Patricia C. Wrede

Hi Pat!

I just want to take a second to thank you for the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. I know, I know, they’re not your only books, and certainly not your most recent, but they were staple reading of my childhood, and staple rereading well beyond.

I actually read Searching for Dragons first, not out of any kind of strange desire to read books out of order, but because it was one of the books featured in my middle school class’s “Battle of the Books,”  where we were put into teams to collectively tackle a list of novels and then answer trivia questions about them (yes, I went to nerd school, which is for nerds). From BotB’s latest list, it looks like they have since corrected their oversight, and are including Dealing with Dragons instead. Phew, glad they figured that one out.

Still, Searching being my first encounter with your work was hardly a negative. After all, who’s to say the best introduction to the enchanted forest couldn’t be meeting its king (and his steward, of course), followed by a host of varied, lovable, and not-so-lovable characters?

Speaking of characters, I need to thank you particularly, Pat, for your female characters. I was going to make this section of my note exclusively about Cimorene, but upon reflection I think that would be a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, Cimorene is a great character — a girl who rejects entirely and repeatedly what society expects of her? who pursues her own wants and needs? who makes her own decisions and advocates for herself?!? yes, please, I’ll take fifty! — but she’s hardly your only one. There’s Morwen: practical and unapologetic; and Kazul: a responsible but fiery (har har) leader, among others.

Thank you for all of them, from giantesses to fire witches. Thank you for making so many other YA fantasy novels disappointing when the ladies in them fell flat by comparison.

-Louisa

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J.R.R. Tolkien

Mr. Tolkien —

Greetings.

Will I ever forget these epic lines of yours?

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Thank you for helping begin the proliferation of the modern fantasy genre

Thank you for getting me started in constructing languages and religions and maps

Thank you for showing me how a true leader ought to act — like a king such as Aragorn or Théoden

Thank you for the writing highest model of friendship — Sam and Frodo

Thank you for the beautiful tribute to love in the tale of Beren and Lúthien

Thank you for the Silmarillion, whose tragic beauty (“it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin”) will haunt my soul forever

Thank you for your warning on human folly and hubris, when you wrote about Númenor

Thank you for reminding me, before anyone else did, that “day shall come again” (Silmarillion); and that “faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens” (The Fellowship of the Ring); and also that:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost. (The Fellowship of the Ring)

And thank you for inspiring the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy that my brother and I must have watched over 50 times. This is still my adrenaline pill.

Many thanks, good sir. You are a most admirable man — a gentleman, war hero, and scholar of the highest caliber. I’m not blind to some of the criticisms of your works: its moral absolutism, the portrayal of non-Western humans, or of orcs, its excessive focus on description and travel, and so on. Or perhaps that criticism that too many works of fantasy were imperfect rip-offs of your work. These arguments all have validity. But on balance, admiration and appreciation win out.

Thank you.

-Akhi

Baroness Orczy

There are books stacked left, books stacked right
Their covers gleaming in the light
I scan through their pages, trying to tell
Which book report will be less like Hell

I find a book with the French Revolution
A mysterious figure at its core
Who’d spoil every gruesome execution
Sold! Do tell me more…

To the Estimable Baronness Orczy,

I was going to try and just keep going with that bit of silliness, playing upon the delightful poem you gave to Sir Percy Blakeney in your classic adventure novel. But it does set the stage: I was in eighth grade and had been assigned my first ever book report project. My English teacher had said it would take up the entirety of our final quarter of the school year and that we would work in groups although, if we wanted, we could opt to work alone at her approval. The kicker of it all was that she had a selection of books already laid out upon a table, so we were not only limited to her selection, but she was going to limit how many people could work on each book. I suspect this is because the majority of my class wanted to read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

I, on the other hand, made a point to pick up each book and flip through the first few pages. It’s like going on a first date with the book: you’re getting to know the writing style, pacing, and tonal gist of the whole thing. Near the end of the line I picked up a book with a cover I already knew I liked: A man, half-hidden in shadows, with a piece of paper bearing a seal that looked like some kind of red flower. He was clearly in France, given the decor of the soldiers who also graced the cover, and it was clearly sometime in the late 1700’s, one of my favourite eras of history. But then I quickly scan the back and it mentions something about a rogue character, known only as The Scarlet Pimpernel, snatching aristos from the fate of the guillotine.

