I've found that I can no longer do "favorites" lists. I mean, really, how many "favorites" can a person have? Listing out 20 or 30 or 50 movies or books or whatever as your "favorite" really undermines the potency of the word. I could go with "movies I love" or some such, but what's the point of that when that list will look like sooo many other lists out there? It also provides no context as to why I might include something that may seem an odd choice or even tell you why I "love" something that's not an odd choice but has special significance. Ah, there it is: significance. If something is significant, it will always be significant. If it impacted my life in some way, that it did that will not pass away over time, even if the effects of it do. It's not affected by whim or emotion, and it includes things that I may, in fact, not love at all. Maybe I once loved it. Maybe it was significant in that I hated it. Also, it helps to keep the list small(er) and allows me to actually talk about my choices, so much more fun and important than just a long list, don't you think?
But what makes something significant? For my purposes, I'm going to say that something is significant if it does one of two things: 1. it impacted me at that time, changing how I felt or thought about things, especially life 2. it's something that I have returned to over and over again. Even better if it did both. I'm going to try to keep this somewhat chronological, as it might be fun to see if any patterns emerge.
Star Wars: A New Hope (movie): It's the most seen movie in history, yes, even more than Gone With the Wind. It would be difficult for anyone of my generation to deny the significance of this movie as it changed everything about movies and had a deeper pop cultural impact than anything before or since. Heck, it created pop culture as we know it, today. It made the same impact on my little 7-year-old life, changing it irrevocably. Of all the people, my grandmother took me to see Star Wars for the very first time, because my uncle told her she had to go see it. It was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen, etc, etc. She didn't like it. But, oh, my, what it did to me. By the time we were in the cantina, I had to go to the bathroom. I mean, I really had to go to the bathroom. But I was mesmerized, so I stayed there, holding it, until the movie was over. My parents were waiting to pick us up when the movie let out, so we were all the way into the parking lot before I was able to get it across to them how badly I needed to go. Fortunately, there was a big green trash compactor nearby that I was able to go behind... I escaped the dianoga.
The Hardy Boys (book series): I came late into the world of fiction as a child. In fact, I arrived at it so late, that my mother was told I had some kind of developmental delay because I hadn't read particular books by such and such an age, The Hardy Boys being one of the examples given. If they'd just asked the librarian at my school, they would have known differently. I started reading on my own by age 4. Before kindergarten, at any rate. However, instead of the normal types of books kids read, I was obsessed with dinosaurs, so that's what I was reading about in kindergarten. And I don't mean little dinosaur books for kids, either. I exhausted all the information I could get from those after half a dozen or so, so I moved onto thick, more scientific type books. From there, I branched out into other non-fiction: books about astronomy, history (especially books about the formative days of the United States (I was a patriotic little guy)), and the animal world to name a few. I didn't discover fiction until the 4th grade, in the form of those darned Hardy brothers. I spent years trying to read all of them. I had a check list of all the ones I'd read, including all of the copies at the local libraries, in my attempt. I never succeeded. The Hardy Boys did, though, inspire my very first attempt at writing a book of my own.
The Empire Strikes Back (movie): If for nothing else, the scene where the AT-ATs come marching across the snow would earn Empire a spot on this list. I can't think of any more impressive scene from any other movie. And the lightsaber duel between Vader and Luke still strikes me as the most masterfully executed. But, in the end, one word sums up why this movie makes this list: Yoda.
Clash of the Titans and Dragonslayer (books): These are significant not for having read them but because I didn't read them. I ordered them through one of the Scholastic book forms at school, but, once I got them home, my dad flipped out because I got books with magic in them, and he threw them away. I was devastated and didn't go anywhere near fantasy, or even sci-fi, for years.
Split Infinity (book): I received this book for my 13th birthday (7th grade). It completely changed the way I read. Still, when I started reading it and discovered it was fantasy, I lived in fear that my dad would find out and throw it in the trash, too, but he never took another interest in what I was reading after that one incident. This book opened up the world of fantasy to me and also started my nearly 10 year obsession with reading everything by Piers Anthony. It's also an example of how tastes change, because I would be very hesitant to ever recommend Anthony to anyone at this point in my life, but I loved him when I was a teenager.
"The Lottery" (short story) and The Lemming Condition (book): These were both middle school-ish reads and had a huge impact on my individuality. Always know why you're doing what it is you're doing and just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it right or good. These were strong lessons for me as an adolescent and are still lessons I cling to and am trying to impart to my children.
The Chronicles of Narnia (book series): I'm not actually sure when I started reading these, but, I think, I got away with reading Lion sometime around 5th grade because I got it from the church library. These are, of course, books I've returned to again and again throughout my life.
The Hobbit (book and movie(animated)): I'm pretty sure I saw the animated movie when it was first released in 1977. I fell in love with it instantly and made every attempt to watch it every time it was re-aired. It was years before I knew it was a book, and, I'm sure, I was in middle school before I read it for the first time. I've read this book more times than I can remember and more than any other book I've ever read. It is one of two books I think everyone should read.
