Why I'm Starting to Read More Fantasy
“The Key to the Half Words” by Andrew Chaplin is the perfect gateway fantasy novel for reluctant fantasy readers like me. I’m learning that you don’t have to be obsessed to enjoy fantasy, and fantasy is SO much more than “The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘A Game of Thrones.” More important, there’s a lot to learn from fantasy despite its status as “genre fiction.”
Why I Wasn’t a Fantasy Fan
I have a confession. There are two genres of fiction I have been biased against, fantasy and romance. I’m still not sold on romance, at least the romance books with the muscly men on the cover. (Oh yes, I judge books by their covers.) Fantasy, however, is growing on me.
Besides being genre fiction, Fantasy gets a bad rap for being formulaic, rehashing the same tired storylines (hero’s journey, the chosen one, revenge, etc.), and overusing medieval settings. Fantasy also gets a bad rap because its fans are often, dare I say, fanatical. Regardless, I’m learning to put my prejudices aside and actually enjoy fantasy.
“The Key to the Half Worlds” by Andrew Chaplin is one of the reasons the fantasy genre is growing on me. (“Beyond the Wicked Willow” is another entertaining YA fantasy.) Though “The Key to the Half Worlds” by Andrew Chaplin starts out a bit clumsily, Chaplin puts a unique spin on common fantasy clichés. Chaplin also makes up for his clumsy beginning once the story gets going, and with only 240 pages, the plot picks up quickly.
“The Key to the Half Worlds” Summary
After camping out in Richard’s backyard, Richard and Tom, wake up to find themselves in a world that resembles their own, except that the patch of trees in Richard’s backyard has grown into a forest, and his parents’ house is missing. Richard and Tom soon meet Toby Nonsuch, an elvish sorcerer who explains that he lured Richard and Tom to his dimension. He hopes they will help him stop Drusilla. Drusilla is an evil elvish sorceress who is trying to reunite the world of sorcery with the world of humans.
The two worlds were once one and the same, but Toby explains that humans were jealous of the races of people who could practice sorcery. He says, “humans really didn’t get on well with anyone else other than humans.” (Funny, I’m not sure that humans really get on well with other humans.)
Humans eventually willed the world of sorcery into the other dimension by refusing to acknowledge the existence of sorcerers and sorcery-related beings. Toby explains that Drucilla wants to merge the two worlds and rule everyone.
Side Note: Toby provides Richard and Tom with an anecdote about John Whirlpool. In “The Key to the Half Worlds,” John Whirlpool invented the automatic washing machine before the worlds separated. The washing machine was a huge failure, and an elf taunted John Whirlpool by using sorcery to clean the clothes. John Whirlpool responded by strangling the elf.
This anecdote is humorous and serves its purpose in “The Key to the Half Worlds,” but, according to Whirlpool’s “100 Years at a Glance” factsheet, Whirlpool was originally founded by Lou Upton in 1908 as The Upton Machine Company. Due to growing demand, The Upton Machine Company merged with The Nineteen Hundred Corporation in 1925. It wasn’t until 1948 that The Nineteen Hundred Corporation launched the first Whirlpool brand name automatic washing machine. There was no John Whirlpool.
Additionally, the automatic washing machine Toby describes in “The Key to the Half Worlds” more closely resembles F.L. Maytag’s wooden tub washing machine than the first Whirlpool branded washing machine.
The Key to the Half Worlds Review
“The Key to the Half Worlds” is a little lacking in character development and follows the typical trajectory of a fantasy adventure. But “The Key to the Half Worlds” is fun, cute, and well written, so I was happy to go along with it.
Contrary to the average fantasy novel, however, Richard and Tom aren’t quite the chosen ones. They are descendants of elves and are receptive to Toby’s call from the other dimension. Toby needs any human with elvish heritage, not Richard and Tom specifically. Additionally, the boys never have to bear the brunt of the mission, unlike our friends Frodo and Harry.
I also like the idea of parallel dimensions, however overused they are (more so in science fiction than in fantasy though). I actually prefer a parallel dimension over a completely fictitious world, which is why The Key to The Half Worlds was a good gateway fantasy novel for me.
How to Read Fantasy Without “Guilt”
As I said in my intro, I was biased against fantasy. I often choose books exclusively for their entertainment value without giving a hoot about their intellectual value, but in the past, I never reached for fantasy. To me, fantasy novels were “guilty reads.”
In a recent blog post, author D.E. Haggerty (“Searching for Gertrude”) urges readers to stop using the term “guilty read,” when describing genre fiction. She argues, “There’s nothing wrong with reading a book that’s just plain entertainment.” And she’s right, but…
Despite my own personal hangups about certain genres, no story is purely entertainment, whatever the author’s intentions are. Even “Fifty Shades of Grey” can be a starting point for thinking and talking about sexuality, consent, gender roles, and the portrayal of women and BDSM in romance and erotica.
Fantasy, like science fiction, often delves into themes like ethics and the nature of good and evil. It’s the fantasy novels that highlight moral complexity that we can learn the most from.
Though “The Key to the Half Worlds” isn’t terribly deep, Chaplin does show that Drusilla isn’t all bad. More important, Toby and Drusilla both want the same thing, for the two worlds to reunite. They only disagree on how to reunite them. Yes, Drusilla also wants to be a dictator, but in her mind that’s the only way to keep humans from being, well, human.
In life, we often have more in common with our foes than we realize. Perhaps in the sequel to “The Key to the Half Worlds,” which Chaplin sets himself up for nicely, Drusilla and Toby will try some backchannel diplomacy to add yet another level of nuance to the fantasy genre.
Finally, Let me know your opinions on genre fiction, fantasy, and the term “guilty read.”
The Key to the Half Worlds
By Andrew Chaplin
Book Guild Publishing Ltd. 240pp.