Diana Gabaldon

Dear Diana Gabaldon,

I was never a romance reader until I met you. I thought romance novels were cheesy and for a while I protested even calling the Outlander series romances, “no no, they’re historical, and have an element of fantasy, and I learned so much about history….”

But you know what? In addition to that amazingness they are fabulous romances. The relationships expressed in these series (and the sex scenes, let’s be real) helped me to understand healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors in my life and those of my friends. Heck, I even brought up Outlander in my Maid of Honor speech for my cousin.

And this is all because of “WW2 nurse falls through a portal in time and ends up having to marry a 1700s Scottish Laird for her protection BUT THERE IS SO MUCH MORE, THEY WITNESS IMPORTANT HISTORICAL EVENTS AND STUFF, DON’T DISREGARD THEM BECAUSE OF THAT TIME-TRAVEL ROMANCE LABEL!” books.

These days, I embrace the time-travel romance novel, and have stopped judging books by their covers (goodness knows the original cover of Outlander made it look like a bodice-ripper) and genre listings. Thank you, Ms. Gabaldon, for this amazing gift. It has enriched my personal and literary lives.

Sincerely yours,
Dorothy

Diana Wynne Jones

Hi Diana,

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve never even seen the Miyazaki film.

I’ve had both the book and film recommended to me countless times by friends, family, acquaintances, and posts on the Internet where I’ve recognized a reference without the benefit of knowing the full context, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to it. So, while many people I know have always first and foremost associated you with Howl, I still don’t know much about him or Sophie (her name is Sophie, right?), apart from his being a wizard with a tiny fire demon (is the fire demon in the book?), and a strong association with crows (or is it ravens?).

Cat Chant is a different story. My copy of Charmed Life is worn from years of reading and rereading. For a long time it was the only piece of your work I’d ever read, and I went back to it whenever I wanted to reenter that world, or rather those worlds, the richness of which you only get a small peek during Cat and Gwendolen’s story. Charmed Life sat on my shelf among a mishmash of other novels, fantasy or not, and I well remember several times walking up to that bookshelf having finished a new book, looking for the familiarity of an old friend, and pulling that slim purple volume out from between The Gammage Cup and one or another teen angst novel.

I don’t know why it took me so long to branch out — maybe it’s because I am very much a rereader at my core — but it wasn’t until I was probably 16 or 17 that I realized you’d written other books, and that I could obtain those other books, and read them. I found the collected volumes of the Chrestomanci series in a bookstore and snatched up the first two, devouring The Lives of Christopher ChantThe Magicians of Caprona, and Witch Week immediately. And while I loved all of them, I kept going back to Charmed Life.

Every time I pick up that tired paperback, Julia spreads far too much marmalade on her toast. Every time, I re-encounter the word “widdershins,” and remember again what it means. Every time, I am reminded of the cat who was a fiddle and the dragon who is, well, dead and not-dead. And every time, all these things are comforting and comfortingly strange. I hope I go back to The Lives, because I love Christopher dearly, and I hope I meet Howl sometime in the future, but I have a feeling I’ll be rereading Cat’s story for a very long time.

Thank you for everything,
Louisa

J.K. Rowling

Dear JKR,

Thank you. I grew up reading any and all books I could find, but none left such a mark as the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter gives me a feeling unlike any other. I would say it’s almost magical, but that would be cheesy. When I opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time, I got bored and set it down. It collected dust for about a year before I picked it up again, and then I couldn’t put it down. I attended all the midnight book releases, movie premieres, and had all the merchandise available at the time. I dreamt in Potter, and was convinced that I would get my letter each summer. I have laughed, sobbed, and screamed during my readings.

When I was diagnosed with depression, Harry Potter was there for me. No matter how little I am able to feel, Harry Potter allows me to feel. When I was hospitalized multiple times, I still had Harry Potter. Every bad day, break up, fight, or loss was lessened by the presence of my HP books. The last book came out nine years ago, but I will never stop rereading whether it be in print or audiobook. Harry Potter gives me life, hope, and happiness unlike anyone or anything I’ve ever known.

