Book Chat recap: Magic, Myth, and Fairytale

Our book chat about “magic, myth, and fairytale” produced a magical quantity of book suggestions! Read on for a list and brief annotations.

Cover of Uprooted by Naomi NovikOne book chat participant brought a whole bagful of books and a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge about literature in general, and myth, fantasy, and folklore in particular. She recommended Uprooted by Naomi Novik, as well as Novik’s earlier series about the Napoleonic wars…with dragons, of course.

Here are some more books with dragons:

If you prefer mermaids or selkies (seal-people, usually seal-women), try one of these books or films:

There were no Twilight fans at the book chat, but we didn’t rule out books about vampires entirely. Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula is a good bet, and Sunshine by Robin McKinley was mentioned favorably.

The legend of King Arthur came up when one reader recommended Castleview by Gene Wolfe (a “trickster author” whose work is also included in the Rags & Bones collection below). Here are some other books that make use of the King Arthur legend:

Readers looking for mythology and fairy tales (and folklore) are likely to encounter many story collections, from faithful retellings of old stories to modern twists. Here are the ones we discussed at the book chat:

Cover image of Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers GrimmPerhaps the most famous collection of fairy tales is the one compiled by the Brothers Grimm. There are many versions of the Grimm tales, from the dark, gruesome originals to the sanitized Disney versions. Here are two good collections, plus a fun Grimm-inspired novel and even a musical:

  • Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: a new English version edited by Philip Pullman
  • The Annotated Brothers Grimm with an preface and notes by Maria Tatar and an introduction by A.S. Byatt
  • The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman: in this book, high school student Elizabeth begins working at a special library that houses the Grimm collection – physical objects associated with the many Grimm tales.
  • Movie poster for 2014 movie Into the WoodsStephen Sondheim’s play Into the Woods is a mash-up of several well-known fairy tales, including “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and more. It’s fairly faithful to the original tales, exercising great creativity in the way it intertwines them. Plus, it’s got that sing-a-long quality! One reader/viewer recommended the filmed version of the play starring Bernadette Peters, as opposed to the more recent movie with Meryl Streep.

One reader asked for suggestions for magic and myth in the modern age, the way Harry Potter is set in present-day England. Here’s what we suggested:

  • Cover image of The Magicians by Lev GrossmanLev Grossman’s The Magicians – often pitched as “Harry Potter for grown-ups” – starts out in present-day Brooklyn, though its main character, Quentin, soon winds up at the decidedly non-Brooklyn magical college of Brakebills.
  •  The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry, is set in Salem and its main character is descended from a long line of psychics and fortune-tellers.
  • Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, starting with The Lightning Thief, are also anchored in the modern day (Percy goes to a summer camp for demi-gods).

Cover image of Good Omens by Gaiman and PratchettWe could have had a whole separate book chat just about Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, who collaborated on the excellent funny/serious novel about the apocalypse, Good Omens. Gaiman often draws on mythology for his writing; its influence is clear in  American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stardust (also a movie), Neverwhere, and his most recent collection, Trigger Warning, which includes a Doctor Who story called “Nothing O’Clock” and a story about Shadow from American Dogs called “Black Dog.” Neverwhere and Good Omens have been produced as radio plays for the BBC. Gaiman has written for children and teens as well: try Instructions, Fortunately, the Milk, The Graveyard Book, and Coraline.

In fact, the lines between children’s, young adult, and adult material when it comes to magic, myth, fairytale, and fantasy in general is more blurred than it is in other genres. Millions of adults enjoyed Harry Potter (and Twilight, for that matter), and many of our favorite childhood books fall into the fantasy/magic/myth category (e.g. Narnia and The Lord of the Rings).

Myth, magic, and fairytale for kids and teens (and adults!)

In an hour-long discussion, we covered plenty of ground, but there are many more wonderful books that we didn’t get to talk about (or have yet to discover!). If your favorite book of magic, mythology, or fairytale isn’t included here, please suggest it in the comments!

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