The Book Meme: Day 6

Day 06 - Favorite book of your favorite series OR your favorite book of all time

The latter option here is territory we've already wandered through, so let's head into the former: my favorite book in my favorite series, eh?

Determining my favorite series is the real challenge here. In terms of re-reading, The Lord of the Rings is far ahead of any competitor. I haven't re-read it annually or anything--in fact, my records indicate that I've re-read it only twice in the 21st century, in 2006 and 2016--but I've been re-reading regularly it since I turned 12. In terms of my personal and literary development, it's had by far the greatest influence of any series I've read. Toss in its impact on all the other fantasy series I've read, not to mention the movie adaptation, and you're looking at a series that simply can't be ignored.

If you count it as a series.

The Wikipedia article on LOTR lays out the case pretty clearly: "The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel..." Novel, singular. It's one book. Tolkien wrote it as one book. Dividing it into three volumes was the publisher's idea. In other words, it's not really a series, unless you count it as the third element of the series that begins with The Silmarillion (an enormous compendium of mythology that reads like the Old Testament, and one published after Tolkien's 1973 death), then goes through The Hobbit (his first publishing success, a children's story from 1937) before concluding at the end of The Return of the King (published in 1955.) If that's a series, it involves retconning of a sort that even George Lucas would consider questionable.

Moreover, no individual LOTR book stands on its own. Both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers end with enormous cliffhangers, and the overall narratives of both TT and ROTK begin in the middle of the action (Boromir's departure and Pippin's ride to Minas Tirith, respectively.) In short, this is not a series any more than releasing Huckleberry Finn as three separate books (The Fellowship of the River, The Two Rogues, and The Return of Tom Sawyer) would make Twain's opus a series, though admittedly Twain and his publishers might enjoy the idea, especially since it would make them more money.

All this means we'll need another series, meaning a sequence of self-contained books published one by one, each with its own narrative arc, even as the setting, characters and history are shared. The Chronicles of Narnia ("a series of seven fantasy novels by C.S. Lewis," says Wikipedia) would qualify as a series, and one I've read repeatedly, but it's so problematic in so many ways that I can't really call it my favorite. (Within its seven books, I'd call The Voyage of the Dawn Treader my favorite. And I ride for reading the books in publication order, so don't be trying to call The Magician's Nephew "Book One" or anything.) I've enjoyed series as various as Kenneth Robeson's Doc Savage adventures, Larry Niven's Known Space books and stories, John Varley's Eight Worlds tales, and Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle, but the best of the lot, top to bottom, start to finish, has got to be Discworld.

In forty-plus books, not to mention short stories, appendices, and various addenda, Terry Pratchett's saucer-shaped playground has delighted me almost completely. Characters like Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, Carrot Ironfoundersson, Tiffany Aching, the Librarian, Nobby, and of course Death give the book a rich set of viewpoints, complications, and interactions for readers. I have enjoyed pretty much every Discworld tale I have read, and I've read almost all of them, from The Colour of Magic to The Shepherd's Crown.

My favorite Discworld book, however, and the only one I've ever taught in class, does not really involve any of the characters above (with the exception of Death, who is, after all, even in Arcadia). It's the tale of a simple, melon-loving novice in the Temple of Om, and how his sincere belief, good heart, and excellent memory help upend the entire power structure of his church and his state. It's hilarious, like all Discworld books, but it's also the book that gives Pratchett the greatest room to expand on his ideas about how the universe works, or at least how it ought to work. It opens with a fanciful musing on Darwin and ends with a moment of quiet and unlikely heroism. In its way, it's the most fanciful volume of the series, even as it's the most closely connected to our own world. And it's also the most free-standing of the series, a book you can recommend to friends who haven't visited Discworld so that they can gauge their appreciation for it without getting entangled in the continuity. It's Small Gods, and it's one of my very favorite books.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 10, 2018 8:57 AM.

The Book Meme: Day 5 was the previous entry in this blog.

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