Here’s a fun idea the imaginative and inventive imyril thought up recently for the meme Wyrd & Wonder (which celebrates all things fantastical). “Desert Island Discs – the classic BBC radio show that inspired this post – allows players to take (a) eight musical tracks (not albums!), (b) a single book (plus the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible or a more appropriate religious / philosophical book of choice as a freebie) and (c) a random ‘luxury’ item to make island life bearable.”
For Desert Island Reads, imyril switches things around. “Castaways may have: (a) eight books – your Desert Island Reads float ashore in a watertight chest, phew! (b) a podcast, TV show or movie – for when you really can’t read any more, (c) one thing you just can’t do without — favourite food, something comforting, a touch of luxury – this can be pretty much whatever you like, so long as it’s inanimate, can’t help you escape or communicate with the outside world. (Don’t worry: you already have access to any medication you require to manage medical conditions, plus a well-stocked first aid kit.)”
I thought I might find this easy, but it turns out I was wrong: I should have taken warning from the fact that my notional choice of eight pieces of music for Desert Island Discs would vary from day to day, even hour to hour! Nevertheless, here goes.
- The Lord of the Rings. Well, you sort of expected that. Despite the fact I’ve only recently embarked on yet another reread of Tolkien‘s saga it’s clear there’s no guarantee I’ll be rescued within the timespan of a decade, in which case I’d be ready for a seventh read. And I guess most of my subsequent choices will, like LOTR, be also about imaginary worlds.
- I think next it’d have to be something by Susanna Clarke. It’d be a toss-up between the exquisite Piranesi or else Jonathan Stange and Mr Norell. Probably JS&MN would win out because it’s another chunkster like LOTR. Alternatively, if the publishers ever brought out a slipcase edition of these two plus The Ladies of Grace Adieu I’d say “Thank you very much” — except I don’t think that’d be in the spirit of this challenge…
- This might count as another cheat: The Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi. Why? Well, as well as a few handy maps it gives a synopsis of the key features and history of all the islands, regions and continents that have featured in well over a thousand works of fiction from all over the world, and so virtually counts as a compendium of them all. My edition is from 1980, and I understand that later editions have many more entries so I’d like the latest, please.
- Lacking any ability to choose any single work by the singular Diana Wynne Jones I’m going for Reflections: on the Magic of Writing, which describes itself as a “collection of more than twenty-five critical essays, speeches, and biographical pieces” chosen by her before her death in 2011. She describes her creative processes and discusses most of her fiction one way and another so it’ll do as a sort of substitute for her fantasies.
- And now I should list some titles I haven’t yet read. So many people rated Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree mighty highly that I felt honour bound to acquire a copy but — and this is a big ‘but’ — at well over 800 pages I haven’t yet dared to delve into it. Well, on a desert island I shall have no excuse not to do so, encouraged by reviews dubbing it a “feminist Lord of the Rings.”
- I’ve always wanted to read more traditional tales from outside a Western tradition, and have had my eye on a book bequeathed by my parents from when my father was a marine engineer in the China Seas. From Moscow’s Foreign Language Publishing House comes a title in the Library of Soviet Literature (that helps date it, no? It was published in 1957) and The Enchanted Prince: Book Two of the Adventures of Khoja Nasreddin by Leonid Solovyov, is a compendium of folk tales about a trickster and teller of tall tales. My father dedicated it to my mother with the words “As a change from Earl Stanley Gardner,” but I’m not at all convinced she ever read it.
- And now another compendium which I bought ten years ago and still haven’t dipped into, despite having a selection of distinguished writers represented in its pages. This is Stories: All-New Tales edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. Why I haven’t yet sampled it, despite including Roddy Doyle, Joanne Harris, Jodi Picoult, Michael Moorcock and Diana Wynne Jones (among many others), I really don’t know.
- Finally, a volume related to the one thing I really can’t do without — it’d have to be something by the creative J S Bach, and there’s so much of his excellent keyboard music to choose from — the suites, the inventions, the partitas — but I’m going to go for his unfinished Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 906, because it’s a fantasia and therefore fantasy, no? Alternatively, an urtext edition of the Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues. Just because.
For when I can’t read any more
Hmm. I’ve not really delved much into podcasts so it’ll have to be a TV show or movie. I really liked the TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and though the third series has yet to air I’m guessing it’ll be as good as the first two, and I haven’t already included any Pullman in my list of eight books.
If all three series are not allowed then it’ll have to be the first anime I ever watched and was then blown away by and that’s Miyazaki’s Spirited Away; but I’d be just as happy with My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whisper of the Heart, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, or even, at a pinch, the devastating Grave of the Fireflies.
One thing I can’t do without
A piano. An upright or a concert grand, I’m not proud. Preferably self-tuning. Even a decent electric piano would do, assuming I can get get electricity from a renewable source such as a wind turbine, a tidal energy source or solar power — surely not too much to ask on a desert island?! My Russian piano-teacher back in Hong Kong in the 1950s advised “Bach! Bach! And more Bach!” for me when I left. (Her Bach was no worse than her bite, I can tell you!) With a piano I can finally get down to tackling those preludes and fugues I’ve mostly steered clear of, perhaps get on with completing Bach’s unfinished fantasia and fugue, and composing more of my own miniatures.
Okay, them’s me choices. Given this is a meme about things fantastical what would you have chosen?