September 15, 2009

Recent readings: Entering fantastic worlds

Despite the fact that we've yet to reach the equinox, autumn has come and, as usual, I'm being drawn to weird and unusual reading material.  I'll be into Poe and similar Victorian-era stuff by the time Halloween rolls around, but this year I've begun the season with more contemporary works.

I started out by re-reading Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and continued with his acclaimed young adult book, Coraline (though I still haven't gotten around to seeing the movie).  Definitely a fun tale with a message of bravery for kids, Coraline's also an entertaining, quick read for adults.  (Last year about this time, I read half of his most recent young adult work, The Graveyard Book, and definitely need to pick up another copy to finish it.  Much more there to sink one's teeth into.  No pun intended, for those familiar with the book.)  

But while I accept that Gaiman seems to be acknowledged as the current reigning prince of weird literature, Clive Barker did it first and Gaiman is his heir-apparent.  Probably most well-known as a horror-meister thanks to the popularity of the Hellraiser films (based on his short novel, The Hellbound Heart), Barker's actually an incredible writer of fantasy.  The basic premise of most of his books (the same frequently utilized by Gaiman) is generally that of an ordinary, commonplace person thrust into a world beyond their imagining, who is compelled to travel a hero's journey and in the process finds him- or herself to be more than expected.  Standard myth-stuff, but it's the characters and the landscapes Barker creates that make his works so engrossing.


In the realm of young adult fiction, the first two books of the Abarat series are as amazing as anything created by L. Frank Baum, but the Wicked Witch of the West has nothing on Barker's dark villains.  And Dorothy's spunk pales beside that of Candy Quackenbush.  These books are full of nightmare and beauty, and are only the beginning of what's apparently intended to be a five-part saga. 


On a much more adult level, works such as my favorite, Weaveworld, contain a sensuality (and sexuality) that the kid's books understandably can't approach.  Descriptions of both people and places are vivid, and Barker's worlds are so fully, fantastically developed that they go beyond just drawing the reader in to making them want to enter the pages and inhabit these amazing realms.

  At the moment, I've just dived into Imajica for the second time.  It's been several years since my first reading, and so far it's both surprising and familiar at once.  The book's huge (I've got the original 800-something page paperback that was printed with a very tiny font), which is both a good and a bad thing.  Bad in that it's a pain to carry around, yet good in that the pleasure of it lasts for days.  It's definitely not one that can be read through in a weekend, no matter how much you're sucked into it.  As such, it's long-term escapism.  

I'm normally an empirically-minded pragmatist, and yet this story of forgotten magic and forgotten selves puts me into a mood to wonder what sorts of mysteries the real (or should that be "real"?) world has disremembered.  Which makes it a nicely appropriate prelude to the coming season of autumn and Halloween.  From Barker to Poe, one fantastic master to another. 


Story teller said...

I am glad to see you are getting a lot of reading done.

KaliDurga said...

Thank you. Between books and magazine subscriptions, I'm pretty much always reading, but I'm also easily distracted and don't finish many of the books I start. That's why I love brain candy like Barker's stuff-- I don't want to read anything else when I'm in the middle of one of his stories.

I hope you're enjoying whatever you're in the middle of these days.

The Crow said...

Poe's works have haunted me (no pun intended) since I first read The Telltale Heart. In junior high I was introduced to his poetry, and read other stories. I have a two-volume set of his works in my library; time to get it out again and scare myself silly.


KaliDurga said...

The Black Cat in comic book form was my introduction to Poe, and has always been one of my favorites. This is definitely the perfect time of year for him, so enjoy!