Well colour me intrigued.

I opened your book and by the very first sentence I was completely hooked — I remember that sentence even now because the dark, mellifluous cadence of the words rings in my head like music:

“A surging, seething, mumuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.”

The effect those words had upon me was instantaneous: chills, inexplicable glee, and a physical need to know more. I took that book home and read it in one sitting which, while not wholly unusual for me, had never really happened a “school book” before. But your story transported me, and that was something I desperately needed in that moment. Thirteen wasn’t a great year for me: I had a bully, I was lonely and angry and had developed bad behaviours as coping mechanism (hello, Dad’s liquor cabinet)…and I was thirteen, full of all those hormonal changes, physical developments, and general state of confusion that comes with being thirteen. Yeah, it just wasn’t a great year.

But it was also the year I discovered your book; it was the year I first met Sir Percy and Lady Marguerite Blakeney. The first year that I got swept away on a swashbuckling, high-stakes adventure of cat-and-mouse, with people’s necks quite literally hanging in the balance. I laughed, I cried, I held my breath, I fell in love, I shook my fist at Chauvelin, and when all was said and done, I started it all over again. Your book gave me my own private adventure, and also made me first think the thought “I’d love to make a movie version of this,” which, in retrospect, is a pretty big deal.

To some people it may seem funny that I say a classic adventure novel is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, and that I make a point to re-read it every year without fail — especially when, if you really look at the novel, it’s not some milestone in literature. It’s considered a classic and it’s an adventure, but nobody hailed you as the successor to, oh I don’t know, Dickens or something. But I don’t think you get enough credit for the characters and story that you created. I don’t think enough people have had the chance to enjoy the ride you wrote down in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

But I did. And it’s one of those books that shines bright in my memory as a literary milestone: a place where I can mark my life as “before this book” and “after this book.”

So thank you, Baroness Orczy. Thank you.


Nota bene: The poem at this letter’s start was a pastiche of the musical number “They Seek Him Here” from the 1997 musical adaptation of Baroness Orczy’s novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel. The song itself is adapted from the poem included in the novel. Please forgive the author of this letter for her general silliness.

Melina Marchetta

Dear Melina,

I have stayed awake all night reading a book exactly three times in my life. This is not because I don’t become engrossed in many of the books I read, but rather because I have actual anxiety about the amount of sleep I get. As someone who has been suffering from a particularly ugly kind of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep and the inability to stay asleep for more than 2 hours) since she was eight years old, bedtime is sacred to me. If I’m going to be even halfway functional as a human I need to be in bed for at least ten hours every night, and I do not push that.

So when I tell you that you wrote one of the books that I stayed up all night to read, I need you to understand that this is a huge thing. The only other books that have this distinction are Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, which is my all-time favorite novel and the subject of my undying love and devotion, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I read immediately after its midnight release largely because my brother was going to spoil the ending for me if he finished it first (and also I’m from the generation that grew up with Harry Potter, so that was a major life event for me as well).

Essentially what I’m trying to tell you is that your Lumatere Chronicles really blew my mind. I picked up Finnikin of the Rock during a stage in my life where I had a complicated relationship with YA literature, especially YA Fantasy. I was a graduate student with fairly limited time to read for pleasure so I was drawn to YA Fantasy books because they were shorter and easier reads than their adult counterparts. But I was growing increasingly frustrated because they also lacked a lot of the substance and heart that drew me to most of the fantasy stories that I adored. I was worried I was outgrowing the genre, potentially losing some of my identity as a reader. I was disillusioned with myself and the stories I was consuming. Finnikin of the Rock was my light in that dark time. While I did not read it in one sitting, I did read it in two, and it was the first book in probably years that had me longing for it when I was away from it, that had me thinking about it all day and arranging my work such that I’d have ample time to read it when I got home from classes.

