Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

HAWK TALK – Formative Novels

This would usually be a skip week, but the world is still being a jerk, so we made you a bonus, entirely unedited, and almost entirely off-topic episode. This time, we talk about the (non-comic) books we grew up on!

Books we mentioned, alphabetical by author:

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams

  • Start with: The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

  • Start with: The Book of Three

The Magic of Xanth by Piers Anthony

  • Start with: A Spell for Chameleon

Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony

  • Start with: On a Pale Horse

Letters to Jenny by Piers Anthony

Lots of stuff by Dave Barry

  • Start with: The World According to Dave Barry or any other book

Midnight Hour Encores by Bruce Brooks

The Shannara series by Terry Brooks

  • Start with: The Sword of Shannara

The Magic Kingdom of Landover series by Terry Brooks

  • Start with: Magic Kingdom for Sale – SOLD!

Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card

  • Start with: Ender’s Game

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

  • Start with: Over Sea, Under Stone
  • (But you might want to start with the second book The Dark Is Rising instead and then go back)

Bored of the Rings by Harvard Lampoon

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey

  • Start with: Dragonflight, or Dragonsinger works too

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

Lots of stuff by Cristopher Moore

  • Start with: Island of the Sequined Love Nun or any other book

He, She, and It by Marge Piercey

Lots of stuff by Tom Robbins

  • Start with: Another Roadside Attraction or any other book

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, etc.

  • Start with: Chronicles, Book 1: Dragons of Autumn Twilight


  1. Thank you both for doing these. I think most or all of us would be cool with you sticking to the skip-week schedule, but it’s really rad of you to do something for us (and I hope it’s also good for yourselves) right now. I really love these freeform, unresearched and unedited conversations.

  2. Dragonlance was one of many formative pieces of (sometimes age inappropriate) media handed down to me in my youth from my decade-older brother. shoutout to the very end of the film GREEN ROOM, and whomever dressed that scene that featured a Dragonlance book back cover up in the bands’s van. As far as Marge Piercy goes, PLEASE read Woman On The Edge of Time! Thanks for this lovely window into yalls youthful experience!

  3. Really enjoying these, particularly this one as I am super Welsh and a fellow Welsh mythology geek. The freeform style is really jolly and I hope you’re enjoying it too.

    You’re so close in your pronunciation of Prydain, but the ‘ain’ is more like the ‘ine’ in ‘wine’. Imagine it as being Pr-uhd-ine.

  4. I remember chancing upon “The Wicked Day” by Mary Stewart. I was in primary school and there was a book fair at school (in Jamaica), and here was this second hand book with a very worn cover which I would later be told looks very much like a romance novel (I’m still not sure about that last).

    It’s the last book in her Arthurian series which focuses on Mordred’s coming of age. And magic is mostly just tricks and sleight of hand and the art of the con. Mostly.

    I still love that book. I tried reading some of her other novels but they just didn’t grab me anything like this one. I think if I hadn’t seen it then, I’d never know I was missing it and boy, what is even chance and destiny right?

  5. Thanks for doing this! Podcasts have really helped me keep my sanity.

    1. I wonder what happened to my Scholastic novelization of Giant Size X-Men that I got in the 3rd grade… my mom probably gave it to Goodwill or something.

    2. Miles – Here’s a link to the Berserk Hiatus Graph: https://i.redd.it/nmselm3oceu41.png

    So, now that you’re all caught up on Berserk, join the club of Berserk fans who are wondering if Miura will finish the series. The vibe that I’m getting is that 50 year old Miura really doesn’t want to draw whatever his 20 year-old self had in mind for the ending.

  6. Scholastic Book Fairs DEFINITELY still exist! My wife is a public school teacher (ESL), and we have Book Fair biannually. We also still use the monthly catalogues. We’ve privately assembled a nearly 2,000-book library for her classroom in the last two years from Scholastic books. The books ARE cheaper – they’re made on lower-quality paper with flimsier covers, but everything you guys said still applies. I love Book Fair and ordering from Scholastic. (I realize this sounds like a commercial, but seriously, all the enthusiasm you two felt while talking about this, I STILL feel whenever I go!

