Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Genealogy of Story

Perhaps some of you have caught the genealogy bug at one time in your life or another...which is likely as it's a fascinating and slightly addicting process. I've sort of sat by in the sidelines and watched other family members uncover fascinating bits of our heritage. I love seeing how certain family names crop up hundreds of years apart...learning that my great-great-great-and-some-more-greats grandfather had an occupation which I randomly assigned to a hero in one of my stories... I felt inspired and somehow fated to be a writer when I learned that both my husband and I had great-grandmothers who wrote for children. (Mark's grandmother, Hazel Louise Raybold Langdale, wrote enough that you can still occasionally find her books in used book stores, but I can't find anything by mine—anyone ever read anything by Elizabeth Agatha End?)

But I've uncovered another type of genealogy which is easier to follow and just as easy to become addicted to: the genealogy of stories. For example....

Perhaps you're inspired by the writing of Neil Gaiman...

Who was inspired by the writing of T. H. White...

Who was inspired by the writing of John Masefield...

And I'm sure go further if you're good at research.

Since my husband and I are great Gaiman and White fans, when we learned White loved Masefield's children's stories “this side of idolatry,” as he put it, we figured we'd better read them. I've been devouring his “The Box of Delights” and I'm stunned by the surety of story, the humor, certain sentences, wonderful use of phrasing and short, some of what I love most about White's and Gaiman's work. It's as if I could take “The Graveyard Book” and say, “Oh, he has his grandfather's ears!”

Here's another example:

You could be inspired by J. K. Rowling...

Who was inspired by C. S. Lewis...

Who was inspired by George MacDonald...

Who was inspired by E.T.A. Hoffman...

(And thus we see it was actually peer pressure that decided her on the initials...:) And we can see the resemblance again: Fluffy the dog seems to have inherited the heads of the Mouse King in the Nutcracker. ;)

Now obviously, everyone has more than one “writing parent.” MacDonald had a large family, with such talented children as J. R. R. Tolkien and Madeleine L'Engle among his numbers. Rowling also claims T. H. White as an inspiration. And she says that Jane Austen is one of her favorite adult authors. When you start thinking of it as a family tree, it's great fun to think of what amazing authors can be seen as your siblings or cousins or aunts and uncles...

...and just imagine the super family reunions.

So, who's on your family tree? If you're “related” to L. M. Montgomery, J. R. R. Tolkien, Maud Hart Lovelace, or pretty much any of the authors I named above, we could be long-lost cousins! :)


  1. What a great post!! I never thought of geneology in this way. I'm not sure who my actual inspirations are, though I love so many authors.

    Your great-grandmother,Elizabeth Agatha End, sounds like a character. Perhaps both real and in a future, fictional sense?

    My great-aunt, Annie Laurie Williams, and her husband, Maurice Crain, were literary agents for writers such as John Steinbeck and Harper Lee. Boy what I wouldn't give to be able to talk and learn from them now.

  2. We just might be cousins! LMMontgomery & Tolkein are 2 of my abolute faves! I'd also have to add in Agatha Christie, Anne McCaffrey & Nora Roberts/JD Robb :)

  3. Yes, this is fun to think about, isn't it? On both sides of the family, I too, have discovered writers -- my father has written engineering textbooks and some short stories and essays. On his side, I disovered Saguna: the first autobiographical novel in English by an Indian woman by Krupabai Satthianadhan (she's my great-great-something). The book is fascinating reading as it captures the tensions between the generations as well a the social/political arena since the family has recently converted to Christianity.

    My mother wrote lovely letters and poetry and essays and the ones in Marathi are all lost to me since I can no longer read it (well I can read, but not understand the nuances anymore). Her father was a priest so wrote a lot of homilies ... My uncle is a priest as well, so he writes a lot of homilies too. I guess preachers have to write a lot. Oh, they're Episcopal and I did sort of grow up in the church.

    But as to my writing "fathers and mothers" they are: Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, Somerset Maughm, and the Bible itself. Bible stories seeped into my cells well before I learned to read and my mother told them very dramatically. In fact, if you look at good stories, they can all be reduced to Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

    Thanks for brining back all these wonderful memories Faith.

  4. Happy New Year, Faith!!! May 2011 be your best year yet!

  5. I love this concept of a literary family tree! Isn't that exactly the truth? For it was JK Rowling that inspired me to write - plain and simple. Isn't it a lovely thought - that perhaps some day we will inspire other future writers to join us?

  6. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    This is a really interesting post! I've thought about it before, but never with those terms. I love this! I would definitely list J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien in my "family tree" though I'm afraid I probably don't write half as well as either of them. I also draw a lot from Megan Whalen Turner and Edgar Allan Poe. :)

  7. I don't write horror, but I was inspired by Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe.

    Great post. I love the writerly genealogy.