To say that Harry Potter saved my life would be an understatement. Thank you, Ms Rowling, for creating the most amazing universe for me to escape into when real life gets tough. Thank you for allowing movies to be made even if they don’t always match the brilliance of the books. Thank you for giving me a fandom where I feel so comfortable. Thank you for giving me friends in Hermione, Neville, and Ron; role models in Ginny and McGonagall; everlasting laughs from Fred, George, and Harry; and self-assurance and confidence from the examples of Luna and Tonks, who stayed true to themselves regardless of what the rest of the world had to say. I couldn’t imagine a world without Harry Potter in it. Thank you for giving me a way to turn on the light during my darkest of times.

Sincerely,
Juliana (Ravenclaw)

Jonathan Stroud

Mr. Stroud,1

I was 12, I believe, when I first picked up The Amulet of Samarkand on a whim2 during a school book fair. I didn’t know anything about it save what little it told me on its back cover — curiously enough I noticed something a little different about that description.3 I’d seen footnotes before, sure, but never in so…snarky a fashion,4 and certainly not in fiction. I was curious; I was intrigued. I was also pretty much sold the moment I saw “A London run by magicians” on the back cover.5

And, sure, your book absolutely gave me a London run by magicians6 and an Amulet of Samarkand,7 but it and the rest of the series was so much more than that.8

Through the absurdly delightful and absolutely brilliant Bartimaeus,9 you introduced an almost-teenager to probably the first antihero that made me laugh,10 while also making me think long and hard about enslavement and the role of government and power.11 Combining Bartimaeus’ spirituous wit with Nathaniel’s stubborn ambition gave me a dynamic antihero duo who were equal parts understandable, relatable, and at times even hateable.12 But, come the conclusion of the trilogy…I was left speechless.13

Totally bittersweet, with characters oftentimes teamed up for reasons of convenience as opposed to genuine feeling for each other.14 The multiple sacrifices made by every character at the end of the final novel rang out incredibly true, even moreso now, I think, as I listen to yet more vitriolic rhetoric in this world. The beautifully flawed characters of your trilogy were perfect for me when growing up, and perfect for me even now as a “grown up.”15

Thank you for writing these characters who, in their very imperfections, are damn near perfect.16 My adolescence, my teenage years, and my so-called adult life are all the better for it.

Sincerely,
Madeleine


Footnotes

  1. I don’t think we’re on a first name basis yet, given we’ve never met, but this does sound terribly formal.
  2. Can you blame me? The cover was blue and had a shiny piece of jewelry as its centrepiece.
  3. I’m sure you can guess…hint: I’m poorly imitating it right now.
  4. Bartimaeus is now my posterchild for prime “snarkentary” in novels.
  5. What can I say? I’ve got a type.
  6. Eyyy, Natty boy.
  7. Shiny!
  8. Augh, this is where I get a little sappy. Feel free to shield your eyes.
  9. Bartimaeus of Uruk, Sakhr al-Jinni, N’gorso the Mighty and the Serpent of Silver Plumes who rebuilt the walls of Uruk, Karnak and Prague; who spoke with Solomon and ran with the buffalo fathers of the plains; who watched over Old Zimbabwe till the stones fell and the jackals fed on its people. Yes, that Bartimaeus.
  10. He gets all the good one-liners.
  11. Don’t get me wrong: obviously slavery is wrong and I knew this. But it made me reconsider it on a fantastical level — the idea that the spirits were slaves and that they experienced physical consequences from their time on Earth. That they might be friends or enemies outside of their masters’ biddings. That was a new one for me. And, of course, with the events of 2016, thinking about the role of government and power is more pertinent and important than ever.
  12. Oh, Nathaniel. You really needed to learn that both humans and spirits had bad things about them.
  13. Okay, that’s a small fib: I was actually sobbing, but let’s pretend that indignity didn’t happen.
  14. Although I like to think that maybe Nathaniel earned a few points in Bartimaeus’ book for his actions in Ptolemy’s Gate, it was both entertaining and illuminating to see these two band together because it was necessary…even while they actively disliked each other.
  15. I’m still fairly certain being a “grown up” is a myth.
  16. I have a feeling Bartimaeus would be objecting to me even considering he has “imperfections.”

