Escapism is good for your health: March Magics

Posted March 15, 2020 by Lory in events / 15 Comments

Well, I’m quite sure we could all use some cheering up right now, so it’s the perfect time to celebrate March Magics – thanks to Kristen from We Be Reading who has hosted the event (originally DWJ March) for umpteen years. As we hole up avoiding dangerous germs, and tear our hair about other dire situations, we can at least escape to some magical worlds thanks to the wonderful works of Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones.

To me, this is a healthy form of escapism because both authors were keenly aware of the negative side of life, of the injustice, stupidity, hypocrisy and malice that cause such chaos and harm in our world. Their stories are an imaginative response to the question of how we can meet such challenges — with courage, with determination, and above all, with a sense of humor.

So far, I’ve read two books that reminded me how valuable this is. Terry Pratchett’s A Blink of the Screen is his collected shorter fiction, which doesn’t mean all short stories. He says short stories “cost him blood” and he’s only produced about 15 or so. I think they may all be in this volume, starting with the very first story he sold at the age of 13 (he’s embarrassed by its inclusion but it’s surprisingly good), and rounded out by miscellaneous “squibs” that include the Ankh-Morporkh national anthem, a fictional biography of an unknown nobleman in the National Portrait Gallery, and even text for a set of Discworld trading cards.

It’s a buoyantly eclectic collection that fitted my scattered attention span, and could be recommended for those who have yet to try Pratchett and don’t want to commit to a whole novel. The longest story, “The Sea and Little Fishes,” features one of my favorite Discworld characters, the archwitch Granny Weatherwax, and slyly explores the theme of real goodness/badness vs. the appearance thereof. It’s one of Pratchett’s recurring themes, but while in his novels he sometimes belabors the point, this is a snappily paced piece with enough development to be satisfying — so it’s really too bad he didn’t write more short stories in this vein.

I skipped a couple of the pieces (more SF/cyberpunk-oriented) that weren’t my style, but enjoyed some of the shorter pieces that take a “what if” sort of idea and run with it — like a based-on-a-true story speculation about how the chicken crossed the road, and a vignette imagining what it would be like to be trapped in a series of sentimental Christmas cards. I was impressed once more at how Pratchett can write books and stories that are light but not lightweight, intelligent without being dreary, and alive to the magic of language and storytelling. So whether you’re already a fan or not, I think it’s worth picking up and browsing. If you do, be sure to let me know which were your favorites.

Extremely ugly cover on my edition – Don’t let it put you off

I also reread The Homeward Bounders, which I believe is the first book in which Diana Wynne Jones plays with the idea of multiple universes that she so brilliantly explores in other writings. It’s a small book full of big ideas, starting with one that doesn’t seem so fantastic these days: what if the world is a game being played by powerful entities who keep themselves invisible? And how can we free ourselves from this manipulation, and take back reality for ourselves?

The storyteller is Jamie, a boy who chanced on the game-players (known only as Them) and was cursed to “walk the bounds,” moving from world to world without ever entering play. He’s given the hope that he may return home, though, and hope is an anchor … for what, exactly, only comes clear at the end.

Those final pages go by quickly, in the author’s typically headlong ending style, and belie their philosophical depth, leaving readers still with questions to ponder. We don’t get a conventionally reassuring conclusion, but I think it’s all the better for teen (and adult) readers to have to grapple with in our troubled times. It came as something of a shock for me on a first reading; now, seeing how it’s foreshadowed from the first page, I can only feel how inevitable and right it is.

As I read I also remembered my fondness for the characters: Joris the hero-worshipping demon hunter; Adam, the “posh boy” who gets in a bit over his head; and especially bad-tempered Helen, who hides behind her hair, loves creepy critters, and has a “deformity” that could save the world. Then there is Jamie himself, who on his wanderings through the worlds  becomes an stand-in for our own search for home, the elusive place where we belong.

Is it a hopeless quest? That depends on how you look at it. As always, I’m grateful to have my perspective widened, my imagination stretched, and my world expanded by such a venture into the fantastic. It’s the best medicine I can think of right now.

What have you read, or would like to read, for March Magics?

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15 responses to “Escapism is good for your health: March Magics

  1. I agree absolutely, Lory, and I would go further: it’s not so much escapism as such to be reading such books as something more essential. Some *things* even: rebalancing our world perspective by affirming there are good, creative people and works around to counteract the awfulness we’re dripfed daily; offering us a guide to right-thinking and right-doing; and giving us solace when it’s so easy to go down the plughole of depression.

    Unusually, I’ve read both the books you’ve mentioned, as you no doubt know, and each in its way defies the label of escapism in that they engage with what is awry and, as per Jamie, tell us we have *choices*. Thanks for such a positive and heartwarming post.

    • I use the term “escapism” because that’s what other people call it — but to me it’s as essential as you say. Wasn’t it CS Lewis who said something about how the only people who talk about “escaping” are those who are in prison? And how could there be anything wrong with that?

      Thanks for the nudge to reread The Homeward Bounders. I found it to be the perfect book for right now. And your posts turned up loads of fascinating information, as usual.

  2. Jerri C

    I have read a fair amount of both Jones and Pratchett and almost always enjoy them. I haven’t read P’s short stories yet, and will be looking for them. I read The Homeward Bounders some time ago, and it is getting blurry.

    A new discovery for me in the past couple of months has been Ben Aaronavitch’s Rivers of London series. Magic and police work in modern day London. He uses a mixture of novels, shorter pieces, comics and audiobooks to create this world. Instead of “graphic novel” versions of the novels or even novellas the comics deal with bits of things happening between (and sometimes before) the novels and fill in gaps. To get the most full experience one needs to use text, audio and visual and read (experience) as much as possible in internal chronological order as can be found on his Wikipedia page. I have fallen for this world.

    • I read Midnight Riot (Rivers of London) a while ago and enjoyed it. I haven’t gotten pulled into the rest of the series yet though. What an interesting idea to combine text, audio and illustration in that way. I think it’s wonderful when an author can work through all of those different mediums and create something that is a greater whole.

  3. What perfect timing March Magics is! And I too find it’s so useful to read books like this at difficult times. Fantasy reminds us that other ways are possible, that the world is wonderful. And children’s books, I think, remind us not to despair and not to focus on the grimmest outcomes all the time.

    I plan to read some DWJ this month and hope to post about it too. I won’t reread Homeward Bounders this time, though I am very fond of it. The ending is a bit unusual for DWJ in my opinion, but perfect.

  4. If I am honest Lory, I didn’t know March Magics was even a thing, which is a crying shame because it sounds exactly my cup of tea. However I have been indulging in some magical reading: having recently finished The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank L Baum and I am now reading The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. Happy magical, escapist reading, Lory. 🙂

    • His writing is utterly unique, while drawing on all kinds of tropes and literary traditions…hard to describe unless you try it. This volume is a good way to sample some. I’m not sure how the second half would be for someone who hasn’t read any Discworld, but the stories in the first half definitely stand alone.

  5. I get more fond of, and impressed by, Homeward Bounders every time I read it. Which I am going to do again pretty soon here! It’s a perfect book for this very disconcerting time, as were my Pterry reads.

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