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Wick (John Macleod), Week 3: 10 December

I’ve been thinking recently about fantasy, or fantasy literature to be precise. I grew up devouring books about, as Tolkien wonderfully put it in The Hobbit, “dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons”. It’s a love that’s never left me, and there’s something about this time of year—drawing the curtains against the long, dark, cold nights and settling down in front of a warm fire with a good book—that makes me want to read fantasy; and children’s fantasy at that.

In the Old High Church churchyard, Inverness

Incidentally, speaking of Tolkien, have you ever noticed how little magic there actually is in his books? Sure, there are magical creatures—elves, dwarves, goblins, trees—but hardly anyone actually does what you’d call magic—in fact, there’s probably more magic in an Indiana Jones film. Gandalf is the main wizard in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and to be frank most of the time you could get better results with a cheap cigarette lighter than he does with his staff.

But one reason why Tolkien’s works have survived, and which is overlooked by most of his successors, is that the magic isn’t really the point; ultimately the best fantasy, like the best of any genre, takes you back to yourself. G.K. Chesterton said it best: Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

Waves & Wind: sand and water at Dunnet Beach

Meanwhile, in gansey news, I’m making good progress up the body. The ribs pull it in, though, so it’s still hard to see the pattern at this stage (I hope the final blocking sorts this out or I’ll have to see how far I can get by only breathing in, as exhaling is unlikely to be an option). Sometime this week I should move on to the border panel; for this gansey is unusual in having the border positioned below the gussets, instead of roughly adjacent.

Inside St Fergus’ Church: the Christmas Tree Festival

And now I’m going to cheat and end with a quote by Terry Pratchett—I was going to say a great quote, but that’s a tautology as far as he’s concerned: “Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. Of course, I could be wrong”.

Actually, I was going to end it there; but then I came across this, another gem from Terry, which stopped me in my tracks: “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.” (Hmm. Hope it’s got a happy ending…)

8 comments to Wick (John Macleod), Week 3: 10 December

  • =Tamar

    Coincidentally, my brother just asked me for suggestions of good YA fantasy books for a friend and good SF for himself. I guess it’s going around.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar, if I’m allowed a plug, I’d make sure Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is on your shortlist; and for older children his The Owl Service!

  • meg

    lovely blog, as aye! as a keen fan of the `trilogy` and all that went before…..I share your thoughts on the fantasy world of Tolkein..and the deep water it treads…
    the gansey is growing well! designed to keep broken ribs in place I think?

    • Gordon

      Thanks, Meg! I can recommend Tom Shippey’s book on Tolkien, as he unpicks many of the linguistic inspirations that underpin the works – my favourite, as I’ve said before, being that the name Gandalf appears in a Norse literary fragment, and literally means “wand-elf”, ie wizard…

  • Dave

    And don’t forget “The Drawing of the Dark”

  • twinsetellen

    I will be referring to this post for reading recommendations in the coming weeks.

    Are you sure those are wave and wind tracks and not dragon?

    • Gordon

      Hi there, add A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula le Guin, and the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and you’re all set!

      I’d like to think dragons would come to Caithness for their holidays and build sandcastles… and then fill them full of stolen treasure…

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