My Personal Canon

Hi there! Over on the Just Keep Writing podcast (which I highly recommend, by the way — it’s one of my favorite podcasts, along with I Should Be Writing from Mur Lafferty), they’re talking about each of the hosts’ personal writing canon, and in their Discord server they’ve asked their audience for their answers. I answered there, but I’m going to answer here as well.

First, I have to mention A Wrinkle in Time. Not just the first novel in that series, but all five books, written by Madeline L’Engle (1918 – 2007). These books are epic in scope, with cosmic themes, but L’Engle did a masterful job of working in ordinary people to those epic themes, making the cosmic personal. The second book in the series, A Wind in the Door, impacted me the most, showing me that a novel, even a kid’s novel, could work on both a macrocosmic and microcosmic scale. I loved these books when I was a kid, and I still re-read them from time to time. The 2018 movie based on these books is passable but has flaws, though I felt it captured the ideas quite well.

Second is The Dark is Rising series of novels by Susan B. Cooper. This series involved Arthurian themes (which I’m still kind of a sucker for), Celtic magic, and so on. It showed me that “deep time” ideas are applicable to modern times, and that some people are capable of pushing back against the darkness.

Third is J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This should go without saying. I’m fascinated by these books, with their themes of a mighty evil being defeated by small forces. The movies left out one of the more important scenes from The Return of the King, namely the Scouring of the Shire, where Saruman, having failed to destroy Isengard for his nefarious ends, tries to destroy the Shire, only to be defeated by Frodo et. al.

The fourth is different from these: Lamb, by Christopher Moore. This is an irreverent take on the life of Jesus, and while it’s quite funny (it’s told from the point of view of Biff, the childhood best friend of Jesus), it’s also true to the message of Jesus without being the kind of book you’d find in a Christian bookstore, thank goodness. Moore is a genius when it comes to creating characters; they’re richly drawn, and he handles them with their flaws in ways that remind me of John Steinbeck (whose novel East of Eden ought to appear on my list but doesn’t).

Finally, Stephen King’s seminal book about the craft, On Writing. I love his memoir section about becoming and being a writer. The section on craft, though… Well, there’s quite a bit I disagree with him on. It’s still inspiring to me, though, and a book that I return to frequently.

Bonus: The Phoenix Legacy by M. K. Wren really brought home to me, when I was a kid, the themes of sacrifice and heroism and, of course, future history. I remember reading these books and talking about them with my mom. Happy times. They used to be hard to find, but now they are available on Kindle.

I think I will add East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. These books affected me on a more personal level, and were both given to me by one of my teachers, Mrs. Austin, when I graduated high school. I still have the paperbacks; they’re very meaningful to me.

Anyway. If you’re so inclined, feel free to comment with your personal canon.