I was going to publish this on my YA site in honor of my very own portal fantasy being published this summer, but as I wrote the post I started to feel OLD. The most recent book on this list was published sometime in the 80s. The oldest was published in 1907. The fan fic is newer, but it’s still not exactly yesterday’s fiction, so I thought I’d share this here where you won’t judge my very new book by how old some of the books I liked as a kid are.
I loved books where people from our world went to a fantasy world and had adventures. A lot of those books had characters who had to figure out the world and who they were at the same time. I mean LOVED.
My parents had these beautiful copies of The Wizard of Oz books.
Did you know there was more than one? There are 14 written by L. Frank Baum and all of them have wonderful girls as the main characters, who aren’t afraid, who have a lot of common sense and who get things done, even if they’re a little confused about what they are doing. I don’t remember much of the stories, but I do remember some images, like the people growing out of plants, or the miniature china town, where people got broken by careless big visitors.
My favorite Diana Wynn Jones book was The Homeward Bounders, about a boy named Jamie who gets exiled from our world for spying on “Them,” mysterious evil powerful beings who play games with the universe and the people in it. Jamie survives by becoming friends with Helen, who was maybe the first “unlikeable” female character I remember reading. I loved her for her anger and discontent and refusal to be beaten down, and with Joris, a really annoying perfect privileged boy who turns out to be a decent sort anyway.
I re-read this book recently, and it is SAD, but I loved sad books as a child.
(Of the Chrestomanci books, Witch Week was my favorite, possibly because almost everyone in that book is being bullied and I was already having that kind of problem myself. Though not as extreme! But alas not as magical either.)
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. Apparently this is the third in the series?! I never read the other two, my library didn’t have them. This is also a sad book, about a girl at boarding school who changes places every night with a girl named Claire who lives in 1918 at the same boarding school.
The Guardians of the Flame by Joel Rosenberg. This is actually a series, but again the library only had one of them and I don’t remember which one or anything about it except loving the humor in it. I am not responsible if you read it and don’t think it’s funny. I was probably about 10 and the book had to be one of the ones written in the 80s.
(The library is probably responsible for why I enjoy reading series out of order—I know! Heresy!—but it’s like an additional puzzle to figure out as I read.)
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the first books I remember reading. It also inspired the first story I remember writing, which was definitely fan fic way before I knew there was such a thing. The suck fairy has definitely visited this series, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. If you want a deconstruction of all the colonialism, racism and sexism in them, head on over to Ana Mardoll’s blog, but get ready for the rabbit hole of epic proportions (see what I did there?)
If you loved the series when you were younger but can’t stomach it now, the movies try to fix some of the problems and there is a fair amount of fan fic and fan fix out there, like Ursula Vernon’s “Elegant and Fine” about Susan (poor maligned Susan, who deserves a better narrator than Lewis, and many have done well by her), The Carpetbaggers and The Cave in Deerfield (also SO SAD) by cofax on AO3 and the cross-over stories by burntcopper, also on AO3.
Of all of the rest, the only one I have re-read recently was The Homeward Bounders, so I can’t say if they hold up well. I love Diana Wynne Jones, but I love her in spite of the fact that there is often fat shaming in her books.
Did you love portal fantasy as a kid? What were some of your favorites?