A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I think it began with C. S. Lewis and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The book was on my shelves when I was a small child. I don’t know exactly how it got there, whether it was a Christmas gift to me, or just discarded by someone else in the family, but this book had the perfect storyline. Children escaping the grimly unhappy reality of a wartime evacuation, by finding a doorway into the magical realm of Narnia.
I was unhappy myself back then, so the thought of escaping into a magical realm was very appealing. There was the especially nice touch that the doorway to Narnia was in something as prosaic as a wardrobe. I had little hope of the wardrobe in my bedroom turning out to be magical, but I could still get lost in daydreams about other worlds being only a few steps away.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was followed by many other books with magical worlds. I didn’t so much read a lot of those books, as live them. I shared the hopes, fears, and adventures of the characters, and the worlds were as real and important to me as the people. Anne McCaffrey took me flying with dragons on Pern. Tolkien drew me into a battle against dark forces, and I experienced the crippling burden of bearing a ring of power. Ursula K. LeGuin was my instructor in the hazards of being A Wizard of Earthsea. Andre Norton was my guide to the magic of the Witch World.
Later came the glorious humour of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Who could resist a flat world that’s carried on the backs of four elephants, which stand on top of a giant turtle swimming through space? I have a particular love of Pratchett’s descriptions of magical books that need to be chained to the shelves of their libraries, and how large numbers of even quite ordinary books could warp space and time in second-hand bookshops. I’ve been in several second-hand bookshops where I felt that an unwary turn in the cellar could definitely bring me out in a different universe.
There’s no need for me to describe the magical world of Harry Potter, since virtually everyone has explored that world either through books or films. This, like Narnia, is a magical world that has the extra charm of being just a step away from our own. You just need to find platform 9¾ at Kings Cross Station.
Those books are all classed as fantasy, but I’ve also been reading science fiction books since I was a child, and those have equally magical worlds. Admittedly those worlds may contain aliens instead of elves, lasers instead of swords, and advanced technology instead of spells, but the idea of being in space, and travelling between planets and star systems, has always had a very special magic of its own for me.
The fantastic worlds of science fiction aren’t lurking a few steps away, but hanging in plain sight in the night sky. As a child, I would sneak out into the garden in the middle of the night, armed with the most basic of telescopes, and admire the most beautiful example in Saturn. There seemed to be a general rule that the best nights for stargazing were also the most bitterly cold.
I didn’t just read fantasy and science fiction, but many other books which superficially had no fantastical elements at all in them. Books that were set very solidly in this world. A few of them told of events that were happening at some time in the past, but others were so set in the current everyday world that their characters might be travelling on the same bus or train as me. There was still magic even in those books though, because reading their pages could transport me out of my own existence into that of someone else, and make me see the world through their eyes.
And I feel that’s the true magic of books. Whatever age group or genre they are written for, good books can transport you into someone else’s life. You can see the world through the characters’ eyes, share their joys and sorrows, and feel their triumphs and failures.
Most of the time, you just want to be transported into someone else’s life for fun, but there are other times when you need a brief respite from your own troubles. When the burden of disappointment, illness, pain, or other personal problems becomes too overwhelming, escaping into someone else’s world can give you a precious breathing space.
Sometimes, when the real world grows too dark, you need the magic of books.
Website|Facebook|Goodreads|Twitter Janet Edwards is the author of the Earth Girl science fiction trilogy (Earth Girl, Earth Star, and Earth Flight) and related books set in a distant future where humanity portals between hundreds of colony worlds… except for the unfortunate few whose immune system can’t handle living anywhere else but on Earth. The Earth Girl series centres on Jarra. Abandoned by her parents at birth, and regarded as less than a second-class citizen, she’s fighting back.
Janet also has a new Hive Mind series, which is set in a different future, and centres on the life of a telepath whose job is to catch criminals before they commit their crimes.
Earth Girl was voted an American Library Association Teens’ Top Ten Title. Find out more about Janet and her books at www.janetedwards.com