Rock Me, Bartimaeus (and other thoughts on fantasy)

by renata

This week was FANTASY WEEK in my children’s literature class! We read: The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt*, and Sector 7 by David Wiesner.

But I just want to talk about The Ring of Solomon. Jonathan Stroud was not at all on my radar until I saw him at the ALA conference this summer. (He was on a panel with David Levithan, which is why I went to that panel.) He was completely funny and charming and I made a note to myself that I should really pick up some of his books sometime. But there are just so many other books out there, and I never got around to it until it turned up on my booklist for class.

The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud

The Ring of Solomon is technically a prequel to the Bartimaeus trilogy, but we were assured that it stands on its own. And it does–I had no trouble understanding the character or the plot. He’s a bitter, immortal djinni. Got it. Others in class who had read the whole trilogy thought that Ring of Solomon was weaker than the other three, but I will have to take their word for it.

I enjoyed Ring of Solomon well enough. Bartimaeus, a world-weary, clever, sarcastic djinni, is a hilarious narrator, and his wry footnotes brought to mind a magical David Foster Wallace. The book itself, I feel, could have benefited from a better editor. It was maybe 100 pages too long. The first two thirds of the book dragged on, mired in description and long asides. The payoff was probably worth it–it had a very elaborate and satisfying ending.

Genie

You ain't never had a friend like Bartimaeus

I understand that there are some fantasy readers who love long descriptions of made-up worlds. I am not one of them. I don’t want to have to keep checking the magical glossary to see what kind of magic is happening. I do not want my books to come with maps of fictional lands. (Technically The Ring of Solomon has a map of the Middle East, which is probably a real place., although I’ve never been there.) But I know that not everyone shares these opinions. If you love magical glossaries and sassy genies, you will probably love the Bartimaeus books. For me, I give The Ring of Solomon three Robin Williamses out of a possible five.

For class, we also have to pick one classic children’ book we never got around to reading before. I’m reading Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for this assignment. I’m only 2/3 through it so I won’t give it a full review, but so far, reading it has made me realize what I value in fantasy books: a sense of humor. Jonathan Stroud has one. J.K. Rowling has one. C.S. Lewis has one. Patricia Wrede has one. Terry Pratchett has at least two. If Ursula LeGuin has a sense of humor, she has that thing locked up in a dungeon somewhere and allowed it nowhere near A Wizard of Earthsea. Yikes.

* There was some debate about whether or not Tuck Everlasting is actually fantasy, and although it does not have unicorns or dragons, it does have a fountain of immortality, so.

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