by Glenn Matchett
When I first tell people that I am a comic book fan I get asked the same question 90% of the time. ‘Do you also read normal books?’ I always find it an odd question personally. I sometimes wonder if people assume I don’t enjoy prose novels because of my love for comics. Personally I don’t see much difference between the two, one uses words and descriptions and the other is a combination of art and words used to tell a story.
The answer of course is yes of course I read prose work. I’m a huge fan of reading be it comics or prose and ever since I taught myself to read with the Beano and Dandy I have also being reading novels. The first novels I recall reading were those written by Roald Dahl. I’m sure many of you reading this know who that is but for the few that don’t he is a British writer best known for his work in children’s fiction. Among his many works include the BFG, The Witches, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and The Twits among many others.
On the surface these novels are easy to read morality tales. They usually feature children in underprivileged situation fighting against adversity and usually have a happy ending. However when looked through the eyes of an adult Dahl’s novels often have sinister undertones and quite disturbing scenes. Fans of the film adaption of ‘The Witches’ (if you haven’t seen it you should) may be shocked to learn the main character who through the course of the tale is turned into a mouse does not revert back to his human form but indeed dies. In Charlie and The Chocolate Factory there are undertones of corruption and the main character faces rivals who represent the seven deadly sins. When it was originally adapted to film it lost much of this sinister tone and focused more on it becoming more kid friendly.
I may be in the minority here but I feel that the latter adaption done by Tim Burton (we’ll get to him later) is far superior as it captures the undertones of Dahl’s novel, has the correct songs and does not bizarrely replace the squirrels with geese. Indeed as an adult Dahl’s novels have a very different tone to them but they are still very enjoyable and easy reading for a young child. When I was older I also greatly enjoyed his novels intended for an older audience such as ‘boy’.
Another series of novels I read during my young was the Narnia series by Northern Ireland novelist C.S Lewis. Although I think I was first introduced to the magical world of Narnia through the BBC adaption I did indeed read the novels. They bear many similarities to the works of Tolken as the two were close friends. Although I think the first two novels (Magician’s nephew and The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe) are very enjoyable I found myself becoming disinterested with the novels as they carried on. It was a strong start but I personally found they kind of went out not with a bang but a whimper. I recently reread them as Disney released a big screen adaption of Wardrobe and found myself coming the same conclusion. The novels however are easy reading and the first two are very good and have stuck with me to adulthood.
When I was in school I also started reading the Goosebumps series written by R.L Stine. This series of many, many novels features teen horror and again was nice easy reading. This series gave me a taste for horror and as I became a teenager I discovered the Point Horror series of books.
Point Horror was tales of teen horror similar to Goosebumps but slightly more mature. The stories would often feature a mystery involving a group of teenagers being harassed. Some of them were okay but some of them were actually quite clever in their twists.
These novels also ignited a love for mystery and led me to reading the entire series of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. The Holmes novels I found a joy to read and have influenced things I have enjoyed later in life and how I write myself. Even today I see elements in Holmes in some of my favourite T.V shows like House M.D. I have also enjoyed many adaptions of Holmes including the brilliantly funny ‘Without a Clue’. More recently two very different but equally excellent adaptions in the form of Guy Richie’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ have to me really brought out what makes those original stories so enjoyable. Even the latter of the adaptions which retells Holmes stories in a modern setting have the feel and the energy of Conan Doyle’s original work and as a fan it’s wonderful to see. Every mystery I watch or read always has to match up to the high bar set up by those early Holmes stories and if you haven’t read them then they’re waiting for you at 221b Baker Street.
I hadn’t lost my taste for horror though and found it in abundance in the work of Stephen King. Quite possibly the best known writer on the planet King has written many brilliant horror tales that can chill you to the bone like The Shining, IT and Misery. I believe he is actually the writer who holds the record adaptions being made of his work. Although his adaptions range in quality from excellent (Shawshank Redemption) to very, very poor (any number of sequels based on King’s work like Carrie 2) it is quite a feat to become so recognised for your work outside the bookstore and that’s what King has done. Although he is probably best known for being a Horror Writer King is also capable of telling very emotional tales like the brilliant Green Mile and fantasy epics like the Dark Tower. He also does something I greatly enjoy and tosses in Easter eggs to his past work in each of his books. Although they don’t share the same universe it’s very rewarding for a fan to see this in his work. I did kind of lose track of King’s work until Marvel’s excellent Dark Tower adaption brought me back in. I look forward to reading more of his modern day work like Cell and Under the Dome in the near future.
