The author of The Magicians picks three literary enchantments.
Lev Grossman’s writing career has covered an ambitious extent of ground. Trained as a scholar of comparative literature, Grossman left academia for journalism and in 2002 was hired by Time magazine as its book critic, as well as one of its lead writers on emerging technologies. Meanwhile, he forged a career as a novelist, beginning with 1997’s coming-of-age novel, Warp and following it with 2004’s Codex, a literary thriller in the spirit of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. In 2009 he published The Magicians — an arresting blend of sorcerous fantasy and contemporary character study — to widespread acclaim. Here, he recommends three enduring and engrossing works of the imagination.
By George R.R. Martin
“‘Winter is Coming’ is the motto of House Stark. But even the Starks can’t have known what a hard, bone-cracking frost would fall on them. In A Game of Thrones Martin gives us the medieval country of Westeros and then slowly rips it apart before our eyes: the king is dead, and the Starks and the other noble houses of Westeros are fighting it out for power. Martin works on the epic scale of Tolkien, but the feel is totally different: his world-view is as hard-boiled and bloody-minded as Raymond Chandler’s. A Game of Thrones is the first volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, a four-novel (and counting) series that is gathering speed and power as it goes. When it’s done it will stand as one of fantasy’s permanent masterpieces. For extra cool-points, read it before the HBO mini-series airs in 2010.”
“It takes a special kind of genius to tell people a story they already know and make it feel as fresh and urgent as tomorrow’s newspapers. In this novel, which White began publishing in 1939, he re-tells the story of King Arthur — the sword in the stone, Lancelot and Guinevere, the Quest for the Holy Grail, the whole business — but with a richness and tenderness that not even Malory or Tennyson were able to give it.”
By Susanna Clarke
“Like virtually all fantasy novelists, I don’t believe in magic. But if I did it would be Susanna Clarke’;s magic. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrellis the story of the life and times and rivalrous friendship of two 19th-century English sorcerers. It’s a rich, gorgeous book, equal parts light and shadows, written in a hilarious, melancholy, utterly charming regency-era prose. Some of Clarke’s sentences wouldn’t have looked at all odd coming out of Jane Austen’s pen. I’ve been a devoted, obsessive fantasy reader for my entire life, but it’s Jonathan Strange that convinced me that I had to be a fantasy writer. Or at least die trying.”