It has been 10 years since the release of The Deathly Hallows, the final installment in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series that created a global phenomenon. Since the unparalleled success of these stories and no doubt in part due to their financial success, there has been an unending parade of fiction for young audiences spanning as many books as possible however this was by no means the birth of the long series for the young reader.
There have been numerous famous series by children’s authors, probably none more so than those by the ever-popular Enid Blyton. Blyton wrote several series for children many of which went on to become long-standing classics of the genre including Noddy, The Famous Five and The Secret Seven. Blyton paved the way for children to get to know and love a whole host of characters they could follow along in their adventures. The series in children’s fiction was a fantastic way to get the young invested in characters that they could relate to whilst encouraging them to read and use their imagination, not just within the confines of the books.
“Leave something for someone but dont leave someone for something.”
― Enid Blyton,
During the same period across the channel in Belgium, cartoonist Georges Remi created one of the most successful European comics under his pen name Herge. The Adventures of Tintin began life as a serialised comic strip which went on to a series of 24 comic books detailing the various adventures and scrapes of the plucky young reporter, a recurring cast of friends and of course his faithful dog Snowy. The tenacity and optimism of Tintin and his willingness to run headfirst into any adventure he found himself in was and has remained, a popular conceit and the books have been translated into over 70 languages to be read and enjoyed by children and adults alike.
“Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!”
This long tradition of series within the children’s genre tended to follow the characters throughout standalone adventures without much, if any, overall story arc. Recently, particularly in young adult fiction and fantasy, we have seen authors use series to explore stories in great depth and detail. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series is hugely popular, especially with the television adaptation Game of Thrones, and has brought the public firmly back to the epic fantasy tale.
The series that seemingly started it all, and arguably most famous fantasy trilogy, has to be J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Originally a sequel to The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings developed into a vast work of fiction with a multitude of races, landscapes even languages to create an astounding mythology which the genre has since owed a great debt to.
The crime genre has seen more than its fair share of literary detectives that have spawned their own series of novels: From the rural, English countryside ambling of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to the hard-boiled, sun-cracked streets of Hollywood trudged by Raymond Chandler’s private eye Philip Marlowe, the detective has always been a popular mainstay within the genre and its characters are as diverse as the landscapes they reside in.
“It’s what’s in yourself that makes you happy or unhappy.”
― Agatha Christie,
A particular favourite crime fighter of ours at World of Rare Books comes in the form of a gruff, French Inspector working out of the Quai des Orfevres in Paris. Commissaire Jules Maigret was created by Belgian author Georges Simenon, a prolific writer with hundreds of novels to his name. In Maigret, Simenon created a character who was as interesting to the reader as the cases he was tasked with solving. His popularity was immense, appearing in a whopping 75 novels and numerous short stories. Maigret’s gruff demeanour, intelligence, and dogged determination for getting to the truth regardless of the obstacles in his way make for a thrilling read. Simenon was a keen traveller which can be seen throughout the Maigret novels as he not only solved cases on the mean streets of Paris but found himself embroiled in international affairs all over Europe and the United States. It is in these novels that Maigret really shines in the ‘fish out of water’ role, having to get down and dirty without all his usual home side advantage. Despite it being a fantastic way to explore the depths of great, fictitious characters it’s not only in the realm of fantasy or crime that interesting series can be found. There are just as many people whose real life is as interesting as those we read about in fiction, and often as dangerous though in albeit different ways.
“The poor are used to stifling any expression of their despair, because they must get on with life, with work, with the demands made of them day after day, hour after hour.”
― Georges Simenon,
One such example comes from England’s favourite naturalist, and purveyor of fine nature programming, Sir David Attenborough. The Zoo Quest series consisted of 6 books between 1956 and 1963 that accompanied a television series of the same name. The books followed the travels of Attenborough and London Zoo staff on their quest to obtain unusual and rare animals from exotic countries. Though some of the practices described in the books have fallen out of fashion there is the typical British charm of Attenborough as he ventures through fantastic locations to find bizarre beasts. Many of these places and animals would not have been seen by a large part of his readership at the time and were every bit as fantastical as anything found in a fantasy novel.
Another excellent example of real-life adventure and exploration comes from renowned ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl and a number of books he wrote chronicling a variety of his expeditions. Probably the most well-known of these is Kon- Tiki; the book tells of a trip across the Pacific Ocean on a primitive raft to try and show the extent to which ancient peoples could have traveled over such vast distances and migrated with such basic transportation. Heyerdahl’s books offer fascinating insight for anyone with an interest in history and anthropology, with his hands-on approach and true adventurer’s spirit it’s hard not to get fully engaged.
Whatever your preferred genre there is bound to be a wonderful series that you may or may not have discovered yet and there is nothing more satisfying than falling in love with a character, real or created, and finding a trove of further adventures to immerse yourself in.