I was hanging out with my oldest friend in the world (literally, from the cradle) and we were having one of those conversations where we talk about the years between us and our childhood growing up together, and how growing up together has effected our adult artistic life. So on the subject of books I mentioned Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and the effect that it had on us and how reading it changed me when he admitted a startling fact. It went something like this:
Me: “Our entire childhood was changed by that book. I mean, if we hadn’t read that book we never would have created our own imaginary land.
Him: “Well, yeah but I never read it.”
Me: (stopping on the street): “What do you mean you never read it?”
Him: “You read it, Ally. You told me what happened. I never read those books. That was you.”
It wasn’t much later that another old friend of mine, commented on my clearly annoying habit of recounting books to my friends.
So it got me thinking about the books that stuck and how there are authors who change your life. So here’s a few:
I’m not sure exactly the first time I read Bridge to Terabithia because I read it so many times afterwards that it became ingrained in the very fibers and DNA of my imagination. As I said, shortly after finishing it my old friend and I crafted together our very own world, Fanteris, complete with entry points, creatures, witches (though I’m quite sure we got those from Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which, but more on that later), and journals to document it all. We were Kings and Queens of our land. None of that would have happened without Jess and Leslie.
The story behind the story, in case you didn’t know is that Ms. Paterson’s son lost his best friend in a freak accident and to deal with his grief as well as her own she created this book.
Oh, Mr. Lewis. Where do I begin? I was probably seven when I read this book the first time. Every closet door I have opened since then, I’ve held my breath for just a moment because hey, what if? If Lev Grossman can build an entire series out of the meager hope that Narnia is real, well, then I can hope so too.
I watched the British cartoon they made hundreds of times and cried every time Aslan was dragged to the Stone Table. I had the whole set and I read them over and over and over again till I had to tape some pages back in. Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the Last Battle, my unhappiness was really about Narnia being over. The story was true because I believed it was true.
And then, of course the inevitable happened. I got older and the light went off and I said, “Wait what? Aslan is Jesus“ and for a while the whole thing came apart. And I was angry and felt betrayed and vowed to never wish for Narnia again. But of course, then I got even older and I got over it. The truth is I will always separate that story, that land, that magic from whatever allegory it was. Because when I was a child, I believed in Aslan, the lion, the warrior, not Aslan the stand-in for Jesus. And finally, and maybe most importantly C.S. Lewis was the first one who made me want to be a writer. I wanted to craft a land, people it, and live in it.
(I’m not gonna touch The Problem of Susan. I’ll save that for another post.)
And that brings us to Meg. Meg Murray was my favorite character ever created. She wasn’t fearless. She wasn’t spunky. She was neither Anastasia nor Pippi Longstockings. She was awkward and shy and lacked confidence (though she’s smart as hell) in her family full of geniuses. She was ME (minus the family full of geniuses – no offense guys, I love you!).
Plus there was Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which who to this day I still find fascinating and clearly stole, renamed the Wandering Witches and peopled my imaginary world with. Plus the book opens with “It was a dark and stormy night.” Perfection. Even now I try to throw the word tesseract into at least once conversation a day (no, it doesn’t work well, but thanks for asking).
Plus time travel, centaurs, the man with the red eyes, the black thing, telepathy, alternate universes. Need I go on?? It’s sci-fi and fantasy with a healthy dose of realism and chock full of people who I understood.
There are ton of other books I could add, like Watership Down, whose heft intimidated me in my old one-room library back in my small town. I had watched the movie so many times but the book itself seemed massive when I was eight. I could include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Jungle Book, Just so Stories, Pippi Longstocking, Are You there God, It’s Me Margaret, Everything by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary.
But this post is already too long.
So here’s to books. Here’s the changing lives one page at time. Here’s to parents who encourage reading, who take their pushy daughter to the library every weekend, (yeah, I’m looking at you, Mom). Here’s to librarians who keep it up (against massive budget cuts, mind you). And here’s to authors who thought up these stories, crafted them, believed in them against doubt and shared them.
Here’s to books! Long live books!