Stealing this idea from my friend Kat, who recently made a blog post about five books that had a significant impact on her. When she tagged me on Twitter to share my own five, I answered pretty quickly. But thinking about it more deeply, I decided I don’t want to stop there, as I’d love to talk about the reasons why these books contributed to my development and in what ways. These aren’t necessarily what I consider the best books of all time (though some are to me) but rather, the ones that have influenced me in small but still visible ways.
1. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
I’m treating this as one book because I cannot decide which of the three books is more important to me. In some ways, I consider Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials to be my awakening to fantasy as a genre. Of course, a few years would pass before I actually came across the term, but Lyra’s adventures were what first made me aware of this longing that I couldn’t yet name, which, more than ten years later, prompted me to do a Fantasy Mlitt. The longing that made me say ‘I want more books like this.’
Five or six rereads and an Mlitt essay on Pullman’s portals later, I now know that this trilogy is a remarkable achievement, but not unproblematic, and definitely not perfect. There are so many little things, regarding religion, sexuality and violence that I didn’t pick up as a child, which made returning as an adult both enriching and disturbing. Pullman has a way of adding such details subtly, without making his books unavailable to younger readers. The richness and intertextuality make His Dark Materials an interesting read for adults, but I believe reading the trilogy when I was around 11, Lyra’s age, and rereading it throughout my teens, and then again as an adult, has made it so precious to me.
Looking back, I recognise that my early writing has been unconsciously influenced by Pullman’s. The councils, the descriptions of children and hauntings, the narrative voice, and most importantly my tendency for painful endings. Of course I’m much more critical of my influences nowadays, but I still believe that reading HDM at a young age made me a better reader and a better writer in the long run, and introduced me to fantasy, a constant in my life since then.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
As I’ve mentioned in the past, studying fantasy at a postgraduate level makes you much more critical of Harry Potter, but I can’t deny the series’ influence when I was discovering fantasy.
I was late in the fandom, having read the books as a teen in the early 2010s. But I’m really glad I picked up the third book when I was 13, like the characters. Just like my experience with HDM, being the same age as the main characters helped me identify with them at a time when I needed this kind of identification. I feel that The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best instalment in the series, being darker and more mature than the first two, yet keeping something of their innocence and humour and introducing Lupin, one of my favourite characters. The themes of loneliness and exclusion felt quite relatable at that point, and I liked the fact that even the adult characters had interesting backstories.
I’ve always been honest about the fact that I didn’t enjoy secondary school – for several reasons. The Harry Potter series, featuring a school I would have loved to attend, with strong friendships, intrigue, amazing locations and interesting classes, was kind of therapeutic in that sense, and, at least, gave me something comforting to go home to. And, a few years later, I decided that, although I recognise negative things in the series now, I wouldn’t want to imitate, this kind of comfort is what I want to give back to the world through my writing.
3. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
Apart from the fact that I really, really wanted it, there are three little things that I consider responsible for my major in English literature (future post topic, maybe?). One of them was starting to read books in English for practice, seeing the English language was so much more than the grammar rules I had been taught, seeing the magic you could make with it, so to speak.
And one thing that alerted me to that magic was A Song of Ice and Fire, especially the third book, where the plot really starts to pick up, and there was not a single point of view character I did not enjoy. From the amazing character development of Sansa Stark and the slow rehabilitation of Jaime Lannister (favourite characters to this day – but only their book versions!) to the major heartbreak we don’t speak about (I did throw the book to the wall at some point and still feel bad about it) A Storm of Swords was perfect in every way, or at least seemed so when I was 16. For the first time, I would forget I was reading a book in a language that wasn’t my mother tongue, and for days, I just couldn’t wait to go home from school and read some more.
4. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
Kat and I have this one in common. My first reaction, after reading Assassin’s Apprentice (found completely by chance in a local library in my small hometown in Greece) was surprise that it was not more popular and didn’t have film adaptations and tones of fanfiction and fanart. I decided to make amends.
Almost ten years later, Robin Hobb has written even more books taking place at the Realm of the Elderlings. Fitz and his wolf Nighteyes are still not insanely popular. But I still use every opportunity I get to talk about the amazing plot and world-building, the absolutely heart-warming bond between a boy and a wolf, and what a well-rounded, flawed yet likeable character Fitz is. I’m even writing part of my Mlitt dissertation on the Farseer Trilogy. Lasting impact indeed.
5. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Of the books listed here, this is the only one I first read as an adult, during my second year at university. But, like the previous four, I was lucky enough to have read it when I needed it the most. When I realised I was 20, an age that had once seemed so far away, and had done many of the things teen me had dreamt of, but in many ways my life wasn’t going according to plan and I had nothing figured out. I was an English major, ticking more and more boxes of ‘classics to read before you die’, some of which I loved, but somehow, they weren’t enough. I still needed something more, that could still be found in YA fantasy.
I picked up The Raven Boys, with fairly low expectations, given that the description it’s marketed with is nothing like the actual book (perhaps another future post??) but I immediately fell in love with the poetic, aesthetic language, the subtle paranormal events, the characters and their dreams. Their problems felt really relatable, particularly their attempts to persuade themselves that they didn’t deserve to have problems, something I was struggling with back then. Plus, the series really broadened my YA horizons, at a time when I had all but given up on YA, showing me possibilities I hadn’t considered. In many ways, the series isn’t perfect, but it was perfect for me when I read it, and I still find comfort in rereading favourite passages and looking at fan works.
When I started writing this post, I had hoped that I would come up with at least one non-fantasy book
to persuade myself I’m more three-dimensional than I am . Of course, there are many non-fantasy books that I love, all of which have shaped me one way or the other, but I decided to be honest about the books the impact of which feels more obvious to me right now. And inevitably, I always go back to fantasy.
After this heart-warming break, I’ll keep up the positivity next week, by writing about ten fictional works I would love to visit. There. I said it. Now I have to write it.
What about you? What books had a significant impact on you? Let me know in the comments!
What about you?