  7. Dragonlance!!! Those were the formative fantasy books of my youth. I compare all fantasy to those books. The long histories kept them going for years. I fell off after the Fifth Age books, but came back when Weis and Hickman wrote more books. I am trying to get my 12 year old daughter to start reading them too. She love dystopian YA now, but reads some modern fantasy.

  8. Thank you so much for this, quite fascinating, interlude into your pasts.

    Cracks knuckles… THIS could go on a bit, so apologies in advance! 🙂

    Like yourselves I grew up surrounded by books of all sorts, my parents and siblings were all avid readers, so there was always something new to read around the house and a walk to the town Library rarely needed permission.

    My primary school library was a bit limited for various reasons, but I remember finding and reading the “Little House.” series there at a very young age. The TV series was still on first broadcast so I was curious and ended up fascinated by the differences; How the lives in the books were smaller, and yet felt so much richer than the entertaining but often slightly glossier TV version.

    I was hooked on the “Doctor Who” novelisations of the 70’s and 80’s because, in those strange days before VCR’s were even a possibility, it was the only way to relive a story.

    “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the sequel, “Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator” which is in some ways a darker and more interesting story, had a certain frisson because, when I was reading them, Roald Dahl was also writing “Tales of the Unexpected” a comedic but macabre twist-in-the-tale TV drama series I was not, at first, allowed to watch, so I was living vicariously through those! 🙂

    The UK also had “Jackanory” a series than ran in fifteen minute slots five days a week after school but before the evening news, where a noted actor would read an entire story or book (often a bit abridged). It was there that, I first heard of someone who would go on to be a lifelong favourite, Diana Wynne Jones.

    The story was “The Ogre Downstairs”, about a newly blended family adjusting to their new living arrangements (and not being happy about it) and the stepdad accidentally buying the kids not the chemistry set that they wanted, but something closer Alchemistry set, with magical properties, and the resulting chaos. She always wrote VERY plausible kids voices.

    She was terrific at parallel worlds, or would add new twists to classics, like “Archer’s Goon”, another favourite about modern day sort-of-elementals who have adapted and now embody and manipulate things like Law, Crime, Drains, Money, Transportation, Music and more, Any contemporary fantasy writer worthy of the name like, say, Pratchett, Gaiman, McKinley and Pullman respected the hell out of her.

    She wrote the book “Howl’s Moving Castle” that got turned into the Ghibli movie, and whilst it’s a superb movie, it’s different from the book, and I like the book better. She wrote prodigously, and if you’ve not read her, I urge you to try.

    In terms of adaptions (and you guys thing YOU can tangent?) I heard “The Hundred and One Dalmations” and “The Starlight Barking” on Jackanory and they’re magnificently oddball stories, especially if you’ve seen the Disney movie first , but I found out how different “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” was to the original book by myself.

    Nicholas Fisk and Andre Norton were also writers who I could always find on the library shelves, and I loved the worlds he and she created.

    Piers Anthony (who is still with us at the age of 85) I came to late and after a couple of Xanth books I think I’d had my fill, though I remember the “Incarnations of Immortality” series (Also a comic series back in the 80’s, with interesting painted art, and some horribly sexist depictions)

    In terms of broad humour fantasy I preferred Robert Aspirin MYTH series about perennially baffled but fundamentally decent magician Skeeve and his partner, the demonic looking Aahz.(and here’s that trope again) and their various adventures as they go into business together

    Anne McCaffrey did indeed pass away back in 2011. I think the first book I read of hers was The White Dragon, which maybe wasn’t the best starting point but I loved the notion of Pern, and fell for Jaxom and his mismatched outcast dragon Ruth (Good natured but a bit out of their depth human and larger “alien” other as partners and friends remains the character pairing trope I still adore, which should surprise no one here).

