Maybe it’s just the children’s-book-writing history buff in me, but for my money, nobody in the children’s literature universe has a cooler job than Leonard Marcus. He’s the historian whose books include Dear Genius, the collection of letters from famed editor Ursula Nordstrom, and the Margaret Wise Brown biography Awakened by the Moon.
Marcus has so well defined and filled his role as documenter of the stories behind the stories that I’m always a little surprised to come across a biography of a children’s book creator — Dr. Seuss, Virginia Lee Burton, and Margret and H.A. Rey come to mind — that wasn’t written by him.
And yet I hesitated recently when I was offered a free copy — signed, even — of Marcus’ new book, The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy. You see, I’m not a fantasy guy. I haven’t read Tolkien or even seen any of those Hobbit movies. On about page two of The Golden Compass, as soon as Lyra’s daemon made his appearance, I thought, “There is no way I’m reading a book that includes the word ‘daemon’ with an ‘a.'”
But, I figure, that’s exactly why I ought to read The Wand in the Word. Not to try to turn myself into a fantasy buff, but because it offers a chance to let a trusted guide introduce me to something new — aside from Franny Billingsley, Nancy Farmer, Philip Pullman and Jane Yolen, all of Marcus’ interviewees are strangers to me. And seeing as how, as a writer of nonfiction, I’ve got a vested interest in getting readers to open their minds to unfamiliar subjects, it seems fitting that I give these particular unfamiliar subjects a shot.
Besides, I just might enjoy myself. After all, once I got past that first use of “daemon,” it was one swift, thrilling rush through The Golden Compass. And The Subtle Knife. And The Amber Spyglass. But that still doesn’t make me a fantasy guy.