Okay, so maybe the young adult literature phenomenon/anti-drug of your choice wasn’t chock full of vampires. More power to you. If you’re like almost everyone on the planet, you have read Harry Potter. About 3/4s of you enjoyed it, too. And, most of you who enjoyed it enjoyed the living bajeezus out of it, enjoyed it with passion, preference, and pride, enjoyed it with every molecule of your body.
Again: more power to you.
But, all things must come to an end. Chimney sweepers coming to dust, lovers young… Oh, that Shakespearian rag, it’s so elegant… I’m mixing literature here and getting ahead of myself. The point is, Harry Potter had a nice, long run, and while most people won’t fault you for re-reading the entire series, most people will when you refuse to read anything else. Ah, but that’s why we have Pushy Librarians!
Pushy Librarians, once again here to make sure YOU are reading all your intellectually metaphorical fruits and vegetables! Yes, we’ll help you with all your literati needs, whether you want/like it or not! You WILL look like a grown-ass adult when we’re through… (feel free to begin the Mulan song, “Mister I’ll make a man out of YOU!”)
So, what would you want to read next after leaving Hogwarts? Well… here are some suggestions we’re aggressively forcing upon the populace!
1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Ask any literati source what the grownup, literary equivalent of Harry Potter is, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll point at this book. And why not? It’s a reflective, philosophical, intellectual novel… about a boy who goes to wizarding school. It basically is THE Harry Potter-for-grown-ups. We could finish the list by just posting The Magicians ten times, and most people would be happy. But, Grossman’s novel is more than The Boy Who Lived, but totally not for kids… no… more. (That actually would be very, very sad.) This is its own entity, addressing the insecurities, yearnings, and, erm, existential crises of an older set of readers, searching for identity and purpose. It also addresses the idea of the wonders of magic as melded with the doldrums and angst of adulthood. Maybe that sounds less than appealing, but The Magicians has more than enough fantasy to satisfy the Potterhead crowd. And, admit it, getting on the end of HP, you related to those angsty, real-life, rough, dark scenes that filled the last part of the series. You did, didn’t you? And, you wouldn’t mind more of that, would you?
2. Krabat (Or The Satanic Mill, for you English readers) by Otfried Preussler
Okay, so this is also technically a kids’ book. But, The Satanic Mill is also an obscure kids’ book, and a smart, weird, trippy one at that. It’s the kid’s book that’s socially acceptable to read in public without being suspected of having a set of Gryffindor robes and a sorting hat in your lego-castle themed bedroom. So, what is this obscure kiddie book about? Well, do you remember all the panic about “satanic schools” concerning the Harry Potter books? This is probably what those people were imagining. This is the story of a young orphan boy who goes to a school of magic… black magic. Satanic, killing-people magic. This is basically what Voldemort wants Hogarts to be. And, you might be thinking, “Huh, that sounds really disturbing for a children’s book.”
I know, right?!
3. Phantases by George MacDonald
In the world of literature, there are certain standards of epic… beards. And, by Lincoln, did MacDonald have one of the most epic! But, facial hair aside, MacDonald was a pioneering fantasy writer. He even inspired C.S. Lewis! This is a mythical story, part fantasy part romance, concerning a questing man named Anodos, who is seeking “The Marble Lady”, the ultimate beauty. But, since this is MacDonald, it’s not just a story about quests and magic, it’s also really abstract, symbolic, and, honestly, trippy as hell. Not many religious ministers can claim that. Plus, it was illustrated by a Pre-Raphaelite artist. Does it get more magical than that? Possibly, but not without acid.
4. Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes
This isn’t fantasy. That doesn’t stop Tom Brown from being the closest to Harry Potter in spirit, however! Rowling’s series is sort of genre-blending. On one hand, it’s a fantasy quest, complete with unlikely heroes and dark lords. On the other hand, it’s a kid’s fairytale-fable story, with whimsical moments that would be comfortable in the realm of Roald Dahl. And, on the third hand (just roll with it), it’s a schoolboy story, a coming-of-age tale with schooldays events and relationships. In that last respect, it’s a whole lot like Tom Brown. Even many of the dynamics are like Tom Brown. Just insert a lot of rugby, and there you go. What many people really love about HP are the characters and the way they interact. The “in real life” fanfiction people have come up with, aside from being terrible, is also proof that people really like the characters for themselves. Well, if you ever wanted that dynamic in a more real-life setting, this is the book you want!
5. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Or… almost anything Gaiman. Hey, HP fans, want to look really cool, hip, and with-it, and yet still get your fantasy fix? Try Gaiman! Gaiman has been called the literary equivalent of a rock star, and that’s basically true. In fact, there have been only a handful of writers who have had this status, and only about two after the Romantics: Hunter S. Thompson and Neil Gaiman. And Gaiman hasn’t taken every drug known to man, but still managed to be as edgy and cool. What’s interesting about Gaiman is that, although he’s obviously very charismatic and his writing is very cool, he also could easily be that one librarian that is really awesome. He’s like the perfect blend of bookish and rocking and…
We interrupt this session for a complete fangirlish breakdown.
Gaiman’s stories, like Harry Potter, are inventive, exciting, and full of memorable characters. But, Gaiman also writes fantasy for an older audience, and so is able to explore darker and more dangerous themes –truth, religion, beauty, the relationship humans have to myth and archetype. In Neverwhere, we have a story of an ordinary, even boring man, who ends up accidentally involved with the goings-on of a magical underworld. The story features eloquent assassins, dashing tricksters, brave hunters, warriors, rat-people, and Door, who is basically one of the coolest characters ever.
6. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Addressing the elephant in the room: yes. Card is very political. And, of course, that leads some people to calling him a Nazi. I don’t mean this in the usual internet way, either. People actually do say that Card is an actual Nazi.
It’s a conspiracy, and he’s not actually a Nazi. But, he does have very, well, right-wing views.
Now, will this affect your reading of Card? For me, and I’ve read Sade, the author’s beliefs don’t necessarily have to affect the art. After all, Picasso was rather sexist, and yet we all love Picasso (anti-Picasso people are welcome to shut up).
The story is a science fiction tale of a young, intelligent boy in a bad family (not unlike Harry!), who gets sent to a special school, and who has a mission to save the world (because why not?). In this case, however, he saves the world by playing a lot of really cool video games… In many ways, the story can be overly simplistic, and has troubled readers concerning the apparent justification of a character basically due to ignorance. However, the “problematic” portions of the story can be beneficial, as well, can be open for questions and really make the reader think about the complexities of violence and war. And, considering that this is very literally a story about a boy who saves the world through video-game awesomeness, that’s kind of saying a lot.
It’s not necessarily one of the best books ever written, but Ender’s Game has been immensely influential, extremely popular, and promoted enough discourse and debate to well-warrant a literati stamp of approval!
7. The Well at the World’s End by William Morris
I don’t think we can go much further in this fantasy discussion without talking about Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. According to many literary theorists, all literary criticism is a footnote to Socrates in that it all must address Socrates’ apparent dislike of fiction (yeah… that totally happened). In the world of fantasy, all fantasy has to deal in some way with Tolkien and Lewis. Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. All fantasy writers basically have the choice of either following in the footsteps of the genre’s most significant members, or breaking with that tradition. Rowling is not an iconoclast. Harry Potter is full of Narnian and Middle Earth influences, from the style of her monsters, to mirrors that tell secrets, to religious symbolism, to entering new worlds, to the world-building, to, well, a great deal. It’s not a flaw. She’s a part of a particular literary tradition.
But, chances are you’re already pretty darn familiar with these books. If you’re not, please go read them. We’re not talking about them here. What we are talking about, however, is a book that had impact in the development of Middle Earth: The Well at the World’s End.
This is a little-known fantasy novel by Pre-Raphaelite William Morris, because Pre-Raphaelites, man!
It’s a fantasy quest, a romance of knights and valor, not something too out of place for the Medieval and Romantic PRB. But, it was more than just as Spenserian fanfic. It also has many of the trappings of what we now refer to as the fantasy genre. The story has its own world, and world-building is an important aspect. Its attention to the past, like in the works of Tolkien, is there to create a story for the present and an escape to the exotic and unusual realms of magic.
