Tag Archives: Fantastical

In the Cards, by Angela D’Onofrio (2016)

D’Onofrio’s novels take place in fictitious Aviario, Connecticut, a town where the underground lines of magic intersect and supernatural happenings abound. This second book in the series revolves around a string of murders, a demon that haunts one of the town’s oldest families, and a romance that everyone except the main character thinks is a bad idea.  The story’s real energy, however, comes from its twentysomething cast of characters who read tarot cards, run a magic shop, play table-top games, and never fail to talk like real people, making the whole novel feel decidedly current (spirit animals notwithstanding).

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Angela D’Onofrio’s website

Author interview

Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis (1951)

While waiting for a train, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are sucked back into a much-changed Narnia to help the rightful Prince Caspian regain his throne.  I’ve realized that for me the most lukewarm sections of the Narnia books are the battles, which Lewis relates either through dialogue, summary, or another distancing mechanism.  With World War II a recent memory in 1951, these battles are clearly important to Lewis, but fail to capture the modern imagination.  A shame, since the rest of this is quite immersive, with the Christian symbolism once again revealed in a more controlled manner.

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The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis (1954)

A boy raised in the Calormen desert south of Narnia meets a talking horse and flees a life of slavery on a journey north.  Lewis’s Christian symbolism grows even more painfully obvious here, espousing an outdated fable of a heathen from the backward Pagan lands (Calormen) embracing Jesus (Aslan) as he works to get to heaven (Narnia).  This feels more egregious when you consider Lewis’s treatment of Calormen with a Middle Eastern theme, though his protagonist’s skin is “fair and white” like the “beautiful barbarians of the north.”  Combine this with an unimaginative plot and the result is….not worthwhile.

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The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis (1955)

After finishing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I decided to give the rest of the series a try—plus I found a cheap set of the other Narnia books at Salvation Army.  The Magician’s Nephew is Lewis’s prequel, with a Genesis-type story that tells how Narnia came to be, with more than a few Biblical allusions.  Though the first half is genuinely solid children’s lit (magic rings, a lost world, childhood observations, etc.), the creation scenes go on for far too long.  Still, it’s worth reading for the London sections and the introduction of the White Witch.

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Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie (1911)

Another children’s classic I never actually read as a kid, the original Peter Pan holds up solidly in its story, characters, and playful writing style, but not in its cringeworthy turn-of-the-century descriptions of Native Americans. Barrie also inserts some distinct undertones for careful readers, such as the rivalry between Wendy and Tinkerbell for the clueless pre-pubescent Peter, the Darling parents’ obsession with doing everything society expects of them, and Hook’s being a former prep school kid, along with an epilogue (left out of the Disney version) that explores what it really means to outgrow the carefree adventures of youth.

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Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano (2006)

Children speak of a monster in the drainage tunnel behind their elementary school while one of them sleeps in a coma; as adults, their paths cross in mysterious ways, and there are butterflies.

Nijigahara Holograph feels obliquely perplexing until it reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion, though on a second skim-through the connections felt clearer, revealing this to be a meticulously crafted manga that tells a powerful story.  The climactic reveal left me feeling uncharacteristically drained and somewhat disturbed—I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but that a manga can exert this kind of power means a lot.

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Sinbad’s Seven Voyages and Other Stories From the Arabian Nights, retold by Gladys Davidson (1974)

Things I learned from reading/rereading these four stories:

  1. In the original tale, Aladdin, far from being a purehearted street rat, is an “idle, careless” boy who through the adventure of the lamp becomes a responsible, skilled adult man.
  2. The forty thieves dismember Ali Baba’s greedy brother into four separate pieces so that the local cobbler has to sew him back together, which is badass.
  3. The Sinbad stories are kind of repetitive, and made me want to watch the Ray Harryhausen films.
  4. Like in all good stories, servant girls are always more clever than their masters.
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Death: The High Cost of Living, by Neil Gaimon, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, and Dave McKean (1994)

In this Sandman spin-off, one day per century Death descends to convene with the living in the form of an upbeat goth girl, and this time she’s befriended Sexton Furnival, a suicidal sixteen-year-old in need of perspective.  Their adventures are easily resolved, but the real magic lies in Gaimon’s dialogue and in the Death-Sexton mismatch, which takes place before a decaying urban backdrop alongside a colorful cast of side characters.  As a bonus, the collection comes with a ‘90s-era sex-safe comic outlining the importance of condom use as protection from AIDS, a PSA time-capsule fitting of the Philadelphia era.

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Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk (2011)

Damned is Chuck Palahniuk’s What-If? take on Hell told through the eyes of cynical rich girl Madison Spencer (“Are you there, Satan?  It’s me, Madison”) and her Breakfast Club-inspired gang.  Though there’s very little in terms of plot, Palahniuk instead takes us through encounters with pagan demons, Hell’s geographic oddities (The Great Plains of Discarded Razor Blades, etc.), its candy-fueled economy, its telemarketing industry, and its bizarre damnation rules (honking your car horn more than 500 times lands you in Hell, no exceptions).  Its whims are entertaining, but incredibly scattered, with an unsatisfying ending hindered by mediocre twists.

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis (1950)

Do children’s classics still hold up when read by adults?  I never read the Narnia books when I was younger, but I did read The Screwtape Letters a few years ago and liked its sinister plot and epistolary storytelling.  Similarly, this book’s heavy Christian undertones fall just short of eye-rolling at times, though the themes of temptation, redemption, and righteousness enhance the plot so effectively that without them the book would have been forgotten as just another kid’s adventure.  A final plus is that the fantasy world feels real enough to immerse readers but not enough to overwhelm them.

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Villa Incognito, by Tom Robbins (2003)

Like every Tom Robbins novel, this one starts out with a chaotic bang: a large-scrotumed talking tanuki parachutes into nineteenth century Japan to drink sake and sleep with girls; meanwhile a band of ex-GIs in southeast Asia panics when their drug-smuggling comrade gets caught in the act. Robbins takes a while to tie his scattered opening together, but when he does, the plot feels surprisingly coherent. We also go along with his writing because it’s devilishly funny and wittily intelligent as we fall into his bizarre world where we never quite know what’s coming, but feel okay with that.

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Where I Got It

From a friend in spring 2015 who thought my writing reminded him of Tom Robbins’s.  He gave me this one along with Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, which I read last year before I started this book blog.

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (2011)

A man and a woman in different parts of Tokyo find themselves drawn into the bizarre world of 1Q84 (kyū is Japanese for nine) where everything looks the same but a sinister religious cult is wreaking havoc.  I enjoyed parts of this book immensely, but others dragged on through its 1,100 pages, and a lot of the slower portions could have been trimmed.  The novel explores the idea of parallel worlds in classic Murakami fashion, and though the ending makes the whole read worth it, I recommend starting with something lighter for your first Murakami experience.

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Where I Got It

Christmas, 2015.

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Haruki Murakami’s website

Murakami Interview about 1Q84, his early life, and running every day