Sunday, June 22, 2008

WrittenWyrdd's Celebrate Reading Pick: MOON OF THREE RINGS by Andre Norton

Today, we welcome Written Wyrdd as our Celebrate Reading Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: Written Wyrdd has had a varied career and now considers her real job to be writing, although it doesn't pay the bills. It is the color of her parachute, however. Cats, friends and family, reading and writing are pretty much the entire agenda these days.

“Science fiction is the literature of ideas.” Pamela Sargent

Moonrat has honored me by asking me to write an article for her blog about a favorite book and explain what it did for me. I took that to mean what book impacted me the most, which is a difficult thing to quantify generally, all books having their own unique contribution to my inner landscape. So, instead of combing my hazy memory of a few thousand reads over forty-some years, I decided that the most impact (otherwise known as mental scarring to you well-balanced souls out there) was from the book which set my feet upon the speculative fiction path.

I was in grade school when I discovered my passion for science fiction and fantasy. I remember it was a Saturday, and the day was sunny with a light wind, the temperature in the low 70s. And I was going to spend my weekly allowance on a book I’d seen the night before in the grocery store book rack and just had to have: Moon of Three Rings, by Andre Norton, for exactly one dollar, with tax. I’d never seen anything like that cover, a strange woman in an exotic costume and some strange beastie at her feet; and the back matter enthralled me with talk of intergalactic traders and sorcery.

The plot is this: A galactic trade ship lands on a planet called Yiktor, one of the crew (Krip Vorlund) winds up in a muddle, and, to save his life, a sorceress named Maelen places his mind into the body of a beast which is part of her circus act. The rest of the story is about preventing the takeover of the planet Yiktor and trying to get a replacement body for Krip to inhabit, then get him back home to his ship.

By today’s standard’s the book is simplistic YA and not even true science fiction due to the fantasy elements; but it riveted me then. Simply put, Moon of Three Rings opened my eyes and imagination to possibilities. Children do tend to develop their imaginations by extrapolating upon what they’ve been exposed to; and until I read Moon of Three Rings, I hadn’t read anything that exposed me to the concept of outer space, magic or off-Earth settings besides the occasional Disney movie or cartoon. My world expanded: Nothing was impossible, and anything was possible because of this genre.

Yes, ladies and gents, from that moment I was enthralled with fantasy and science fiction, and snapped up every Andre Norton book I could find at the local library as well as Herbert, Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Bullfinch, Homer, Ovid, and many another pulp or classical author. If it had elements of fantasy, it was something I’d read.

The big question, though, is why. Why did this book—this genre—grab me so? What made and still makes it attractive? What need does speculative fiction fill? Well, I wasn’t a particularly happy child. I had a loving parent, got good grades and did what was expected of me, but I had some problems. My parents were divorced, we moved a lot, and I had difficulty making friends because I was insecure, painfully shy and was one of those hypersensitive kids that are terrified of new situations. Not a great combination, and no surprise that I preferred living in books.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this. No child grows up without feeling some pangs. But to the painfully shy and introverted grade-schooler me, reading speculative fiction became my salvation, my brand of escapism to a place where I fit in. Speculative fiction allowed me to see myself as someone more capable, more bold and brave, more exciting—simply more of whatever I happened to want or need at the moment. I could try on adventure roles like other pre-teens try on clothing. I already lived in my imagination, but now, instead of the really bad horse stories I’d create and write badly, I started plotting out stories of me as a powerful female spy in a future galactic federation, or as a spaceship captain, or as a mage. I pretended I lived on worlds with any number of strange and alien beings, where miraculous technologies functioned or where magic ruled.

Science fiction and fantasy empower the imagination. The magic of What If and the potential in the asking of open-ended questions is what makes speculative fiction great. It’s utterly malleable, subject only to the skill of the writer and her imagination to make it live and breathe.

Reading Moon of Three Rings brought me that joy of discovery, and it was because of this single book that I eventually began to write seriously. The rest might not be history, but writing really has formed the larger frame of my life. I’ve been writing ever since. (And yes, my first serious story really was a Mary Sue with me as a galactic spy with super powers. I still plan to write that some day.)


Charles Gramlich said...

Though it wasn't this one, Andre Norton's books had a profound effect on me as well. Galactic Derelict, The Zero Stone, The X Factor. I think the most profoundly influential of her books on me though was Star Guard.

moonrat said...

For me, it was ELVENBANE, her collaboration with Mercedes Lackey. It is the story of a distopian future where a race of elves, having outgrown/destroyed their own planet, find a way to Earth, where they use their magic and agelessness to enslave all the humans. Of course, a cross-breed elf/human (like the main character, Shana) is the most dangerous hated thing, because it has magical powers that combine and surpass the skills of either of the pure races. All halfblood babies are killed the moment they're born... unless they magically escape and are raised by dragons.

Naturally, everything an 11-year-old could ever want to read and reread and rereread. And then force her docile cousins into adapting as a sort of stage play to be performed out in the woods during summer vacation.

I didn't care much for the sequel and I never bothered with the third book, which (from the flap copy) had nothing to do with my beloved Shana at all, and got all bogged down in elvin politics instead of the halfblood rebellion. Nevertheless.

That was my first grown-up fantasy novel. And now I want to go reread it again.

writtenwyrdd said...

The Zero Stone, X Factor, Forunner Foray, Beast Master and so many others. But this was the first one of hers I read. Funny, I had forgotten I'd read Clarke's 2001 the previous year (five times in a row!) and had actually read other sf before this. Somehow, they didn't stick in my mind like MoTR.

Memory is not so much exact as emotional pastiche.

I didn't read Elvenbane I don't think. If I did, it didn't leave an impression.

Bernita said...

The Witch World books are my favourites.

JES said...

Nice summary of the answers to the "Why SF/F?" question, WW, especially from a kid's perspective.

And now you owe us one Mary Sue book. You've promised it publicly!

CATSEYE was the Norton book for me. I don't know, but believe, that it was my first SF title, too. For a long time after reading it I went around peering into animals' minds and communicating telepathically with them. Amazing how good they were at hiding our conversations -- with a particular knack for looking off into the distance and licking themselves -- but also disappointing, how admantly they resisted my pleas to walk or fly alongside me on the way to school.

writtenwyrdd said...

I've pretty much read and loved all her books. But I never got through but the first couple of Witch World books.

Wakai Writer said...

Loved your post---I write fantasy for the same reasons. It changed my life as a kid and went further than anything else to shape who I am, and I want to do that for others.

But for the me the books were the DRAGONLANCE Chronicles--the original three. I went back and re-read them a few years ago, and the first thing I realized was that the writing is awful, but the second was that I'm pretty sure that at 12 or 13 when I was deciding who I wanted to be, I unconsciously chose Tanis the Half-Elf...strange how things work out. ;-p

Linda said...

Fabu post. I've never heard of Andre Norton but will head to the library and pick up THREE RINGS for my son and myself - sounds like a great shared read. Thanks for the intro to Norton - the stack by my bed is getting perilously taller. Peace, Linda