I’ve never been to Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s, and yet I have.
I’ve never been to 19th century London, nor to a workhouse, and yet I have.
I’ve never been to France during Napoleon’s exile and final days, and yet I have.
Not only have I visited these places, but I’ve met the people there. I learned their histories, their motives, their desires.
I felt their sadness, their anger. Their despair, envy, and pain.
I’ve experienced all this because I read To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens), and The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas).
Reading these books was the only way I’d ever see these places or meet these people. The authors brought them to life far more effectively than any textbook could have. (Only long after reading the books did I watch the movies.)
Not only did I empathize with the heroes and heroines, but I learned history as well. The easy way. Living through the characters’ struggles helped me better understand their times. I developed a bigger appreciation for the challenges they had to live through.
A well-composed book is a magic carpet
on which we are wafted to a world
that we cannot enter in any other way.
— Caroline Gordon, author
I’ve also been to a land called Suala, ruled by Princess Desmia. And another land called Kildenree. Both kingdoms languished until the rightful ruler could be put in place.
Incidentally, those are young adult (YA) novel-length fairy tales: Palace of Lies (Margaret Peterson Haddix) and The Goose Girl (Shannon Hale). The former title is the third in a series that began with Just Ella.
Just Ella is an innovative version of the Cinderella story. The Goose Girl is a novelized version of the Grimm brothers title with the same name.
Author Gary D. Schmidt captures the life and times of Rumpelstiltskin in a similar way. Straw Into Gold shares another way the little man’s story might have unfolded before the queen makes her last guess about his name.
See? Contemporary authors, all grown up, still love fairy tales! They embellish and develop them. They flesh out the characters until they’re sure you’d recognize them if you met them on the street. Though these stories are considered YA, they’re enjoyable for adults, too.
I love many books, but To Kill A Mockingbird is my all-time favorite classic.
The author’s description make the setting vivid. I taste the dust of dry Maycomb, feel the empty pockets of the Depression. I don’t merely catch a glimpse into characters’ souls; I’m alongside them.
I can see Miss Maudie swoop down on her nut grass like “the Second Battle of Marne.” I’m warm and fed after sitting down to Calpurnia’s fried pork chops and crackling bread. I’m dizzy as I roll in the tire with Scout. My heartbeat speeds up with hers as she steps closer to Boo Radley’s house, or watches Atticus in the courtroom. I’m sweating alongside Tom Robinson, hoping against hope that Mr. Finch can pull through for me.
All of this is why I laugh and cry through this book. My heart is ripped out from the injustice of the times, yet warmed by the hero who champions the weak, no matter the consequences.
A blessed companion is a book – a book that, fitly chosen,
is a lifelong friend… a book that, at a touch,
pours its heart into our own.
And this is why my friend Cathy doesn’t put her book down even when cooking supper. She stands in the kitchen, open book in hand, wooden spoon in the other, as she stirs potato soup.
She’s happily lost in the Story World.
The heart of the human experience is bound in its stories–true or imaginary. As a teacher of mine once said, good fiction is just as true as non-fiction.
In creating stories, we take the best and worst of our own life experiences, observations, and ideas and jumble them up into a new entity that takes on a life of its own, with characters who seem to breathe the very same air that we do, and experience the same joys and heartaches.
Thus, truth has a new vehicle for reaching out to hungry hearts.
Besides fairy tales, what story has deeply touched you? Which one will you never forget?
Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
P.S. Coming next: An author whose Story Worlds are steeped in the Old West or WWII history, some inspired by her ancestors’ lives