Reading has always been an important part of my life, but my favorite memory of it comes from my 4th grade classroom.
After lunch or recess, or at the end of the day, my teacher would turn off the classroom lights and read us Tolkein’s The Hobbit. We could doodle on paper while we listened, or put our heads on our desks for quiet time. It didn’t matter, as long as we could hear the story.
Something about that combination of calming environment and other-worldly adventure felt magical to me. It was as though, by darkening the real-world setting, we were better equipped to follow the book’s light into this fictional land of dwarves and dragons, hobbits and magical rings, giant spiders and kindly wizards. I fell in love with The Hobbit — and, in turn, with fantasy literature.
In middle school, I went on to read The Lord of the Rings series. It felt natural to continue the adventure with more of Tolkein’s works. I also picked up Frank Herbert’s science fiction book Dune in a little library in Castroville, California. It was entirely by accident; I just remember liking the thickness of the book, its pale blue coloring, the musky smell of it, and the way its book jacket cover crinkled in my hands.
A love of books is such a precious thing for a child to learn, and for me that passion revolved around fantastical worlds. While I spent a lot of time devouring other genres too — particularly historical romance, which I started borrowing from my school’s Christian library as a preteen — there was always something special about fantasy and science fiction. I believe part of that was craving an understanding of fictional cultures and societies. I marveled at the religious sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit in Dune, wondered at the lives of Tolkein’s hobbits and the little round doors to their dwellings, and sighed at the romance of an immortal elf marrying a human man. The authors of these works described their worlds with such care and attention to detail — and yet their worlds, nowhere on Earth’s map, were spun from their imaginations.
I also loved the language of these fictional worlds. Tolkein and Herbert stand tall among fantasy and sci-fi authors for how beautifully they name everything in their books. In Dune, I found it so satisfying to read words like melange, the mysterious spice, or baliset, a fictional instrument. These made-up words were so fitting for what they labeled or described, they seemed to conjure them through the magic of language alone. That Tolkein, a linguist, believed that to invent a language you had to understand the history of the people who used it makes perfect sense when you read his work.
“The invention of language is the foundation. To me a name comes first and the story follows.”— Tolkein in a letter to his publishers (1955)
Tolkein’s characters speak in various tongues, and his books always note which language someone is using. The fictional languages evoke the cultures, histories, and mythologies that, when woven together, create the fabric of Middle-earth. This sparked my curiosity to constantly seek more information about this other world.
The older I get, the more I enjoy reading literature set in the future or on some other planet, largely because of the ideas it can present in unique ways. Children can pick up on these themes too. Just look at a series like J. K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular Harry Potter, which explores friendship and love but also bigotry, death, and power at the expense of the soul. Being able to explore these topics as a young reader is an incredible way to make sense of both the good and bad of the world.
It’s part of our human DNA to love a good story, and every child who learns to read can develop a love of books — the trick is often just finding the right type. I believe the fantasy genre has a special power to engage many children. (Going back to Harry Potter, look at how many children learned to enjoy reading from that series in particular.) There’s something about entering another world through something as mundane as a dresser, or imagining magic around every corner, that can inspire all of us.
I ended up reading the rest of the Dune series in middle school, along with C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Some books were more appropriate for my age than others, just in terms of what I was able to comprehend, but I enjoyed every challenging minute of reading those novels. Ever since the days my 4th grade teacher read The Hobbit to my class, I’ve been devouring the sci-fi and fantasy genres, and it’s a magical journey I want to share with others.
As I go into teaching, I want to share these fantastical worlds with my students and other young readers. These books can teach kids about our own world, help them through difficult times, give them a much-needed escape, or inspire them to explore their own creativity. Whatever the case, I start this website with the simple purpose of sharing fantasy and science fiction with children and their teachers and parents — or anyone looking for their next magical read.
Thomas Schweighofer via Unsplash
Jessica Fadel via Unsplash