The plot follows a knight in search of a well that produces the water of eternal life. It’s a traditional questing story, with daring-deeds and unusual characters along the way. If you want to backtrack your way into the roots of the genre the bore HP, you could definitely do worse than Morris.
8. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
Hey, HP fans, do you ever get tired of being referred to as second-class readers? Do you want to prove to your literary friends, they with their Moby-Dicks and their Things Fall Apart, that you’re just as intellectual as they are? But, does it bother you to read stories that are very realistic? Do you yearn for magic and fantasy when you’re reading your Steinbeck and Austen? Are you reading this now and going, “You think I’ve read any of those books? Heh…”? Fear not! Literature has just the genre for you: magic realism, where life, liberty, truth, and beauty come to you in a package of FREAKING magic!
Not only is 100 Years of Solitude a magic realist story complete with flying carpets, alchemical arts, levitation, and a rain of golden flowers, it’s also very, very literary. How literary? you may well ask. Try Nobel Prize in Literature literary. Oh, yeah. The man’s the dude.
So, what’s this about? Well, in a remote place in Columbia, an ambitious family sets up a town (the solitude from the title), and this is its history for one hundred years… No, come back! It may sound like a dull premise, but there is nothing but nothing that isn’t in this book! Every aspect of life, good, bad, happy, sad, romantic, disgusting, beautiful, imaginary, real, revolutionary, brutal, lecherous, perverse, and sublime is here. From rebels and firing squads to a plague of insomnia, it’s a veritable feast for the imagination and will keep you glued to the pages until you think that the book is about 1,000 words long and way too short. And that’s a sure sign of a good book!
9. The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis
Again, this is technically a kid’s book. But, like The Satanic Mill, probably no adult will slight you on reading it. In fact, more or at least as many adults read this book than children do. Why? Well, some of it has to do with the fact that the author is a Decemberist:
Yes, that’s the band The Decemberists, and as all good literati know… they write songs based on literature and so are awesome. (Seriously, Infinite Jest, The Tain, Shadow Country…)
But, now is not the time to gush fangirlishly… twice. (*cough* Buy ALL the albums *cough*)
The Wildwood Chronicles is not just popular because of its musical ties and Carson Ellis’s gorgeous illustrations. It’s also a really, really smart story. The story is a well-crafted, loving treatment of the world of fantasy. It is self-conscious of its roots, to the point that may seem a bit winking at first until you take into account how earnestly the creators love their sources. It’s a story about children going to a magical world and saving the day, and it doesn’t try to put some cleaver, ironic, postmodern spin on this. It just says, “Hey, we love this kind of adventure, and that’s what we’re going to write! And it’ll be awesome!” And it is.
Plus, it has epic battles, rollicking songs, talking animals, bandits, political intrigue, and a really smart message about politics, control, and liberty. It’s something you can suggest to your kids and younger siblings and the children on the street, and something you can comfortably read in public without incurring the snobbery of the readerly elite. Just don’t be surprised when grownup adults run up to you and start singing sea shanties.
10. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
You like books. You like magic. It only makes sense to put the two together! This is yet another magic-realist story written originally in Spanish, because Spanish-speaking people are cooler than cool. (This is an objective truth.)
The Shadow of the Wind has the distinction of being both literary and one of the bestselling books of all time, so if you were worried about it being some obscure, hipster thing, it’s not. (Of course, if you’re an adult worrying about being a hipster you might be a very sad person…) The Shadow of the Wind is a lush novel, full of dark shadows and bright lights, and a sense of deliciousness, a heady sense of smell and touch and delight… It’s like dark chocolate on a shady pavilion overlooking a sunny garden…and you’re drunk. So, basically, it’s the bomb.
The story concerns a young boy whose father is a caretaker of a book cemetery, which should already have you hooked. If that’s not enough, the boy picks a mysterious book called The Shadow of the Wind, a book that may have secret, mysterious enemies. Reading never was so cool… since Bastian went into The Neverending Story (which isn’t listed here because, dammit, you should have read it already).