During this difficult time, and as we spend more time at home, we all need a little more escapism and nostalgia in our lives. To that end, I wanted to give an insight to some favourite fantasy books from my childhood, that have all inspired my work, and in some cases, specific designs. You may be familiar with most of these, but I do believe we can learn a lot from re-reading books (yes, even children’s ones)! And if the real world seems a bit too scary right now, immersing ourselves in an alternate universe or two seems like a good idea to me...
Read on to discover my recommendations, and let me know what you think and if you have any recommendations for me, in the comments below.
1. Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
The first book in the His Dark Materials series follows the adventures of a spirited young girl Lyra, into the North and the unknown. Pullman introduces the idea of ‘dæmons’ in this book; a part of a person always with them in animal form, something I’ve yearned for ever since! This is a magical and original story that has been a source of inspiration ever since I read it, when it was released and given to me by my English teacher mum, while I was at primary school. My Aurora design was particularly inspired by this book and its world.
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
A brilliant one to re-read as an adult, and just as charming as I remember from my childhood. Lewis Carroll’s skew-whiff logic, nonsense poems and contrary characters are a feast for the imagination. Choose a generously-sized edition (I have a lovely red hardback Penguin Classics one) to fully enjoy the original illustrations by John Tenniel. I was particularly inspired by the Cheshire cat perched in a tree, for the wildcats, and the appearance of flamingos, when drawing my Wonder World design.
3. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken
This was the first book in the wonderful Wolves Chronicles, in which wolves have migrated to Britain to terrorise the inhabitants; the protagonists Bonnie and Sylvia must use all their wits to escape these and other dangers. Beautifully written, with unique language and evocative descriptions of a re-imagined 19th century Britain, the books in this series are page-turners of a very idiosyncratic nature.
4. Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
A world I was originally introduced to on unabridged audiobook on (many, many) cassettes, on long car journeys as a child! Tolkien is a master at creating a rich and detailed alternate universe, full of dragons, wizards, elves, talking trees and more. If you’ve only seen the movies, the books are much slower moving, and each scene incredibly richly described. A trilogy perfect for whiling away many hours and immersing yourself in this magical realm. My Drakon design definitely owes some inspiration to Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
5. Aesop’s Fables
These surreal tales feature a whole host of animals, that might even teach us something! The original fables were passed on by word of mouth, and were credited to Aesop, a slave in ancient Greece. An illustrated edition is a must, to fully enjoy the famous (& some lesser known) tales such as the Tortoise and the Hare, the Goose with the Golden Eggs and the Fox and the Grapes. My Aesop and Frith designs both take inspiration from these stories.
6. Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett
Along with all the Discworld series novels, this has a combination of fantasy, surrealism and downright silliness. Taking from classic mythology and folklore, this novel features vampires, castles, witches and magic, albeit with signature Pratchett twists (and, of course all set on the Discworld, a flat planet balanced on four elephants, standing on the back of a giant turtle). Conjuring up images of this alternate reality have been a rich source of inspiration for my designs.
7. The Island of Doctor Moreau - H.G. Wells
I obsessively borrowed H.G.Wells’ books from the school library, having read nothing like them before. Veering into science fiction, and also quite scary at times, they were equally weird and wonderful. This novel features an island, a shipwreck and a mad scientist, and is one that I still remember vividly, most probably due to the descriptions of animal hybrids! My peacock-tailed hybrid Lynx owes some inspiration to this story.
8. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
I was a fan of the whole Narnia series, and if you’re also planning on re-reading them, the first book seems a good place to start! Fawns, talking beavers, the White Witch and Aslan are just some of the reasons I fell in love with these stories. I also love the cover illustrations on some of the old editions, and the series was a big part of the inspiration for my ‘Caspian’ design.
9. The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper
This is the most famous book in the Arthurian Quintet, and it lives up to its name; this is a dark and menacing tale drawing on inspiration from Norse Mythology, Arthurian legends, Celtic folklore, and more. I loved this story of magic, heroism and good against evil, with an eleven-year-old protagonist - if you’re a Harry Potter fan and haven’t read this, it comes highly recommended.
10. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
And finally… I couldn’t complete the list without thinking of little Mole, Ratty, Badger and petulant Toad! The witty adventures of these talking riverbank creatures are always worth a re-read, and, in tough times more than most, its humour and charm seems essential.
Do you have any other fantasy books you would add to the list? Are you planning on re-reading any childhood favourites during lockdown? Let me know in the comments below.