Neil Gaiman

Dear Neil,

I definitely had every intention of finding a few of my favorites quotes of yours and building them cleverly into this letter, but the fact is there are way too many of them and it’s just not going to happen. Frankly if I’m going to be using your words to talk to you I’m not sure why I should bother writing at all. So please appreciate this stumbling attempt to express to you how grateful I am for your profound influence on my life for what it is.

The thing about you, Neil (may I call you Neil?) is that you are not on my favorite authors list because you’ve written some of my favorite books. Don’t take that the wrong way–I own everything you’ve ever written and I deeply love it all. I recommend your writing far and wide and I’ve convinced more than one person to read Sandman who otherwise would flatly refuse to read graphic novels (spoiler alert: they have all adored the series). I even take some time each year to re-read some of my favorites of yours, notably Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book (though Ocean at the End of the Lane did something to me and is definitely going to be on this year’s rotation). But what I really love about you, what really gets me about you, is who you are outside of what you’ve written.

I have a running Google Doc of all my favorite quotes of yours from your books, from interviews, from talks, from social media, etc. On my list of tattoos I badly want I’ve got about six of your quotes (they are the only quotes on my list because generally I’m not that into the idea of word tattoos). If I had to lay down my life philosophy in writing I could probably do it by stringing your wisdom nuggets together.

Your words have had a profound influence on me and on my life for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I’ll read something you wrote and I’ll think to myself, “Wow, I’ve always felt that way but never been able to put it into words. How does he do that?” Other times I’ll read them and think, “Wow he’s brilliant. Why have I never thought about it that way?”

And the thing is, Neil, that I bet you’ll be both pleased to know you’ve had this kind of an effect on my life and also mildly embarrassed by it. I like to imagine that you’d feel a little bit like anyone who listens to you must be an idiot because of course you don’t know what you’re talking about, but mostly you’d be happy to know that all the work you’ve put into your art has done some work of its own. You’re always encouraging people to live their lives, to tell their story, to put themselves out into the world and to change the world just a little bit at a time. I’d just like you to know that you’ve made quite a success of that yourself, and I couldn’t appreciate you more for it.

Thank you, and never stop doing what you do (pretty please),
Rebecca

Terry Pratchett

Dear Sir Terry,

You showed the world that fantasy, long dominated by backwards-looking escapism, has as much to say about modern society as science fiction does. I had enjoyed one of your children’s books, so after coming across a couple television adaptations a decade later, I decided to give your Discworld series a try. The first book, The Color of Magic, was a blast. I wasn’t hooked, however, until Jingo, which taught me as much about geopolitics and civil-military relations as a semester at Georgetown. (Ok, maybe not quite as much, but it was certainly a better value.)

You helped teach this once cynical and dismissive atheist the value of religion by showing the goodness religious belief can inspire, even as you never ceased to poke fun at pompous or absurd religiosity. Perhaps the most beautiful scene I’ve ever read was when Pastor Mightily Oats, the overeager, literal interpreter of scripture, finally realizes how to save his companion using the words of the prophet – by burning his holy book as kindling.

Belief in your books isn’t passive, but a tool to shape the world. In Hogfather, it’s the ability to believe in the Santa Claus-like title character – basically, to find meaning in stories – that lets us believe in intangible things like justice and mercy. That became how I think of human rights. They exist only because we choose to belief they exist, and the world is a better place for that.

Best of all is the sense of decency that pervades your books – and the reminders never to take one’s own goodness for granted. Like the witches who watch over one another lest one of their number ends up cackling and baking children into pies, we all need good people around us to tell us when we’ve gone too far. Otherwise, we may start to think we’re kinder, smarter, better than other people and that that gives us the right treat them however we want. On the Discworld, as in our own, not everyone is good, but anyone could be good. A goblin. A vampire. An all-powerful dictator. Even an elf.

