with The Last Battle, this includes: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is actually the second book in the series, but can be read as a stand alone novel. C.S. Lewis has inspired many authors, including J.K. Rowling and Lev Grossman.
A close friend of C. S. Lewis was J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Thanks to the movies of Peter Jackson, most people are aware of the hobbits, elves, dwarves, and humans of Middle Earth, but read the books to absorb the richness and intricacy of Tolkien’s creation, he was a Professor who specialized in languages and actually created a whole language with its own alphabet for the elves. Middle Earth was built on a foundation of Celtic and Nordic myths and tells a story about good and evil where “even the smallest person can change the course of the future”.
If you’re looking for escapism for grown-ups, you can also visit faraway realms. If you’d like a different take on Oz, try Gregory Maguire’s books from the point of view of different Ozian inhabitants in Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Maguire uses Oz as a way to look fancifully and often subversively at our own world through the emerald green lens of Baum’s characters.
C.S. Lewis wrote a science fiction trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandria, and That Hideous Strength about interplanetary journeys that culminate in the amzing final book where the battle for good and evil is bring our planet to the brink of the Apocalypse, with a brave group of women, men, animals fighting to save us all. A brilliant tale that features the awakening of the wizard Merlin, the dangers of science unbound from morality, and written with Lewis’s biting sense of humor, this is one of my all time favorite books.
Another series I dearly love is Robin Hobb’s books about the Realm of the Elderlings featuring Fitzchivalry Farseer and his companion the Fool. You can start with the Farseer Trilogy, wherein Fitz and the Fool fight villains with prophetic visions, uncover lost cities, encounter dragons, and ride living sailing ships. Follow Fitz from his childhood as he grows up learning how to be an assassin for the royal family in a world with two kinds of magic: one revered and the other reviled, and unluckily for Fitz, he possesses both! I can’t recommend this series highly enough.
And finally, Patrick Rothfuss is reported to be publishing the finale of his stirring Kingkiller Chronicles. Filled with mystery, adventure, romance, horror, and a surprising sense of humor, don’t miss out on the adventures of the lovable- if fallible- hero Kvothe and his eclectic band of allies as he navigates a school for magicians, tracks down an evil group of immortals, and unlocks the secrets of a hidden underground complex.
Hopefully these suggestions will keep you well occupied over the next few weeks, but if you are looking for more down to earth fare or for guides to more hands-on activities for the upcoming months, have no fear, the treasures of the Bookwyrm’s Hoard are immense and I’ll be sharing more of them with you in the future.