Tamora Pierce

Hi Tammy,

Remember that time you laughed at a badger meme I posted? You probably don’t, and I don’t blame you. You probably see a lot of badger memes. But I remember, and I was proud of myself for that for, like, a whole day afterward. Not to get too sappy, but bringing some small amount of joy to someone who had brought me gobs and gobs of it was a really good feeling.

The first book of yours I read was Wolf-Speaker.

I know, I know, it’s a weird place to start: a second book of a second series. I didn’t even have the decency to start at the beginning of the Immortals quartet. I was thrown into a story already begun, meeting a protagonist who had already begun her arc, spending time with characters who had already been introduced and elaborated on.

I regret nothing. Part of this is because of your writing, Tammy. Despite coming in partway through a 4-book arc, starting with Wolf-Speaker just felt like another entry point into the story. You weave in the salient details of past events without belaboring them, hint at larger happenings in the world, and further develop your characters all within the confiens of a single story. Wolf-Speaker doesn’t feel incomplete, though I would also argue that it fits perfectly into its niche in Daine’s timeline.

I also don’t regret my decision at all because being introduced to a protagonist who can communicate with animals, and having her first major interactions be with a wolf pack was the perfect point to enter a story for my 12-year-old self. Regular readers of the BWP blog may recall that I wrote of the Redwall universe that a universe full of talking animals was everything I wanted. I may have to slightly tweak that statement, because even better was the possibility of a universe where animals were still animals — not living in buildings and farming the land, but living as animals do — but some people could talk to them. Rather, some people could talk to them, and they would answer.

From Wolf-Speaker, I finished the Immortals quartet, and then went back to read your works from the beginning. Over time I got to meet all of your heroines, and I am so glad I spent time growing up with all of these women. From bull-headed temperamental Alanna to calm unyielding Kel, to snippy people-averse Tris — it would take too long to describe them all, but suffice it to say, that when I try to determine a single favorite, it’s nearly impossible.*

There are many things I can be thankful for in your writing, Tammy, but the greatest thing is that you showed me unequivocally that women in fantasay could be as real and varied as the women I know from reality. They could show full ranges of emotions, had their own ideas, and made their own decisions. They could be sad, angry, brave, quiet, brash, thoughtful, giddy, and everything in between. Thank you for their stories.

-Louisa

*Nearly. (I’ll give you one guess).

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

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.)

TBT 04: Religion in YA Literature

Happy Holidays! Members of Backroom Whispering got together just before Christmas to discuss how religion is discussed and used in YA literature, including but not limited to His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia. We had a lot of different thoughts, so we hope you enjoy! Continue the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

In this episode you heard from:
Moderator: Dorothy | @bwp_dorothy
Akhi | @akhipill
Madeleine | @madnbooks | youtube.com/madnbooks
Rebecca | @rumy91989
Louisa | @otterbewriting
Sara (read by Dorothy) | @fantasticpiggy

The Book Table is a podcast from Backroom Whispering Productions. Our theme music is by Mark Wayne.

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Twitter | @BackroomWhisper
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Email | BackroomWhispering@gmail.com