Thank you,
Lisa

Philip Pullman

“There are some who live by every rule and cling tightly to their rectitude because they fear being swept away by a tempest of passion, and there are others who cling to the rules because they fear that there is no passion there at all, and that if they let go they would simply remain where they are, foolish and unmoved; and they could bear that least of all. Living a life of iron control lets them pretend to themselves that only by the mightiest effort of will can they hold great passions at bay.”

Dear Mr. Pullman,

I’ve started this “thank you” letter several times because I didn’t really know what to talk about. Your His Dark Materials trilogy stands as a seminal work of my childhood and budding young adulthood. I remember my mum giving me the first two books in a set and, despite being fairly certain I mispronounced at least 50% of the names and terms incorrectly in my head while reading, I was so profoundly swept away by Lyra and Will’s story that I was actually angry when I realised a third book wasn’t already out, especially after that rather mean cliffhanger you left us on in The Subtle Knife. Truly devious.

I didn’t manage to grab hold of The Amber Spyglass until around five or so years later, when I was thirteen. I devoured it amazed that, even after five years, I still remembered all the characters and the story in which they had been a part. Suffice to say that Spyglass rocked me to my core, but in a way that the first two had not, at least, not when I was still a child. I was almost a young adult when I finally read Spyglass and the content of that novel, from Lyra’s awakening to the topic of death and what comes after, of religion and faith (or lack thereof), and of the beauty of life…it still leaves me wholly speechless. It was magical, but in a seemingly tactile way: this was “magic” that I could understand because it wasn’t really magic at all. This was a discussion I’d been trying to have with myself for some time, but didn’t know how to form the words, didn’t know what exactly it was I was trying to figure out.

I admit, I wonder now if my mum would have handed me your books if she’d known all the details of their content. She’s Roman Catholic, you see, and tried to raise my younger brothers and I Catholic as well. While she was never particularly strict about it, there are certainly things related to religion and faith I find safer not to discuss with her. By the time I was being forced through Confirmation, I knew I didn’t belong in her “house of God.” I knew that I didn’t believe, and being forced into such a process where I had to lie and say “I will pledge myself to the Catholic Church body and soul” because “I believe in the Lord, our God, and his son, Jesus Christ” without being allowed any say or chance to escape was enough to make me spend many a night crying myself to sleep. I was told I was just being selfish, that I didn’t know what I was talking about because I was fifteen and how could I possibly know what it was talking about when I was so young…

But I did.

I did know, because two years prior I had read The Amber Spyglass and understood the confusion I’d been wrestling with; and just a year prior I had read your magnificent novel, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, and it felt like someone had taken so many of my abstract, incoherent thoughts and managed to start expressing a large part of them, there, printed in black ink on white page. Jesus in the Garden was a passage I read over and over and over again because it was some of the most beautiful language and profound insight I’d seen put to paper. I pull it out and read it in times of stress. I also flip to your own author’s notes at the novel’s end because your own words, divorced from a fictional narrative, are still incredible. They helped me a great deal when I thought I was crazy for thinking, “But I don’t believe in what I’m being told.”

Because of your books and your words, I was able to begin the process of articulating my own thoughts and feelings about the universe and what it was I believed, no matter what conclusion I eventually came to.

So thank you — thank you so, so much for writing these books and helping to inspire at least this one person to try and articulate the sum of her own thoughts on what she did (or did not) believe.

Sincerely,
Madeleine

Tamora Pierce

For a lot of people in my generation, Harry Potter was the series that introduced them to fantasy.

For me, it was a few years earlier, with Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series. I’ve written about this series before on this blog, from her realistic approach to puberty and birth control, to using Alanna as an example of a gender non-conforming character. I have seriously considered naming one of my children after one of her characters. The way that she builds universes, writes about magic, and blends interpersonal relationships is mind-blowing to me to this day.

