Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Best-Laid Syllabi o' Mice and Men Gang Aft Agley . . .

In my last post, I outlined my planned reading list for my Spring 2014 fantasy literature course here at Big Midwestern Flagship Public University. I was very excited about this reading list.

And then I had to submit my book order. And discovered that Patricia A. McKillip's Forgotten Beasts of Eld has gone "out of stock indefinitely"—effectively out of print. And learned that ordering the UK paperback of Poul Anderson's Broken Sword—the only in-print edition of that novel—was going to be more difficult than I had assumed. And realized that ten novels was going to be too much for the number of classes I had available for the spring semester.


I had to make up a new reading list on the spot. The key requirement for inclusion on this list: ready availability. The secondary requirement was that each text speak explicitly to one other text on the reading list. Here are the pairings I came up with:

Dunsany's King of Elfland's Daughter (1924) and McKillip's Winter Rose (1996)

The connection here is love that reaches beyond the fields we know into Elfland: a mortal man and an elf woman in Dunsany's case, a mortal woman and an elf man in McKillip's. I'm sad to lose Forgotten Beasts, but Winter Rose is  beautiful book as well.

Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) and McKinley's The Hero and the Crown (1984)

Two books from the last version of the reading list that make it into the next. Here the connection is dragon-slaying—a fairly tenuous theme, but a valid one. The evil of the wyrms Smaug and Maur lives on long after their deaths; in a sense, the dragons are just misdirection for the real evil of the tales.

Vance's Dying Earth (1950) and Lee's Night's Master (1978)

Decadence and exoticism drive this pair of books entering the reading list for the first time. I recently reread The Dying Earth for the first time since I was a teenager and came away incredibly impressed with what Vance achieved in those six stories; 12 or 13 was clearly too young for me to really grok them. As for Night's Master, I lost my copy of the Sci-Fi Book Club Tales of the Flat Earth omnibus back in the spring when the basement flooded. So this is my chance to finally read all of Night's Master.

Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and Miéville's Railsea (2012)

This pairing is so obvious I can't believe I missed it: thanks to Ceridwen Anne for the idea. Two young adult novels, two sailing stories, two great beasts (the Dragon of Pendor and Mocker Jack), and two tyro protagonists. I love Miéville's Scar, but I have included it on the reading list every time I've taught the fantasy course here—it may be suffering from overuse. So a change is good.

(Coincidentally, I'm interested in hearing suggestions for a book to pair with Le Guin's Voices—my favorite fantasy of hers—the next time I teach the course. I couldn't think of a candidate this time round.)

Pratchett's Wee Free Men (2003)

I needed a ninth book, so I decided to indulge myself and go with my favorite Pratchett of all time. What better rationale is there for a book besides Feegles? Crivens, I can't think of one!

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