Tough Travelling: Festivities
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive).
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
This month, with our stomachs still stuffed from Christmas, we’re stepping away from DJW’s Guide and looking at our favourite festivities in Fantasy! If/however you celebrate, we hope you’ve all had a lovely season.
A big thank you to Graeme, Julia, Beth, Nils, and James for their recommendations…
Santa makes an appearance himself in the Narnia books… to give children weapons so that they can overthrow the despotic ruler of the land… Comrade Claus.
I suppose that if you squint NOS4A2 is a Christmas themed fantasy too? Probably not going to give you the holly jollies however.
Kicking it old school, we have A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Pretty firmly a fantasy story what with the magical time travel and whatnot. The Muppets did it best of course.
If you’re looking for something to really roast your chestnuts you could pick up Santa Steps Out by Robert Devereux. Delightfully pagan and salacious. Ho ho ho.
Ghosts of Christmas Past and Other Dark Festive Tales by Sam Kates
This was a really entertaining read that scratched the “Creepy Christmas” itch very well! Between all the sugary sweet and cute Christmas books and movies, sometimes you just need a few zombies, plagues or other unpleasant things to spice up the festive season!
This book is made up from four stories, all of which I liked. And the last one went out with a bang for me! Highly recommended for a bit of fresh (rotten) air during Christmas season.
Christmas After the End of the World by Cora Buhlert
This is on the really easy to read side, and I breezed through it in one quick evening read. While it isn’t especially deep, I enjoyed the tone and voice, and was hooked early on!
The main character is a kid, who takes care of two smaller kids, all on their own after a volcano killed a lot of people, and teh rest evacuated – leaving those three behind. What I liked best was the pragmatism and “just get on with it as best you can” attitude in a young girl. It made for a very likeable and relatable character for me!
While the apocalypse made for a good contrast to the usual sweet Christmas stories, this still has an ending that fits the tone of the season!
Doctor Who: Twelve Doctors of Christmas
As most doctor who books I’ve read so far, this one was amazing. As always there are some stories I loved, some I liked and one that didn’t do it so much for me. But overall it was a fantastic, action packed, christmassy and entertaining romp that I enjoyed a lot.
A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
I adore this book. Especially the illustrations are amazing!
It is for kids ten years or older – though not for the faint of heart ones… It has a fairytale feel to it on the one hand, but gets pretty graphic for a children’s book in some scenes. It’s more in a humorous way, but there is at least one exploding head (with an eye popping out at first, that is then squished by the now headless body falling on it) as the most extreme scene. It isn’t described gruesome, but more for a startled laugh, but may not be what everyone looks for in a Christmas story…
Apart from (very few) such moments it is a magical story that was a lot of fun to read and gets one into a christmassy mood. It has sad parts too, like growing up without a mum, but overall it is a feel good story.
We cannot talk about festivities in fantasy and not mention the Hogfather! From Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel of the same name, he is a figure very similar to Father Christmas; he rides a sleigh drawn by hogs and delivers presents to children on Hogswatchnight. When Albert was little, it used to be sausages and black pudding and a pink sugar piglet… Things get complicated and Death ends up standing in for him. I really want to re-read this now…
Another wonderfully festive read was Stephanie Burgis’s Snowspelled. This was one of our semi-finalists for SPFBO 5, and I absolutely loved the wintery world Burgis’s characters were trapped in. As I put it in our review, “it was as if Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell had wandered into an Austen novel to find Jasper Fforde in charge of the day-to-day running of the place.”
I do love reading about a festival in fantasy though, whether it’s a winter’s one or not. It really gives a sense that this is a world with traditions and celebrations – it fleshes out a world and elevates it from a mere map at the start of a book to a living civilisation. A culture.
I’ve struggled to think of festivities but the first one to spring to mind is Aragorn’s Coronation at the end of The Return of the King. It’s the chapter/scene we were all waiting for ever since we discovered he was the rightful king of Gondor, and it’s special because everyone can finally celebrate and rejoice in Sauron’s defeat too. The film made the moment quite emotional when Frodo and Sam approach Aragorn to congratulate him and begin to bow, and Aragorn says, “My friends you bow to no one.” *forever sobbing*
The second festivity which stood out to me is the Sapphire Ball in E.J. Beaton’s The Councillor. It is held in celebration of royal weddings in the nation of Lyria; it’s an extravagant and luxurious affair, with performances, dancers, singers, decadent costumes, a wine-fountain and an abundance of food. It’s my most favourite scene in the book and I especially loved the dark unexpected turn it takes.
It’s odd that I can’t think of more festivities central to Fantasy, and now I’m wondering if that shows a flaw in the worldbuilding landscape. But I guess epic, world-ending cataclysms don’t always leave room for Christmas-like festivities.
One that definitely does feature Christmas is Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, where the pivotal action takes place over the holidays (though it’s more pagan than Christian). Wonderful books, of which that second volume is perhaps the most memorable.
On the opposite end of the scale, there’s the festival in Sam Hawke’s Hollow Empire, which is unrelated to anything on Earth, and much more like a sort of Summer Olympics than yuletide holidays – but then, Christmas in Australia is in summer!
Ah yes, and there are definitely holiday festivals in Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, lusciously described as with everything in that rich, rewarding text which often reads like a travelogue (so no surprise you get some culture!).
Next month, we’ll be looking at our favourite WIZARDS AND MAGES in speculative fiction.
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