For over 15 years, her books (I believe I read the Circle of Magic series in the late 90s, and I just finished Melting Stones as an audiobook) have inspired me to see through the differences in other people, care for the earth, and do the right thing even when it seems impossible. If, when I die, they dissect my brain, they will surely find some of Tamora Pierce’s words woven into the gray matter.

Thank you, Tammy, for this wonderful gift.

-Dorothy

Brian Jacques

Dear Mr. Jacques,

Can I call you Brian? It feels weird to call you Brian. I’m gonna skip over the name issue for now. Maybe I’ll adjust. Speaking of names, though, I’m guessing you’ve never heard of Shadow and Sprinkles. Let me tell you, Brian – no, it still feels weird to call you Brian. Let me tell you, Mr. Jacques, about Shadow and Sprinkles. Shadow was a black lab; Sprinkles was a Dalmatian, and Shadow’s best friend. And they were some of the first characters I came up with in any sort of formal writing as a child. Though they were preceded by some very memorable elephants in large-print short stories, Shadow and Sprinkles were the stars of my first novel, written when I was about 9 years old, which apart from the dogs themselves had pretty much all of its elements ripped directly from your books.

Yes, Shadow and Sprinkles were transported – magically of course – from their suburban backyard to the forests of the Redwall universe, where they encountered a small baby mouse who became their traveling companion, and went up against rats, ferrets, ermines, and – of course – stoats. Thanks for that vocabulary boost, by the way. Throughout their journey to defeat the awful varmints who ran amok in the forest, Shadow and Sprinkles defended the local population of mice, otters, badgers, and other friendly creatures, worked to settle disputes among some moles, and remained strongly focused on food. You taught me well there, Mr. Jacques.

While the escapades of Shadow and Sprinkles will never again see the light of day – due not only to my embarrassment at the writing of my nine-year-old self, but also because I’m sure they violate several copyright laws – I’d like to take a moment to thank you this November for introducing me to the world of Redwall and all its treasures. A society of all animals was everything I wanted as a kid, and Redwall had the added bonus of being set in an era of history I have since (perhaps, unsurprisingly) grown to love. So thanks for the Abbey’s mouse friars and the gentle burr-accented moles. Thanks for Log-a-Log and the ranks and ranks of shrews. Thanks for the Skipper and all of the otters – cherished representations of what was and will continue to be my favorite animal. Thanks for the badger lords of Salamandastron and their warrior hares. And thank you, from the very bottom of my heart, for Shadow and Sprinkles. They owe every single last one of their forest adventures to you.

Love from all my past and current selves,

Louisa

P.S. I know you were never a fan of video games, but I hope you would be delighted to know that a circle of my friends and I are planning a Redwall-based tabletop RPG campaign. Unsurprisingly, I’ll be playing an otter, a character who will hopefully fit into the world of Redwall a little better than Shadow and Sprinkles ever managed to.

(n.b. Header image for this post is from The Great Redwall Feast, illustrated by Christopher Denise. See more of his work here.)

Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson —

Many an idle moment;
And many a long night
Have I spent reading a book of yours:
Works of art, instructing me about
Love, honor, hope, redemption,
Heartbreak, betrayal, loss, forgiveness.

Every world of yours is uniquely crafted,
From the breathtaking storms of Roshar,
To the mists that envelop and protect Scadrial.

I will always remember:

The awesome beauty of the Shattered Plains,
The thought of which stirs some deep longing in my heart;

The first time a fantasy novel brought me to tears,
When I reached the climax of The Way of Kings;

How Words of Radiance got me through my comprehensive
exams in Graduate School;

Warbreaker, the first step in a grand adventure with an
amazing book club;

Breathlessly finishing that tome, A Memory of Light,
A thousand pages for a battle!

And Mistborn, the gift that keeps on giving: a meditation on
politics, religion, and hope that continues to inspire me.

Thank you, good sir ! Here’s to many more memories!

-Akhi