Best Fantasy Books Ever, Round #137

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I went to Boskone last weekend. It’s my “local” con, since I grew up in Lexington (which is near Boston), and my parents still live in Cambridge. So that was a good reason to go. Also the con organizers invited me. That was another good reason. It’s always nice to be invited.

Anyway the programming was really top-notch, especially for a mid-sized con. Smart, well-chosen panels. My first night there I was on an excellent panel on Magic Schools, in which I advanced the theory that the late 20th century fascination with magic schools (Roke, Hogwarts, the University, Brakebills, etc.) is a kind of attempted domestication of magic — an attempt to get rid of its wildness and unpredictability. I mean, Circe didn’t get to be a witch by going to no damn magic school. She was a witch because her dad was the sun god. Her magic was wild and grand and semi-divine. Now you get magic in high school. What’s up with that.

Then I had a beer with David Anthony Durham. Then I appeared on a steampunk panel, where I did my now-patented rant about steampunk. Maybe the beer was a mistake.

The next morning I chaired a Best Fantasy Books Ever panel. This is a subject we’ve visited before on this very blog. I made everybody list their top 5.

Discussion began as expected — Tolkien, Lewis, Carroll, Le Guin — before veering off in unexpected directions. Don D’Ammassa made a trenchant case for The Princess Bride. Then Jane Yolen thunderously nominated the Bible, which kicked off a concerted charge by the ancients — Homer, Virgil, Dante and Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. Darrell Schweitzer then made a thoroughly convincing case for a novel nobody but him had ever heard of, Mervyn Wall’s The Unfortunate Fursey. He synopsizes it as follows:

The Irish monastery of Clonmacnoise has long been free from demonic attack, but when its defenses are finally breached, it is discovered that the Forces of Darkness are taking refuge in the cell of Brother Fursey, whose stammer prevents him from reciting the necessary exorcisms. So Fursey is cast out, a supernatural horde trailing behind him. When he takes shelter with a widow, propriety demands that he marry her. But she is a witch and Fursey accidentally acquires her powers. Now a sorcerer, albeit an incompetent one, whose sole trick is tossing a rope over a beam to produce a mug of beer, he is feared throughout Ireland, pursued by the Church, and defended in court by the Devil himself.

The panel closed with a near-unanimous hymn of praise for T.H. White, and some conversation about why he isn’t mentioned in the same breath with Tolkien and Lewis. I think it was Ellen Asher who pointed out that it’s probably because he’s funny.

Anyway we left with broadened horizons. Though I still maintain it’s impossible for any human being to read the entire Gormenghast trilogy.

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