Junior High School: most people’s own personal Stanford Prison Experiment. I did a 3-year stint in the 90’s that all began on day 1 with Reading class. Our teacher, Mrs.Klein, was adamant about her subject to the point that you’d bet money that she had “Reading is Fundamental” tattooed on herself in some gangsta-style Olde English font. Needless to say, my adoration for all things video games made me a target of her disdain. When book fairs or Scholastic book order forms came around the class, I would run my allowance dry purchasing every video game based book I could, from obscure ones to the quintessential How To Win At Nintendo Games volumes. An annoyed eye roll from Klein would accompany every order.
Book reports would always pose a problem as I wasn’t big into reading much else at the time. Trying to select a decent novel or piece of classic literature at the school’s library only had me drawing a blank and our librarian scratching her head trying to figure out what would best suit me. Klein once intervened and tried to give her a tip with a condescendingly whispered “He’s into Nintendo,” as though I were some sort of crack addict. Ultimately, I was issued Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron and ordered to read and enjoy it.
Sure, reading may enrich the soul, but it’s even better when something can come from the knowledge and inspiration gained from reading – better still when the cycle keeps going and new stories, histories, and art are forged from those initial fruits of inspiration. For example, video games are such fruits and it’s truly a shame how often they’re tossed into the “kids toys” category of creative accomplishments. Video games are art, music, storytelling, and endless hours of programming skill mixed with a whole lot of hard work and a bit of magic – all to varying degrees. The worlds within can be just as full of beauty, influence, and inspiration as any old tome. Now, curmudgeon teachers aside, I did eventually learn to love reading on my own and even found The Black Cauldron to be a great book ….when I finally read it in college. Usually reading fantasy, I’d notice references to things from books in games and vice-versa. This was never so relevant as when I eventually stumbled upon The Enchanted World series.
The Enchanted World was a series of twenty-one books published by Time Life back in the 80’s that could be subscribed to and you’d receive a new volume every several months in the mail. Each volume would focus on a different folkloric or mythological topic. The late University of Pennsylvania folklore scholar Tristram P. Coffin was the main consultant on the series, putting it in good hands from the start.
Wizards and Witches, Dragons, Fairies and Elves, Ghosts, Legends of Valor, Night Creatures, Water Spirits, Magical Beasts, Dwarfs, Spells and Binding, Giants and Ogres, Seekers and Saviors, Fabled Lands, Book of Christmas, The Fall of Camelot, Magical Justice, Lore of Love, Tales of Terror, The Book of Beginnings, The Secret Arts, Gods and Goddesses
From Final Fantasy summon characters to unusual weapons from Symphony of the Night to God of War plot devices to classic gaming bestiaries and everything in between, The Enchanted World has countless stories of many of their origins and can feel like a catalog of things that have obviously influenced game developers for decades. Brasel The Gamer recently touched on this connection with his articles sampling various beasts, relics, and characters that were referenced in the Final Fantasy series.
The research conducted in each volume is extensive and there may be some obscure stories or trivial tidbits that are new to even the most ardent readers of fantasy. The style in which the books were written even captures the vibe of the series further as they’re written from the perspective that all the stories within are grounded in truth and a substantial part of our collective history. There are also many similar themes can be found throughout the fables no matter what their country of origin, whether it be pride coming before a fall, untold rewards for those who accomplish great feats of heroism, etc. The strongest theme is that of the conflict between the old world and the inevitable rise of the new; Christendom and humanity’s incline being the catalysts that reset the world and causes the ancient one to weaken and finally resign itself to oblivion, its mystical gateways closing forever. Lastly, there is a strong thread of Arthurian lore woven throughout the whole series, culminating in its own volume The Fall of Camelot.
Naturally, you’ll get some of those abstract origin stories that are pretty weird or convoluted in regards to subject matter and you kinda wonder just how much the old bards were just winging it or were drunk when concocting some of these.
The passion of the production in each book is further shown through the artwork within, and it’s just as great as the material. All the pieces, done by many different artists, come in a variety of styles yet fit the mood and overall design well; most notably, the art of Matt Mahurin, which really stands out among the others. A sort of Renaissance Man, Mahurin has directed numerous music videos, several films, and has an extensive catalog of other creative endeavors.
The icing on the cake was the method of advertising for the series. Time Life landed none other than the great Vincent Price himself to add a touch of creepiness and antiquity to the books when they first began publication. The handful of commercials made around 1983 may be considered hokey by today’s standards, but that just makes them all the more fun – The Enchanted World Commercial.
Another plus is that these books are not that difficult to come by. Some volumes are rarer than others and will cost a bit more, but all of them are worth it. So when your thumbs are beginning to blister and you feel the eye strain start to settle in, give your console a breather and check out an Enchanted World volume or three.
Michael A. Jones firstname.lastname@example.org www.nerdsintheburbs.com
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