(I know there's not much that can trump the crazy, swirling news of this weekend in America, but let's enter the land of make-believe and try...)
I was delighted this week to discover that the authors of two recent fantasy novels have stated in interviews that they were inspired by the works of Ruth Manning-Sanders and Robin Jacques. It's beyond awesome that this is still happening in 2016. We've already seen the a new printing of one of her classic books this year, A Book of Mermaids. But we really need a publisher to step up and reissue the entire "A Book Of..." series, complete with Jacques' indispensable illustrations. There's money to be made and new generations of readers to be inspired.
The first of the "inspired by" books is The Hike, by Drew Magary. Here's a partial description of the novel:
"When Ben, a suburban family man, takes a business trip to rural Pennsylvania, he decides to spend the afternoon before his dinner meeting on a short hike. Once he sets out into the woods behind his hotel, he quickly comes to realize that the path he has chosen cannot be given up easily. With no choice but to move forward, Ben finds himself falling deeper and deeper into a world of man-eating giants, bizarre demons, and colossal insects."
In an interview with Salon that was published in August, Magary — who is also a columnist for the website Deadspin1 — describes his book as "a folk tale, but with swearing." Here is the excerpt from Salon in which Magary mentions Manning-Sanders:
Question: While on his hike, Ben encounters a series of fantastical creatures and beings — some foes, some allies, most of them impossible to explain out of context (you just have to read the book)! Were there any particular sources of inspiration, things you’ve read/watched/played that were part of the mix?
Magary: It was a mix of completely random shit. I remember I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror once in the middle of the night and my eyes were glowing, and THAT went in. So just bits and pieces like that. But the big inspiration for me was a woman named Ruth Manning-Sanders. Back when I was a kid, I used to hit the library and take out these folk tale compilations of hers called “A Book of Demons”2 and “A Book of Dragons” and more. She had a compendium for every creature and magical animal — stories from every country — and I read pretty much all of them. And the tales usually had to do with enchanted objects and brave strong lads who find them. I was way into those books, and the book (hopefully) pays tribute to them.
The second "inspired by" book is The Beginning Woods, by Malcolm McNeill. The blurb for this September novel from Pushkin Press states, in part: "The Vanishings started without warning. People disappearing into thin air — just piles of clothes left behind. Each day, thousands gone without a trace. ... Max was abandoned in a bookshop and grows up haunted by memories of his parents. Only he can solve the mystery of the Vanishings."
In an extensive interview with Zoe Toft on Playing by the Book, McNeill talks about his influences, which ranged from Roald Dahl to Dungeons & Dragons, and brings up Manning-Sanders and Jacques:
It was, however, when Malcolm was a little bit older that he discovered (in his local library) a series of books that would have a particularly profound influence on him: old hardback editions of the fairy tales told by Ruth Manning-Sanders.There's much more to dive into in Toft's interview with McNeill. You should check out the whole thing (and bookmark Toft's website).
“I was very interested in these books! I remember being fascinated by the strange proportions of those amazing Robin Jacques illustrations, the stout ogres with the giant heads and ridiculous legs. They all wore waistcoats and shoes with buckles – I found that very surprising, that ogres had these fine clothes. All the stories were like that, in fact. Little men carried about “currant buns” and there were “flasks of wine” all over the place. All this was very mysterious to a little boy.
The stories themselves were just brilliantly told, with this direct energy, that kept alive that all-important fairy tale “now listen to this” vibe… reading these was like being told by a wise old woman about a mysterious time in the past that she had touched and I would never be able to. Except through a story.”
And thus we meet the first book on Malcolm’s biographical bookshelf: ‘A Book of Enchantments and Curses’ by Ruth Manning-Sanders. “I owe a big debt to Manning-Sanders stylistically. Whenever I “hear” fairy tales, I hear them in her voice, with its simple prose, curious repetitions, and sudden declarations like “Not a bit of it!” or “Just you try it!” that give the whole thing a feeling of being spoken. I used her voice a lot in The Beginning Woods.”
So there you have it. And now I have two more books to add my endless "To Read" list!
1. Here is my infamous 2012 appearance on Deadspin, an article titled: "After Blown Call And Ensuing Freakout, One Journo Wonders If Penn State Football Should Have Received The Death Penalty."
2. The full title is A Book of Devils and Demons.