My Seminal YA Series

Yes, I used to be a kid, but of course, there wasn't such a thing as a "Young Adult" "genre" in those days, not as a literary label anyway. But we did have book series written for different ages. Of course we did. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. There were edited versions of such classics as Moby Dick and Don Quixote. Later, kids would enjoy a horror riff with Goosebumps and such.

But while I read at least some of these, the ones I would call truly seminal to my development were French-language. Let me share a couple of them with you, which I discovered at my local library after I'd read every comics album they had. So set your time machine to the dawn of the 80s, it might be a strange ride...
My first love was Langelot, billed (at 18) as the youngest ever secret agent of a French secret service acronymed SNIF. The stories had an extra cachet thanks to its writer, a former French intelligence officer whose identity was hidden under the pen name Lieutenant X. He might have chosen the name to give himself overt credibility, or maybe didn't want to write these under his actual name Vladimir Volkoff, who sounds like he should be a Soviet villain in the series. There were 40 novels in all, published between 1965 and 1986, originally as part of the Bibliothèque Verte (the Green Library), Hachette's youth-oriented imprint. In the older editions I mostly read, the SNIF badge was in the interiors (as one of several illustrations), but a later edition had it on every book cover (pictured, above). It spawned a spin-off series featuring a fellow agent called Corinne, but I don't think I ever came across it. There were only a couple books, which I guess means it wasn't a bestseller.

Langelot was a bit of a maverick, often going off-book, whether he was protecting secrets, fighting dictatorships, or tangling with the evil organization SPHINX. And though I was probably already a science fiction kid at this point, it took hold of my imagination. I remember casting MYSELF in the role of Langelot as I read the books, even though I was much younger and nothing like him. I'm arguably a lot more insolent now. Maybe it help mold me. Aside from comics, Langelot's are nearly the only books I still own from my pre-teens, a lucky find at a book fair when I was in 5th grade.
Another series I still think about, though have no examples of in the home, Les Conquérants de l'Impossible (Conquerors of the Impossible) by Philippe Ébly, was also part of the Bibliothèque Verte. 21 books between 1971 and 2009, though of course, I had much fewer available to me at the time. The series was about three teenagers who, in most stories, got to travel through time (a long-standing interest of mine). AGAIN, I cast myself as one of the characters, and I remember vividly daydreaming about the above-pictured novel's revelation that said character shared memories with his direct ancestor, Leif Erickson, the Viking who discovered America. I made it part of my fictional back story growing up, just another weird notion to set myself apart from other kids. I also remember some pretty great timey-wimey stuff: The kids once rescued themselves in disguise! That was pretty great, and still informs how I would get out of paradoxes if it ever came up. Will ever came up. Will have had come up.

I know I also read Ébly's other series, Les Évadés du Temps (The Fugitives of Time), which spawned 9 books, and was sort of same thing (with interdimensional doors), different cast.

Seems I spent a lot of time perusing the Green Library at MY local library. Not far from there were shelves of Doc Savage stories translated into French, and that became part of my diet too. Soon enough, though, I outgrew the second floor of the library, found the first floor at little confounding, and wound up buying tons of sf and fantasy from book stores and book clubs instead. But Langelot, Les Conquérants de l'Impossible, and their ilk, kept me dreaming for a couple years there... and beyond.


snell said...

At first I thought it said "Lancelot Secret Agent," which reminded me of the formative experience of my youth, but then I saw it was "Langelot," which isn't the same thing, so never mind.

Siskoid said...

Nightmare fuel.

Langelot is essentially meant to sound like "small angel", but it does have Lancelor's heroic sonorities as well.

Green Luthor said...

I have to admit, my brain filled in the Lancelot Link reference as well.

Toby'c said...

I remember being a Goosebumps fan in primary school, though I can't call it an enduring favourite (thanks in part to Blogger Beware). A few series I do still love include Animorphs, Harry Potter, Deltora Quest and Teen Power Inc.

LiamKav said...

... I have questions.

Many, many questions

The first that comes to mind is: Why is he called "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp" on a show where everyone appears to be a chimp. It'd be like an an advert saying "Coming up next: David Suchet stars as Hercule Poirot, human detective."

Siskoid said...

Secret Agent Man.


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