I was so excited about it that I bought copies for my roommates and forced it on my boyfriend at the time (who has since married me, for whatever that’s worth). I immediately purchased both Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn, and I read Froi in one sitting that Saturday and stayed up until 6 am on Sunday to finish Quintana of Charyn.

I then proceeded to re-read the series three times over the next month. They left me deeply satisfied on an emotional level and had my brain firing on all cylinders. Several of my own darker fantasy projects are more than slightly influenced by The Lumatere Chronicles and it is the first series I recommend to anyone who wants to read a good fantasy.

So thank you for restoring my faith in literature and for reminding me what it was like to be an avid reader, to be some consumed by a story that it became the only thing that mattered. You are amazing, truly.

Much love and gratitude,
Rebecca

Ursula LeGuin

Dear Ursula,

When I was younger, my father suggested two book series to me: the Chronicles of Narnia and the Earthsea Trilogy. I read C.S. Lewis’s books and enjoyed them, but they didn’t speak to me the same way yours did.

It was my first experience with truly great world-building. The islands of Earthsea were filled with characters and creatures that felt rich and real. My first magical school wasn’t Hogwarts, but Roke with its Masters and students. I was fascinated by the way that words held power in your world, that to completely know a thing, you must know its true name. I quickly devoured The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, entranced by Ged’s journey. There was something poignant in the way that his nemesis wasn’t some external evil, but one of his own creation.

Time went by, and I rediscovered your work in high school in The Left Hand of Darkness, which encouraged me to see the world in a different light through gender. Always Coming Home did the same though anthropology, The Dispossessed through socialism. Your work is the epitome of what science fiction should be: shifting stories to other times and spaces to reveal truths about our own.

In college, I had the privilege of taking a class from one of your colleagues in which we read several science fiction novels written by women. While it certainly opened my eyes to many authors, some of whom are now among my favorites, the core message of the class I already knew thanks to you: that science fiction and fantasy writing, like any field, is made better through diversity.

I sincerely thank you for your work and your talent, and I look forward to the time when I can pass on your stories to my children the way they were passed to me.

-Christopher

Jennifer Donnelly

“I tried to be goodly. I tried to be godly. But I got so tired of being ignored. Cry your grief to God. Howl to the heavens. Tear your shirt. Your hair. Your flesh. Gouge out your eyes. Carve out your heart. And what will you get from Him? Only silence. Indifference…Because God loves us, but the devil takes an interest.”

Dear Jennifer Donnelly,

2014 was a strange and tumultuous year for me. When I read your book, Revolution, I had only just learned that the full-time job I was in was not going to exist by the end of the year. That I was soon to be 23 and unemployed, unmoored in life, and suffering inside. It was an emotional maelstrom, and then suddenly, while audiobook-surfing my library’s website at midnight, I found Revolution. I found this novel I knew nothing about, but that presented me Andi and Alexandrine, two young women fighting against hatred, inaction, despair, and the ever-elusive search for hope.

I suddenly felt alive, torn apart one thread at a time by the glorious harmonic dissonance of your writing — as if you had transcribed the beauty of the diabolus in musica and minor keys into words. The angry splatters of red blood was my own roiling confusion and rage; the swooping blackness of these characters’ true despair was my own disillusionment and self-loathing. It was beautiful and terrifying all at once.

It was the full-colour spectrum of my emotions displayed out before me: taken apart and then, as if by magic, put ever so slowly back together. Because what you wrote, Ms. Donnelly, rang so profoundly true to real life that I had never at that point been so cathartically and emotionally wrung-out in a long time, and it was everything I needed in that moment. It was ecstasy, in all the pain and joy that word implies.

I suppose that means you were the “devil” of this story — who broke the painful silence and, just by writing this book, took an interest.

And so, thank you for writing this. For giving me a novel that, even thinking back now, reminds of the pain it put me through — how it amplified my own darkness and forced me to stare into the void in order to confront it, to deal with it in a healthy way: through fiction, through Andi and Alexandrine by proxy.

And thank you, also, for writing stories of young women trying to be themselves when the world or even their own mind tries to sway them otherwise. Young women like myself greatly appreciate everything you bring to us.

Sincerely,
Madeleine, who also wears a red ribbon

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.”