Fantastic Tales However Known

This blog is an exploratory celebration of the myths, dreams, and memories inspired by fantastic tales I’ve read or seen on screens over the long and growing span of my years.

What do I mean by fantastic? The dictionary says it describes the imaginative and fanciful, the extraordinary, bizarre, or exotic. That’s what I’m talking about here.

All my life, fantastic tales have been my refuge and delight, shaping my imagination and leaving me always wanting more.

My earliest memory of reading, at about five-years old, is following along as my older brother read a comic book to me. I still remember the cover and the title—ATOMIC MOUSE. It was indeed a fantastic tale of a super-hero —who happened to be a rodent—and I was hooked.

Around the same time, my brother took me to the neighborhood movie theater to see the first movie I can remember—WAR OF THE WORLDS. It fascinated and scared me witless—I watched much of it peeking from the rear of the auditorium–and I loved it.

My sense of the fantastic span the interval twixt ATOMIC MOUSE and TENET.

Growing up in the 1950s, I hated school and lived for books from the library, weekend movie matinees, and the occasional fantastic fare available on B&W TV. I quickly exhausted the science fiction shelves in the kid’s section of the library. I would hit the library on the way home from school, and spend the evening reading instead of doing homework; a pattern that persisted through high school and nearly flunked me out of college. Having exhausted the kid’s shelves, I conducted a running battle of wits with the librarians, trying to surreptitiously slip an “adult” title into the stack of books I was borrowing. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.

I didn’t read much fantasy as a kid, only the Oz books—but all of them—and most of them in high school, when I had the reverse of my childhood experience of wanting to borrow “adult” science fiction. As a teen, I found myself mildly embarrassed wandering back into the children’s lit section to check out oversized illustrated Oz books—but I did love them.

During those juvenile years, I continued to entertain and often terrify myself at the movies. Any Saturday or Sunday afternoon when I could scrounge up the admission—often using money intended for my accordion lesson—I attended a double-feature matinee, usually sci-fi, mostly “creature features”, like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and of course GODZILLA. These being the paranoid red-scare 1950s, there were alien-invasion films galore—like INVADERS FROM MARS and THIS ISLAND EARTH. Most of these matinee shows were “B” movies, made on shoestring budgets on black and white film with “hey kid, you could do this at home quality” flying saucers and aliens. I fondly recall some fantastic-few standout classics that are still watched and discussed today—films like THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD), THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. It’s no surprise that several of those classics have been remade over time, some more than once.

On television, I grew up warped and weird watching 50’s shows like TWILIGHT ZONE, ONE STEP BEYOND, and SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE on a B&W TV that broadcast only three stations just eighteen hours per day. There were some fantasy tales scattered among the episodes of these anthology shows, but mostly fantastic science fiction.

The 60s, my teens, was a golden age of fantastic culture. Even mere mentions of the books that shaped my adolescent imagination would be too numerous to list here without transforming a post into an online catalog. Some personally resonant standout writers shaped my imagination. Heinlein (you know what book) helped quicken my boomer cohort’s counter-cultural “awakening.” Herbert (DUNE et al) got me thinking about systems on every level and inspired a career in systems. Vonnegut (CAT’S CRADLE et al) helped cultivate my humors—all four. Le Guin (LATHE OF HEAVEN et al) started me thinking about human culture on every level); Tolkien (LOTR) got me interested in epic tales and linguistics. Finally, maybe surprisingly, I have to cite Shakespeare. I read HAMLET—my first play—as a ghost story; same with MACBETH.  A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM—my all time favorite play—inspired lifelong dreams of fantastic faerie. These fantastic authors and others will inspire future posts.

In high school, movies began to contend with novels for control of my attention. In the 60s some fantastic movies “grew up”—along with their audiences—and became “films” or “cinema.” I’d always enjoyed “monster movies” for the sheer horror and now auteur-filmmakers were making horrors like PSYCHO and THE INNOCENTS, and one was about to create a new and enduring kind of monster in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The same thing happened in sci-fi with films like ALPHAVILLE, SECONDS, FAHRENHEIT 451. Then—the year I graduated from college—2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY set the bar at a new level for the next generation of sci-fi film.

On television, there was a lot of sci-fi and fantasy during my teens, much of it not so good—with a few standouts like the Ur-STAR TREK, THE PRISONER, and THE OUTER LIMITS.

In the half century since college, most of what I’ve read has been fantastic—speculative fiction—sci-fi and fantasy. My film watching history has been more diverse but fantastic tales dominate my list of all time favorites. I largely abandoned TV for decades, only to rediscover it in its new 21st-century golden age and now the amount of truly fantastic fare on the small screen is—fantastic.

In future posts, I’ll explore fantastic tales, past and present, from many angles, always with a view toward entertainment, information, and inspiration. I invite you to follow along and join me on this fantastic journey.

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