Apart from this I kind of spent a long time not reading. The lure of television and games took me away from the written word. I tried several other novelists like Terry Pratchett and found myself disinterested. I also read many classics like Dracula and Frankenstein but found them very hit and miss. In particular for a book that created such a well known character Dracula is very hard to read and I have yet to see an adaption I am completely satisfied with. I also took time to read many Shakespeare plays all of which I found terribly dull barring Hamlet. Yes it’s true I fell out of reading for the majority of my youth but that would all change in 2000.
In 2000 nearly a year before 9/11 attacks my brother had gone to New York as part of a Summer camp program called ‘Camp America’. When he returned he came with a book titled ‘Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.’ At first I was somewhat reluctant to read the book and I can’t exactly say why. In retrospect I suspect that temporary insanity may have played a factor. A few weeks later at School in the small pitiful of a library they had there was a copy of the first in the series ‘Harry Potter And The Philosophers (Or Sorcerer for some reason if you’re in America ) Stone’. I started to read it….and continued and then read some more. I had soon become addicted to the magical world of Harry Potter and sped through the first three books. Every time one of the later books came out me and my brother were so desperate to read them we would have a copy each. It may sound crazy but we really did enjoy the books that much. I remember getting a copy of the sixth novel ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ at 9 in the morning thanks to the post. I was off university at this time so I read and read and read all day until I finished the novel at after 3 AM that same night. The series has such energy and such clever plotting and memorable multi layered characters it really deserves its worldwide success. I take my hat off to JK Rowling who created the novels and also was probably responsible for me reading prose again on a regular basis.
Of course when I got the bug back it didn’t really go away. My love of mystery led me to the Agatha Christie series of murders. While personally not as enjoyable to me as the Holmes novels they are very interesting mysteries that I see a lot of movies and show borrow elements from on a very regular basis. I also made a policy that if something was adapted from a book into movie or TV I would try and read the book first. I haven’t kept to it all the time but it did lead me to reading J.R.R Tolken’s Lord Of The Rings Trilogy along with its precursor the Hobbit. I’m probably in the minority that prefers the film adaptions (get to that later etc, etc) but Tolken’s vivid imaginative tales of Middle Earth is almost like someone reciting real life history to a world you’ve never heard of to you. It’s fascinating to see a whole world be described in this fashion (sometimes overly so) and Tolken’s books are just as good now as they were when first published.
I also started to read a lot of biographies. Some of my favourites include the first two books Mick Foley wrote and a book about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. I’ll talk about my love for wrestling in the future but reading Foley’s books is a really enjoyable experience as he is a very naturally gifted writer. Reading stories about people like Foley achieving their dreams against everyone saying it’ll never happen is something that very much resonates with me personally.
I also read my favourite novel of all time in To Kill A Mockingbird. Told from an incredible perspective of the eyes of children this novel tells a powerful story of prejudice and injustice and does it beautifully. As a writer my goal is not to equal this work because that is likely beyond me but if I can capture just a small part of its quality I will be satisfied. If you’ve never read please take the time to check it out from your library or download it you won’t regret it.
These days I enjoy James Patterson’s fast paced murder series including the Alex Cross and Women’s murder club books. They’re enthralling mysteries and hold your interest until you close the last page making you eager for the next one. Though my ‘novel first, adaption later’ rule I’ve also recently discovered George R.R Martin’s Game Of Thrones series. As opposed to Tolken’s heavy tone I found it refreshingly easy to read and very gripping. I’ve only finished the first novel as of this typing but look forward to reading the rest within the year.
I love to read and try to get through books when I can. I’ve had a lot of good and variant reading in my life and ultimately as a writer myself I hope that someday perhaps I can offer that too.
Next: Lights, Camera and Action!