    I remember there was some fuss about the implications of Pernese dragons that since mating dragons always resulted in their riders also having sex through telepathic feedback, and all Green dragons are female but have male riders, does that mean that male dragonriders have gay sex whether the liked it or not. This was tacitly never addressed in the early books, but later ones have developed some more complex sexual dynamics for the situation (Men having sex due to their dragon’s mating is seen as being distinct from their own sexuality though if you’re gay, no one cares, least of all your dragon)

    (Ruth, the white dragon was I think the first time I ever heard of the concept of asexuality, as Ruth is just disinterested in sex)

    I also read the Earthsea books, though I later found out I had read the eidtion whose cover Ms LeGuin absolutely loathed, as it portrayed Ged as a pale skinned, white haired ethereal type, instead of the copper skinned man he was. (There was a superb documentary about her amazing life and how it impacted her work on the BBC a few months back)

    “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” I heard the radio version of first (but not the first series as I didn’t know it was being broadcast) and loved the books, though I think they might have been better leaving it as a trilogy (heretical of me, but there we are)

    I read the various Sherlock Holmes stories, and a good number of the PG Wodehouse “Jeeves” books at an early age and loved the use of language (even if I wanted to punch every single on of Berties friends in the nose for being such utter idiots). I was also lucky enough to find Pratchett when his first Discworld book was published and those are still some of my favourites

    Gosh, “Bored of the Rings”! I remember reading that almost immeidately after I’d finished reading “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time, and the timing was perfect as it was still fresh enough in my mind to make ALL the connections!

    And I think I’d better stop now… though I also have to mention the Tintin and Asterix books or I’ll never forgive myself!

    Thanks again, you provided some wonderful memory prompts!

    1. oh, Diana Wynne Jones also wrote “The Tough Guide to Fantasyland” a travel guide for anyone in pretty much fantasy series going, written in the style of an actual travel guide and taking the mickey out of every trope you will find. Sections on how to tell if someone is evil by their eye colour, how unlike REAL horses the horses of Fantasyland are and how, if there is a map at the start of your “guidebook” (ie novel), you’d better be prepared to visit EVERY SINGLE NAMED PLACE on it.

      And speaking of tropes, also a guilty plasure is David and Leigh Eddings series “The Belgariad”, which is VERY trope heavy, but very engagingly written IMHO.

      1. Oh, ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ is great, and also the only DWJ book I’ve read. Every time I think ‘I really must try some other of her books’ I’m never in a position to write something to remind myself, and when I am, I forget.

        ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ are also great, though unlike Jay, ‘Taran Wanderer’ is my least favourite. Not bad, just least favourite. Rather like ‘The Silver Chair’ doesn’t feel like Narnia.

    2. Also, and sorry, I’ll try and be quieter after this, I remember the warm glow of reading my first Ray Bradbury short story collection because of the wonderful use of words and descriptions.

      And the way that “The Neverending Story” drew me into it until THAT moment when I walked slam bang into my real first meta-fictional narrative!

  9. Bored of the Rings! I think I still have that someplace!

    I also grew up on Chronicles of Prydain and Miles, you’re not being harsh about the Black Cauldron movie.

    Even Disney knew they’d missed the mark. Roy Disney later said of the Horned King — who in the books is supposed to be terrifying: “He was just a guy.” Ron Clements (who did early story-artist work) said, “This was to have been our Snow White, but we weren’t ready for it.”

    (The quotes are from “The Disney Villain” by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.)

  10. Can we get an as mentioned for Hawk Talk? I started writing the titles down, but stopped because I was enjoying listening so much. This would be a great list for social distance reads.

    1. I super second this. I’d love even just a brief reading list? I really need to get back into reading. It’s definitely something I’m out of practice in doing, and feels very difficult to start doing again.

    2. Good call! I added one. If anyone notices that I missed anything that we talked about in the episode, let me know!

  11. Some random, disorganized thoughts:

    I do believe that Tracey Hickman insists in interview that the first three Dragonlance books were not a novelization of his home campaign. I don’t buy it either.

