First a confession - I kept calling Leonard S Marcus' book The Wand in the WORLD, until I started to read it. Apparently I'm not the only one who's mistaken the title of The Wand in the Word in this way. My second confession is that I somehow expected the pieces in this book to be weightier. I think I had the idea that they were essays edited by Marcus, rather than interviews with the 13 authors which were conducted and transcribed by Marcus.
Of the 13 writers whom Marcus interviewed there was only one (Franny Billingsley) of whom I had never heard. Of the remaining dozen, I have never read books by Madeleine L'Engle, Brian Jacques, Tamora Pierce or Jane Yolen. Of the other half dozen, I've read Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles (but I've added more of his books to my "Want to Read" list), Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" sequence, Nancy Farmer's The Sea of Trolls, many of Diana Wynne Jones' books, all of Ursula K Le Guin's fantasy books (except the sequel to Gifts), and almost everything written by Garth Nix, Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman.
The interviews cover broadly the same questions: what was the author like as a child, were there any storytellers amongst the adults they knew, did they use the local library, why/how did they start writing, why do they write fantasy and what role did the World War have in their lives. I was particularly interested in the last question. Tom Shippey, in his biography J R R Tolkien: Author of the Century, discusses the fact that many of the fantasy authors of the mid-20th century (Tolkien, Orwell, Golding and Vonnegut in particular) were caught up in the First World War, and that this led them into writing fantasy as a means of commenting on the horrors of war. Marcus finds a similar link for most of the 13 authors he interviewed as all but one of them were born around the time of one of the World Wars: Garth Nix was born in 1963, so he missed even the rationing that followed the Second World War; Lloyd Alexander and Madeleine L'Engle were born around the time of the First World War; the others were all born a few years before, during, or a few years after, the Second World War. Diana Wynne Jones comments on this: The two World Wars were the worst kind of madness. Fantasy helps you think more clearly when things are mad. (p. 85) Something I believe still holds true today.
Lloyd Alexander explains why he writes fantasy:
Because, paradoxically, fantasy is a good way to show the world as it is. Fantasy can show us the truth about human relationships and moral dilemmas because it works on our emotions on a deeper, symbolic level than realistic fiction. It has the same emotional power as dreams. (p. 13)
Franny Billingsley says that
Fantasy allows you to step outside our world and look at it with a little bit of perspective. It can take something in our world, for instance, "identity", which has only an abstract reality, and it can make it palpable. (p. 26)
Terry Pratchett says:
Fantasy is like an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it does exercise the muscles that will. (p. 159)
This book is full of similar thoughtful comments on both fantasy and writing (Brian Jacques refers to words being "as wild as rocky peaks [...] as smooth as a millpond and as sunny as a day in a meadow", p. 74). I also liked the "Reader" that's provided for each author, although none of them are extensive (Terry Pratchett's was oddly short, referring to only two of the three Johnny Maxwell books). I certainly added some new titles to my "WtR" pile as a result of reading this book !
I've also started making a list of authors I wish Marcus had interviewed - so far I've got Robin Hobb, Geraldine McCaughrean, Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip and Juliet McKenna.