One of the aspects of fantasy fiction – for adults, young adults or children – which most appeals to me is the worlds they are set in. Narnia, Discworld, Middle Earth or Hogwarts: what they all have is a fully realised world with greater (or lesser) links to our own and, my personal favourite part, they have detailed mythologies and back-stories to back them up. People never believe me but I really love the Silmarillion because it contains so many legends and stories which fill in the gaps in the Lord of the Rings trilogy for me. They act on Middle Earth in the way that fairy stories and folk tales do for the real world – ways we explain the inexplicable to ourselves. This is a need which continues all through our lives so it has always seemed a shame to me that so many adults turn their backs on speculative fiction (or even fiction altogether). Of course a large number don’t – fantasy, sci-fi and horror are always good sellers and have some of our bestselling authors. Tv and film adaptations help but I like to think that escaping to other worlds is the main attraction.
The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill is a book which certainly ticks the world-building box. We start with the fact that there has been a spate of disappearances, people vanishing and leaving just a pile of empty clothing. This intrigued me – I started to think of Boojums and Squonks* – and then I was led further into the story by hints of science and witchcraft and an abandoned changling-like child. The plot became more and more complex but also quite philosophical – at the heart of the story is the orphan child Max who needs to find who he is and why he is there. This book is listed as a children’s title but I would say there is enough depth there to interest any adult with a liking for fairy tales and myth. And, in terms of children, it would best suit an older, more thoughtful child who doesn’t need the story to be full of fights and excitement.
*And I was right about the squonks too…