The Pigman (book): This one was, perhaps, more influential than anything else on this list. Click the book title, and you can go read all about it in the post I've written on the subject.
Watership Down (book): The second book I think everyone should read. I've read it more than any other book except The Hobbit, first in middle school and again my freshman year of high school. It just served as an even more powerful reinforcement of learning to be myself and doing what I know to be right despite what other people say. Possibly the most beautiful book ever written.
The Lord of the Rings (book): The basis of all current fantasy. Created the genre as we know it, today, in fact. Before Tolkien, the closest we get to what we think of as fantasy is Jules Verne and George MacDonald (a huge influence on Lewis, by the way) and, maybe, Sir Thomas Malory. Even if you don't like it, you can't deny its significance. I would read it more often if it just wasn't so long. I'm glad I have The Hobbit when I can't take out the time re-read LotR. Oh, and just to say it, I have it listed as a "book" and not a "book series" because Tolkien wrote it as a single book. It was his publisher that made him break down into the trilogy we know today.
The Belgariad (book series): This is, quite possibly, the best fantasy series ever written (because The Lord of the Rings is one book, remember?). It is completely formulaic, by today's standards, but it was probably one of the series that helped set that formula, although Eddings, at least partially, followed Tolkien's group formula. All of that being said, Eddings crafted some incredible characters, and this series has had an ongoing influence on me, and, now, on my children. I'm probably due for a re-reading of this one. One note: once you've read The Belgariad, you don't really have to read anything else by Eddings. Unfortunately.
Dead Poets Society (movie): I saw this movie with a group of my high school friends the summer after my freshman year of college. I'm not sure if any of them really got the movie, but it had a huge impact on me. I left the theater with the statement, "That's why I'm studying English," which I then had to explain which is why I'm not sure if any of them really got the movie. The thing is, though, is that the decision to major in English was a very difficult one, and one all of my advisers were against. See, I'm very gifted in math and science. Very gifted. But, oh, I was sooo tired of it by the time I got out of school, and it just doesn't communicate to me. Some people would argue with me, but there's just no poetry in math. Then there's the part of DPS that is all about learning to be yourself and standing up for that no matter what other people say, and that does speak to me.
The Wheel of Time (book series): Another series that I could never, in good conscious, suggest to anyone to read. It has a great start, but it's a great example of why an author should never allow himself to be convinced to change his story into someone else's vision for it instead of his own. Originally intended as a trilogy, this series grew into a mammoth series of epic proportions that I couldn't actually finish. I made it through book 8, which is 800 pages that takes place over only 3 days. For 700 pages, possibly 750 pages, nothing happens. It was torture and had a name that fit it perfectly for that reason, The Path of Daggers. However, the book series is significant in my life as it played an indirect part in how I met my wife. Okay, well, slightly more than indirect. She couldn't finish the series, either. I think she only made it through book 6. Oh, and let me just say, and this might be a little crass, the author, also, wasn't able to make it through the series.
Good Omens (book): Although I love this book, and I love Neil Gaiman, this book is significant more for its Author's Notes than anything else. I've already done a post that deals with this, though, so, if you're interested, you can see it here: 400 Words.
Spider-Man (movie): I waited a lifetime for this movie to come out. Spider-Man has always been my favorite super hero, and Raimi and Maguire perfectly captured the essence of what and whom Spider-Man is. If not for Iron Man, I would say that it is clearly the best super hero movie ever made. And it still might be, but Iron Man makes that claim slightly dubious.
The Sparrow (book): Easily the best book I've read in the last 5 years. I need to read it, again, I think. It's been long enough since the first read to see what I get out of it on a second reading. I'm not going to talk about what it's about, because you should go read it. Yes, right now. This may become the third book on my "everyone should read" list.
There is one other book that needs to be mentioned. It's not up with the others, because it's not a book that I've read and been done with, so to speak. I mean, even with books that I've read more than once, like The Hobbit, I read it and then I'm finished with it. You know, until I'm ready to read it again. However, The Bible isn't like that. It is, of course, the only book I have that I just refer to specific parts at specific times. It is globally influential, and I don't mean that in the obvious sense in that has been the most influential book in history; I mean that in the sense that it has been globally influential in my life. Unlike most people, I haven't just read a verse or two here and a verse or two there, I've read the whole thing. Twice. From cover to cover. This doesn't include specific readings of particular verses that I've done, either. Or particular books. Now, let me just say, I am not some religious nut or fanatic. I don't go around beating people over the head with The Bible, and I strongly believe in each person's right to choose. This is not to say, however, that I do not believe I haven't made the correct choice. But it was in certifying my choice that I read the whole book the first time. I believe it's important to know what you say you believe. When I was in college, I had a fairly significant amount of friends that were ministerial students; none of them had actually read The Bible. All of it. It was... discouraging. Although it did shame a few of them that a "mere" English major had read The Bible while they hadn't, not that it prompted any of them to action to rectify it. It just made them feel bad. When it comes down to it, there is no other book like The Bible. It has everything. History. Poetry. Prophecy and its fulfillment. It is an example of some of the best writing in history. I point you to the book of John which begins, "In the beginning was the Word..." It truly is the greatest story ever told.
