Forty years of wizardry

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Comments: 10   (latest 12 hours later)

Tagged: diane duane, daniel pinkwater, eblong, yobgorgle, young wizards, books

Diane Duane posted today:

On November 1, 1983, SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD was published—so it's time to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Young Wizards series. 😄 ...Don't mind me: I'll just be sitting here and grinning. Onward to year 50! -- @dianeduane, Nov 1

And her longer blog post on the subject.

Last night, while out wandering the spoopy streets of Somerville, I saw a kid -- a small kid, maybe ten years old -- wearing a Gryffindor scarf. Speaking of young wizards! But then, is this kid even a Harry Potter fan? It's the kid's parents who would have grown up reading that series. Speaking of older, middle-aged wizards.

As I walked home through the purple-and-orange-bedecked night, I cast back to my younger dreams of wizardry. What books held that place in my life?

Not Diane Duane, to be sure. I didn't encounter her fantasy books until I was in college. (I remember reading her Trek stuff in high school.) I should have found the Young Wizards series when I was young! I was exactly the same age as Nita in 1983. I would have been swept away. But my library happened not to have them.

(On the up side, when I did discover the YW series, there were already two books and the third was due out shortly. Plus two Door Into... books, which made their own intense impression. You saw my kitchen, right?)

Of course I read all the kids' fantasy classics available in the '80s: Narnia, The Dark is Rising, The Hobbit. But that wasn't current. We didn't sit around anticipating the next Narnia book and trying to guess what would happen. Current SF/fantasy was in the adult section, and of course I was all up in that stuff too. I remember being excited about The Light Fantastic because it was a new Discworld book. And let's not get into the issues of reading Thomas Covenant and Piers Anthony at an impressionable age. (My librarian was secretly into corrupting kids' minds. A true hero. She also threw me The Wasp Factory.)

Diana Wynne Jones? I definitely read Dogsbody as a kid, but I wasn't really aware of DWJ as an author with a continuing body of work. She was another one whom I effectively discovered in college.

William Sleator? 80s-current and a big impression, but he was horror, very dark horror. You don't dream of living in a William Sleator story. Yeesh.

No, when I consider the idea of magic turning up in everyday life, it's Daniel Pinkwater for me. Fat men from space. Lizards on late-night TV. Strange wise men with chickens on their heads. Leonard Neeble and Alan Mendelsohn learning the mental disciplines of ancient Nafsulia. You've already noticed that my web site is named after Blong! You Are a Pickle!

In some ways his mindset is startlingly close to Diane Duane's. Think back to Eugene Winkleman discovering the secret door in the children's library in Rochester, New York. (Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario.) Is this very different from Nita Callahan discovering a wizard's manual in a library on Long Island? Except the secret door in Rochester is really there, which honestly puts Pinkwater a step up. (Sorry DD.)

...Except, of course, that Diane Duane's grownups are helpful, sane, supportive people. Pinkwater's grownups are either Boring Adults or Completely Mad, and either way it's up to the kids to figure out what's what. Pinkwater's world is not one that the kids can take on faith.

Speaking as a grownup, I appreciate the option of being sane and supportive and still an active part of wizardry. (Albeit the part that has to run a lot of planning meetings.) But for the part of me that remembers being the Pinkwater age, he really did nail it. Adults were arbitrary and mad and ran the world on principles that sounded sillier the more you explained them. They still do. We just want the madness to include talking lizards and Venusian mystics in the odd corners.

Either way, though, onward to another decade of it.

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