    My high-school girlfriend got me into a lot of books, one series of which was Robert Asprin’s MYTH Adventures series, which I remember fairly fondly if not super clearly. It was, though, twenty years ago now so I dunno how much of that is Asprin’s fault and how much is that of my shambling grey loaf.

    I never read Ender’s Game, partly because I never really have cared for war narratives, even in a sci-fi context, and partly because the friends I had who were into Orson Scott Card just would not shut up about the book. That’s probably not a really good reason to not-read something, spite, but it certainly made it easier when it came out what a dickhead OSC is.

    Goes to show how spotty someone’s education on well-regarded fantasy series; I don’t think I’d heard of The Dark is Rising Sequence until very recently. But the whole thing is on Audible, and I have a lot more time to listen to books than read them these days, so I am definitely going to check them out.

  12. I read “Ender’s Game” and a couple of the “Tales of Alvin Maker” novels long before I discovered OSC’s… disappointing traits.

    Since then I’ve not bought any of his books, and the only way I would is if I saw them in a charity shop, where he’d get no benefit from my spending, but someone elese would.

  13. I remember being vaguely aware of the Chronicles of Prydain when my older brother was reading “The Book of Three”. But I didn’t read it myself at the time.

    Years later, I picked up “The High King” from my Reading class’s library shelf, not realizing it was the last book in a series. I still really enjoyed it, even with a lot of missing context, but I don’t think it was till after college that I went back and read the whole series. Hitting The High King for the second time was weird, remembering some of what I’d thought from the first reading and how having the full series behind me changed those interpretations.

  14. I started reading seriously at 11 with the Dune Chronicles and Ender’s Game. Then at 13 I discovered both Terry Brooks and Stephen King. Curiously, I have never read any of the Xanth or Pern books though I have some of them in a box somewhere. The Hitchhikers Guide books are always a favorite and I tend to read them again every other year. Good Omens is another read along with, ironically, Stephen King’s The Stand or Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song.

    All that aside, thank you Jay and Miles for being a consistent bright spot in these trying times.

  15. I’ve been re-reading the Dragonlance books off and on again – mainly through audiobooks, which I find slightly amusing as while I’m not one of those people who doesn’t consider audiobooks reading (quite the opposite in fact) – but because I also went to great lengths to hunt down the Annotated editions of the Chronicles and Legends series.

    I have the same response that Miles has to Berserk – I’m glad I read it, but I’m also pretty sure that I wouldn’t recommend it (and I’d pretty much give all the content warnings to anyone who was going to pick it up).

  16. This was so fun – thank you for both the extra mile and the list of book recommendations! (Though as mentioned above, if you need to truly skip weeks, do. It’s important to take care of yourselves as much if not more so than your audience).

  17. As an adult, I’ve thanked my mom several times for her generous library trips while we were growing up. We were poor, but we drove half an hour to the library at least once a month, and were allowed to take as many books as we could carry. I haven’t been able to break myself of the habit yet, usually coming home with a spiderweb of burst capillaries on my bag carrying shoulder.

    In middle school, The Best Library Book Sale Ever (TM) happened. It was all the books you could fit in a paper grocery bag for $5. I grabbed Stranger In A Strange Land, my first Heinlein, Red, Green, and Blue Mars, a 1930s medical text on psychosomatic illnesses, and Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers, which I smugly carried around in the belief that my parents wouldn’t discover my smut. Treasure untold!

    I’d also like to recommend lesser known series by beloved authors. LM Montgomery’s Emily books verge into psionics territory, but otherwise don’t stray far from the quirky orphan we know from her Anne books. While I enjoyed The Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin family novels are the ones I come back to as an adult. They’re a warm cup of cocoa, and Zach Grey reminds me that you can’t fix the broken boys, no matter how sexy they are.

  18. Our hosts or commenters have mentioned many of the books that I obsessively reread as a child*. Thinking about it, I think the main one that was unmentioned was Watership Down, which (when I was at the age at which LOTR is one’s favorite book, as it was for me – no claims to be very original here) I officially decided was my *second*-favorite book.

