Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, February 19, 2015

List of formative books

I was idly thinking the other day about how I used to have an excellent memory for books read, but that years of teaching ESL, getting older, enjoying the odd beer and not sleeping enough seem to have whittled much of that memory away.

I have no doubt that the books I read as a child (I was one of those geeks who would sneakily read during boring lessons at school...) have had a significant influence on my interests, my ideas of right and wrong, my character, and my later interest in literature and history. They were, in short, formative.

Anyway, as an exercise, I decided I'd try to remember some of the books that were influences on me as a kid.  Of course, on this blog, when I say kid, I really mean kid-as-future-wargamer!

So this is what I came up with (I've left out Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit on the grounds that they are a given). I would be interested to hear if readers also enjoyed any of these, and if not, which books were formative for you.

The Machine Gunners - Robert Westall

I remember thinking up stories and games of my own after reading this. It was a haunting book for me. I don't recall details, but seeing the cover online after all these years brought some of that back.

The Windswept City - Henry Treece

This was one that someone gave to me. I would read it every so often when there was nothing else on the shelf that appealed. I remember the illustrations being particularly depressing, and as a realistic rather than romantic treatment of the Troy legend, it burst a few bubbles.

The Gauntlet - Ronald Welch

I remember finding it quite thrilling. Aside from that, I don't recall much else.

Sun of York - Ronald Welch

This one I loved. The description of Warwick's death I found particularly vivid at the time and it was easy to imagine oneself a squire caught up in the fog of Wars of the Roses battle.

The Lantern Bearers - Rosemary Sutcliffe

I don't recall much about the story but Rosemary Sutcliffe novels were a library book staple for me.

Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott

Read this many times, and I loved how it combined so many interesting characters, including getting Robin of Locksley in there as well!

The Wallace - Nigel Tranter

I really enjoyed this one, getting it out of the public library and reading it through several times. I was always upset at the ending.

The Eagle and the Raven - Pauline Gedge

Another one I had on the shelf and would read over and over again. Caractacus made quite an impression, so much so that I named a character in an online game 'Arviragus'!

Here be Dragons - Sharon Penman

I read this when I was a little older. It started an interest in Wales and things Welsh, and led me to Penman's Sunne in Splendour, which was a brilliant novel

Men of Iron and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood - Howard Pyle

I enjoyed both of these, but the Robin Hood book was my bible for a few years. It also piqued my interest in studying English, introducing me to thee, thy and thou!

Gifts from the Past in the Colliers Encyclopedia Junior Classics set

I devoured this book. It had it all, but the story of Roland and Oliver was my favourite.

Morte d'Arthur and Ulysses - poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

These poems were very cool. I actually memorized whole sections of them, such was their appeal!

The Cruel Sea - Nicholas Monsarrat

This book was given to me by Laurie, friend of the family and very gracious fellow. He was a bookseller, writer and ex-merchant navy man, with an anchor tattoo on his forearm and a strong Christian faith. The Cruel Sea is a gripping story, but I was especially touched that Laurie would care enough to remember a conversation we'd had about books and then ferret through his collection to find the one he thought would be perfect for a boy of my age and interests.

Among the books lost in the fog of time were many Arthurian tales that a friend lent me. There were so many that I can't remember which ones we read and which ones we didn't, but my favourite was quite a dark, unromantic take on the Arthurian legend. I wish I knew the title.

So there we are; these are the ones I could remember. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment and add formative books of your your own if you should so desire.


  1. Great post

    I remember series and authours more than individual book titles

    The earliest were the Ladybird books on Henry V and Elixbeth 1 which I am sure got my young mind hooked on history

    Historical novels that I can remember include the works of CS Forester (I still reread Horblower every 2 or 3 years) GA Henty and Conan Doyle. Sir Nigel was a great favourite as was Bridadier Gerard. I also read all the Biggles books. Flashman was another favourite character.

    Not so much related to military history but Poldark was another series I read and re read - the TV series was also very good.

    I liked most of the SF and Fantasy books out at the time, Poul Anderson, Issac Asimov and Robert Hienlien spring to mind. As an adolescent male the Gor series was also a favourite.

    I collected the Pan British Battles books - I still have several of these in my collection.

    I used to read an awful lot - I remember reading 4 books in a day on one occasion.

    Interestingly I have cut down on historical fiction a lot in recent years. I found at one stage that I had difficulty sorting fact from fiction in my mind and now stick to novels set in historic periods that try to capture the period rather than the Sharpe type of book (which I came to rather late and thoroughly enjoyed) where the central charachter has a major influence on historical events

    Thanks for getting me to think about this.

    1. Ah yes, Biggles! Of course, should've included him - and the Famous Five!

    2. I was a great Enid Blyton fan as well with the'adventure' books being my favourites

  2. Looking at your list again I also read a lot of Henry Treece, Nigel Tranter and Howard Pyle.

    Another two authors that come to mind are Denis Wheatley and Dorothy Dunnet

    I will be thinking about this all afternoon now!

    1. I haven't read any of Wheatley's novels, but do have his the Devil and All his Works in storage in New Zealand. I've just checked Dorothy Dunnet; sounds like she might be worth investigating! Cheers, and thanks for your thoughts David.

  3. Excellent list Aaron! Gives me something new to explore!

    I recognized a few of those titles. Loved the story of Ivanhoe but could never get through the book...only the movie. Sir Walter's writing style was ust too dense for a young mind. The Howard Pyle Robin Hood book is phenomenal. In fact, I just read through it again last fall. Most of it anyway. I picked up the hard back on the remainder shelf at the book store I worked at as a teen. $2.98 I think back in 1983! Finally, I did read the closing chapter of L'Morte d' Arthur but not the whole book.

    I should go back and take a whack at both books I could not complete again. I got through Polybius OK. Surely I can do the same for Scott and Tennyson!

    1. Hi John - I think I may actually have had an abridged version of Ivanhoe; I can't quite remember. The Robin Hood book was really good. I hope I still have it back in NZ somewhere!

  4. Hi Aaron, I thoroughly enjoyed reading through your list. 'The Machine Gunners' is the one that jumped out at me. I must have been about 13 when the class had to read that one. I loved it. I could perfectly imagine myself in the scenario of finding a machine gun from a lost plane and setting up a machine-gun nest ready to beat back the Hun! Lots of happy memories flooding back :-)

    Best wishes,

  5. Nice post. I only read a few of them. Rosemary Sutcliffe is a favorite. All her books are a good read. I can't see how I missed "Sun of York". I'll have to hunt down a copy. I read and re-read Churchill's "The Birth of Britain" as a kid. It was the only volume my dad had of the "History of the English Speaking Peoples" series. I especially loved Winnie's section on the Wars of the Roses. I've had a special interest in WotR ever since.

  6. Oh my! I just checked Amazon for "Sun of York". The only copies they have are used and run from $81.83 for a paperback or $107.31 for hardback. Only one includes a photo and the volume looks a bit tatty. I'll have to keep looking...


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