The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Tag, I’m it

June 20, 2005

Listing beloved books from my adolescence is so much more enjoyable than prepping for class…

Also, I’m choosing to interpret the meme quite strictly, as asking for fictional books read as an adolescent (middle school/high school) that I felt were good enough to read again later on (college or later). This isn’t a list of the books I read that had the most impact on me; that list is here. And this is not an exhaustive list; I recently re-read John Christopher’s “Tripods” trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire) because I remembered them fondly, and I’m sure that there have been others in the not-too-distant past. Like Dan, I regularly re-read lots of stuff like this, so choosing five was hard, but here goes:

5) Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. I loved Meg, wanted to be Calvin, and felt that Charles Wallace was considerably more like me than almost any person I knew in the flesh. Re-read it last fall, together with the sequels, and felt the same way. The notion of science as part of a cosmic war of light against dark is a very appealing image, and the fact that the evil It is basically a surplus of order still strikes me as a worth-while caution.

4) C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I flipped back and forth on appreciating this as a Christian allegory and appreciating it as a damn fine piece of mythology, depending on whether I was feeling Christian or not. Either way, there’s a lot to be garnered there about honor, loyalty, courage, and similar virtues. Plus, who wouldn’t want to go along for the ride as kids one’s own age end up in mystical worlds saving them from certain doom at the behest of a powerful talking lion? (The film version that comes out in December better not stink, or I will be very very cross indeed.)

3) Alan Moore, Watchmen. This was the first “serious” comic book I read in high school, before Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Moore’s own V for Vendetta. Watchmen is a complex tale about heroes trying to save the world but becoming entangled in the paradoxes of wielding that kind of power; Moore interweaves a whole bunch of subordinate narratives in the production of a text that could stand up next to almost any piece of literature you might mention. Rorschach spoke to me as a teenager; as I’ve grown older I think I finally understand Dan Dreiberg a bit better.

2) Orson Scott Card, Hot Sleep: The Worthing Chronicles. Card is responsible for some of my favorite pieces of science fiction ever, including Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead (which are not on this list because a) I teach them in my “science fiction and world politics” seminar, so they didn’t seem appropriate to the spirit of the meme; and b) like The Lord of the Rings, I think they go without saying). This lesser-known work of Card’s was my favorite as an adolescent, with its tale of how the precocious telepath Jason Worthing ended up creating a new society after a terrible tragedy that wiped the minds of all of his passengers. Card later re-released it as The Worthing Saga, a re-telling of the basic story from a different perspective; I prefer the original. Even though I find it a little less compelling as an adult than I did as a child.

1) Stephen R. Donaldson, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. First read these books in the ninth grade; read them every year or so thereafter. Only stopped that practice in the last couple of years. Even though Donaldson’s writing is a little awkward in places throughout these books, the overall story of the leper thrust into a position of power where he wields the wild magic that destroys peace and has to combat Despite in all of its forms is perhaps second only to the Star Wars saga as a source for some of my most important moral values.

I could go on, and on, and on…but I won’t.

Oh, in case you were wondering: Christopher’s “Tripods” trilogy looks thinner now than it did when I was in middle school. But the sequences in the City of the Masters are still as fascinating as they were then.

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Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is Professor of International Studies in the School of International Service, and also Director of the AU Honors program. He was formerly Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Relations and Development, and is currently Series Editor of the University of Michigan Press' book series Configurations: Critical Studies of World Politics.