    It led me to read and enjoy The Private Life of the Rabbit (on which it was largely based) and know far more about myxomatosis than I had any reason to know. And, in a search for other works in the same genre, to slog my way through the interminable Duncton Wood, a book which is much more dull and monotonous than one could possibly imagine a book about moles who do martial arts would be.

    *In Ireland at the time the category of YA fiction did not exist. There were children’s books, and then there were grown-up books. The Prydain books, for instance, were securely lodged in the children’s category.

    This framing did affect my relationship to this sort of material. I grew up in a highly literate household, but in contrast to other people in this comments section, it was one with a clear snobbish divide. My parents were (and still are) convinced that it was acceptable for a child to read fantasy and science-fiction, but that adults were supposed to confine themselves to literary fiction and serious non-fiction. Once I was in secondary school (13-18 for Americans), I came under a fair amount of pressure from my parents to put away childish things and not read fantasy and science-fiction any more. So retaining my affection for this sort of thing was my rather unimpressive form of adolescent rebellion.

  19. I had similar issues with the movie version of Wrinkle in Time. I feel like instead of it being about resisting societal oppression, they made it about resisting negative feelings. Either way, I really wanted them to make Wind in the Door, though who knows how they’d pull that off.

    I think I’ve ready every single Lloyd Alexander book. I remember hating The High King the first time I read it, and then appreciating it much more a few years later.

  20. Dave Barry, wow ! I learned to read and write almost exclusively from him; my Dad in his “not really sure how to grow a child in the 90s” wisdom always gave me access to his collection of Dave Barry books, and even today I go to them first for comfort or laughs. It also lead me into Christophe Moore’s books, and that pushed me towards ( not funny author ) Neil Gaimqn, whose “the graveyard book” is really like reading a protective hug In a windstorm. as I am not to this episode I’m listening yet but just had to comment in seeing my Dave Barry. I’ll add in the stringest recommendations ever for Drew Hayes, a prolific Texan author no publishes most of his novels free online but who also has audible books narrated by the super kind voiced Kirby Heybkurne. The super series is about 200 hours of audio content, but the start place for him is the novel “forging Hephaestus” which is a peak into a super hero world, followed by the extremely delightful “free the vampire Accountant” series. Sorry if these have been mentioned I guess I’ll find our soon, but regardless it’sgreat to see Dave Barry appreciation!

  21. Oh, and since Lodoss came up in this episode – the first of the Lodoss novels (which the anime was based on) has been translated and has received a legal US release. Sadly, none of the subsequent novels and none of the Replays (RPG session transcripts) have gotten a English translated release yet.

    The first 6-7 novels that The Slayers anime was based on have also gotten an English US release – though they’re currently OOP and aren’t available digitally. Still, they’re pretty good, and they’re also from Lina Inverse’s POV, which makes for a nice change from a lot of other works of fantasy literature.

  22. Really enjoyed this ep and hearing about what made young Jay and Miles tick.

    Scholastic Book Fair – what I remember most from those are Wayside School, Animorphs, and the Time Warp Trio. And yes, my friends were – at different points – into all of those.

    Trying to remember what I was pleasure reading in middle school aside from Harry Potter, LOTR, comics, and some “Look at Me I’m So Smart” classics (though I guess that’s a pretty long list), but high school was all about Hitchhiker’s and Jasper Fforde (the Thursday Next Series in particular).

  23. Can I just say how much I am appreciating these extras that you’re doing? I am a little behind in the main podcast as I’m trying to read Age of Apocalypse along with you, which is more difficult when you’re mostly sole carer for a 3 1/2 and a 1 1/2 year old (Mum is a key worker), but I jump through the main podcast to listen to these. They are somehow heartwarming and just lovely, which is just what we need at the moment. Also love that so much of your formative reading was also so much of my formative reading. Thanks for taking the time to keep us upbeat and positive – it is hugely appreciated.

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