Monday, November 29, 2010

Before I revisit those mountains...

Did I hate or like this one?
In sixth grade, my class was told that for our sci-fi/fantasy unit, we would be reading John Christopher's (and I now discover that's a pen name...) "classic" - The White Mountains.

This voracious reader, well versed at the time in young adult appropriate sci-fi and fantasy books, was outraged. "What is this book?" I complained to the teacher. "There are so many amazing sci-fi and fantasy books out there, they have to pick this tacky, stupid looking book?" She sighed and nodded in agreement. "Yes, I really don't understand why we study this."

Retrospect tells me that my teacher probably disliked the book in part because I can't recall a single female character in it (so even if there were girls, fact is that I don't remember them!). A forgivable sin (to a degree...), but when teaching a class split half girls half boys, it really doesn't make sense to read a book like this. Then again, my complaints stemmed from an entirely different realm. I wanted to read books like The Giver again (I'd already read it at a different school the year before and had seen the impact it had on the class), or A Wrinkle in Time and books along those lines. What was this ancient book being thrust upon me? (Ancient being, of course, entirely in comparison to all my 10-11 years of life. Then again: 1967 publication year. Come on, guys.)

I remember a lot more from this book than I should. I remember some joke about "Jean-Paul" sounding like "Beanpole", evil tripods, steel caps... But I remember hating the book. Or at least saying I hated it. And then promptly reading the two sequels.

Here's where it starts to get fuzzy. Why would I read not one, but two sequels if I actively didn't like the book? I'm lead to believe that I probably liked the book reasonably enough (or was intrigued by the premise, or wanted to be friends with one of the characters - who knows), otherwise I wouldn't have bothered with sequels. It's strange though, the tricks memory can play on you. I look at the cover of The White Mountains (and subsequent sequels) and feel queasy. A hint at an ultimate disappointment? No, I remember being riveted at the end of the third book (by one particular, entirely spoiler-filled scene). Nausea due to the hideous covers? Hmm...

I'm looking forward to revisiting The White Mountains (and sequels). The fact is that I barely remember anything from them (some flashes here and there), so it's like coming anew. Maybe I'll see what my teacher couldn't as to why we read this over other sci-fi books (though I doubt it...). Maybe I'll find a great sci-fi classic. Or maybe I'll realize that I hated this book for good reason. We'll see.


  1. I've never heard of this book but I want to do some research about it now.

  2. I don't remember anything about the stories themselves (which I read nearly 30 years ago), but I do remember being shocked by how much I enjoyed them. They'd been neglected on my shelves for ages and I ended up reading them in one burst and finding them un-putdownable. I've been thinking about re-reading them too, so I'll be interested to hear what you find.

  3. Great post! I have often thought that there are probably books I read as a child or young adult, that if read now I would appreciate much more.

  4. Fun post. Revisiting a childhood favorite is always such a risk. I'm planning to read one of my favorites, THE CHOCOLATE WAR, for Banned Books Week next year. We'll see how it goes!


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