I also have a couple of authors that, although I don't have specific books to point to, have had an ongoing influence on me:
Stephen Lawhead: I started with Lawhead because of his Pendragon Cycle. I've read a lot of adaptations of the Arthurian legend (a lot!), and this is the best I've read. The whole Arthur thing has been a big influence in my life, and, if you read my book, I'll think you'll see that. The best thing, though, about Lawhead, is that his Arthur books aren't his best work. I'm still at the point where I'll read anything by him (okay, well, I haven't read his children's books, but I'm sure I'll get to it, at some point). His latest book has a great title, The Skin Map. I need to get out and pick it up sometime soon!
Neil Gaiman: I've been a fan of Gaiman going back into the 80s with The Sandman; however, it was The Books of Magic that really resonated with me and has caused Gaiman to have such an influence on me. He makes me think, sometimes, that there really are things lurking just out of the corner of my vision. I'm sure, for anyone that's looking, you can find traces of Gaiman in my work. And go read The Graveyard Book. It's worth your time.
There are a few TV shows, also, which I'm listing out of sequence because they are (kind of) like the authors. They had a cumulative influence over time and, in some way, are still affecting me.
Battle of the Planets: My friends and I played BotP even more than we played Star Wars at recess at school. One of the two shows I rushed home to watch before going out to play. Not that I watched two shows everyday. The other show I watched shared a time slot with BotP on the same station, so only one or the other was on at any given time.
Starblazers: The other of the two shows that came on after school at 3:30. I actually feel this show is superior to BotP. I can still watch this one with my kids, today, and enjoy it, but I can't sit through BotP, anymore, and often wonder how I could ever have watched it. Starblazers was a pioneer in anime, though, and has had a lasting impact on the genre. Not that I'm a huge fan of anime, but Starblazers will always have a special place in my heart.
Doctor Who: I was introduced to The Doctor by the same person that gave me Split Infinity. He also introduced me to Monty Python, so he was very influential during my childhood and was my best friend in 4th grade and a close friend all the way through high school. Tom Baker was my first Doctor, and, although I loved Tennant, Baker will always be the epitome of The Doctor for me, I think. I love that Doctor Who is back on. My kids love it, too. And, more than anything else, I love watching it with them.
The Greatest American Hero: I loved everything about this show when it came out including the theme song: "Believe It Or Not". Now, my daughter loves the show, and I love that she loves it (she also loves the old Wonder Woman series). I'm not sure what the overall influence will be of this show on me, but, with it on, again, all the time, I'm sure reference to "magic jammies" are sure to creep into my writing.
And speaking of music... well, music is much harder to do, and, I'm sure, this page has gone on long enough. However, I'll give you a brief glimpse into the music that has influenced me.
First, John Williams and all of his Star Wars music. I can't even write while listening to it, because I start "singing" it in my head. Yes, I know it has no lyrics. That's what I'm saying!
Then, Simon and Garfunkel, or, more specifically, "The Sound of Silence." Greatest song ever written. I wrote essays to that effect in both high school and college, so this is something I've been carrying around for a while, now.
U2: My first and only favorite band. And it's not just the music; it's them and what they stand for. But I love the music. The Joshua Tree will always be the best album ever. Not their best album, the best album ever. And I might even like some of their newer stuff more. But it's hard to be sure.
Rich Mullins: Again, it's not just his music, but his life. His music is wonderful, but it's the man that makes it so influential. His song "Awesome God" was voted the best Christian song of the 20th century, and, yet, Mullins chose to only receive from the money he made the average salary of a single, working man and donated the rest to various charities. He also chose to live on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico and taught music. He was even known to, literally, give the clothes off his back if he saw a need that needed to be filled. Or the shoes off his feet. I could go on, but, if he was still alive, I'm sure this would be making him uncomfortable, so I'll stop here. Well, except to say that "Awesome God" is by no means my favorite of his songs despite its widespread popularity.
Oh! and comedy! We can't forget the comedians!
Abbott and Costello: As far as I'm concerned, no one will ever be better than them. And I'm not talking about the slapstick from their movies, either. No one has even come close to the level of verbal wit and sparring that Abbot and Costello displayed casually. I had a partner my senior year of high school whom I performed Abbott and Costello skits with. And I auditioned for the drama group I was in during college by performing both parts of "Who's on First." It's unfortunate that that style of comedy has fallen by the wayside.
Bill Cosby and Jerry Clower: I mention these two together not because they belong together but because they both do the same sort of comedy, the kind I'm actually good at: story telling. Both men were experts at telling a story that would draw you in, building it up, and, then, delivering some twist at the end that would leave you howling with laughter. And, if you are to believe them, mostly based on real events. And I do believe them, because I have some of those kinds of stories. I laughed so hard the first time I watched Bill Cosby: Himself, my mom thought I was dying.
Well, I don't know if there are any patterns beyond the fact that I like fantasy and sci-fi, but it was interesting to write out. Of course, there could always be more, but I'm pretty sure this page has gotten long enough. I can't promise this page will be static, either, but, for now (since it's always now), this is what I have for you.