Tuesday, September 18, 2012

J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and my childhood, and how they conspired to help me write The Sword of Six Worlds

When I was seven years old, our family went to a friend's house for dinner. Sometime along the way I must have complained of being bored or been harassing the adults, because someone pushed a strange looking book in my hand and said, "Go read this in the other room."

I started reading that night, and I remember thinking that this, too, was boring, as a fat little creature called a hobbit lived life in a town full of fat little creatures. Things didn't perk up much when the wizard or the dwarves arrived, as mostly there was singing (with lyrics) and discussions of food and then the fat little hobbit grumpily doing dishes. Then, suddenly, things started to happen in the book. Strange, wonderful, adventurous things unlike anything I'd read before in my life.

By the time we left for home, I begged to take the book with me. To my surprise, my dad said we had a copy already at our house. I was shocked. We had a copy of this strange and wonderful thing at our house already? Not only that, but my dad told me there were more books... that it was a series. I couldn't believe it.

Pretty soon I was reading books that looked like this, shoving them into my desk and destroying the covers:

These books were simultaneously more exciting than the Hobbit and full of far more boring asides. But I found I could skip the boring parts easily by turning the page if I saw a poem.

I hit the end of The Return of the King and couldn't believe that was it. I cornered my parents and said, "There has to be more. Are there other books like this?"

Lo and behold, my parents had SEVEN more books to show me, sitting on a shelf in our living room and this was the first one they unveiled:

These were written, it turns out, far closer to my reading level at the time, and not only that, but the main characters were human kids JUST LIKE ME (only British) instead of fat little hobbit creatures. I loved them, and I gladly read every book in the series without stopping for a break.

In the years that followed, I re-read those books a lot of times. In fact, when I left for college I took all my dad's copies of these books with me. When my kids were born I tried to introduce them to the stories too early. I told them a version of Lord of the Rings at bedtime when my oldest was four, and tried to read through the Narnia books with them soon afterward and they weren't all that interested.

I was, of course, disappointed, when my kids didn't "get it." I also tried to show them the Star Wars movies at which point my youngest started laughing that there was a "dog named Chewbacca" in the movie. Sigh.

I didn't give up, of course. Eventually, I started telling the kids a fantasy story of my own design, with a character "just like them" as the main character: a young girl who always tried to do the right thing, who had parents who loved her, who got invited somehow to save the world from evil by following strange guides into a fantasy world.

That became, in time, the story of Validus Smith, the paladin, the protector of six fantasy worlds. It's a sort of love letter from me to Tolkien and Lewis. It's not the same as their books, of course, but it comes from the same place: a child-like love of wonder, and of the world around us as well as the things that we never see but suspect must be there (whether that's elves or quarks or talking tigers). My hope is one day there will be kids who read the book, grow up, write their own books and say, This one time I was at our family friend's house, and I was bored, and he gave me this book with a cover that looked like this:

And I finished it and said, "There have to be more books like this." And my parents introduced me to Tolkien and Lewis and T.H. White and a hundred other wonderful authors.


  1. Can't wait to read your new book, Matt. I can so relate to your experience with reading. Mine started a bit more jungly (nice word) with Tarzan but quickly moved to Tolkien and eventually Lewis. I don't think we ever quite regain that initial wonder that books could actually be good (and appeal to everything in our young hearts). But I do think there's a different kind of wonder that occurs as adults when we think back on what the books meant then and what they mean to us now, especially when we try to introduce the to our kids (and yes, I did the same thing of doing so too early or worse, attempting to get our two sons to watch the BBC series on Narnia which only served to solidify their mockery of cheesy special effects). Repeat after me, boys: "Aslan is not just a big bad puppet..."

  2. Anonymous8:31 PM

    Hats off!

  3. I was just reading the Kindle sample, I'm gonna love it - and I think my kids are gonna love it (my oldest in particular).

    Can't wait to pick it up!

  4. Matt,
    Congratulations on your latest book! What age child did you have in mind when writing this book? My kids are 9, 7 and 5.

    1. Hi Heather! My kids are 11, 9 and 3. It's a middle grade reader, so it's main audience would be kids ages 8-12 or so. My nine year old first read it when she was seven (publishing is slow!). Both of the older kids love it!