Books & Beginnings VIII

1884Reveal: Most readers will recognize the iconic opening line of George Orwell’s 1884 from my Books & Beginnings VII post. This book cemented my natural distrust of authority. Lord, Help me, it’s been almost a half century since I first stumbled across Orwell only to watch his vision of the future become reality.

Indeed, I believe people can be easily convinced that 2+2=5 in today’s world. At twelve or thirteen, I never believed this book would ever be reality. Learning to think for oneself was still a thing back then. Now it is not taught at all. I know. I work in public education.

It was nearly the infamous year that I read 1984. It was the early 80s, maybe the last couple of years of the 70s. Orwell’s vision had not happened as our technology had not yet advanced enough. Today, in 2018, this book is more relevant than it has ever been since its publication in 1950. The wonder is that it has yet to be banned. I expect that is coming.

Up Next: Fantasy continued to be my obsession. Although, horror played its part. This one surprised me for my mother brought it to me, and she vocally dislikes fantasy. I took it second-hand from her (I often did this – my mother read at an obscenely rapid rate so she always had a large discard pile. My father read slowly but he remembered every word. He too is a writer). Skeptical, I opened it and became a great fan of this author.  Maybe there were fantasies my mother did like only I believe she saw this book as history in that often hidden romantic mind of hers.

GUESS THE TITLE:

The day my uncle Comlach came home, I was just six years old.

Books & Beginnings VII

img_1101REVEAL from Books & Beginnings VI – A Wizard of Earthsea introduced me to Ursula Le Guin. Aside from falling in love with the story, I found a mentor, an inspiration beyond the boys’ club of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, and all of those guys. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the boys. Do not take anything away from the masters. They are great.

I was a writer from age six. I had volumes upon volumes of notebooks filled with stories by the time adolescence reared its ugly head.  I wanted to write fantasy like Tolkien. I had read children’s books by female authors that toyed with fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time, for example, but Le Guin’s work was elevated somehow. Like a Tolkien. I saw a master in her. Something rich beyond the text, an invisible force made manifest in words.

Society kept trying to tell me what I couldn’t do, what I shouldn’t do, what I mustn’t do as a young female.  I never listened. I was the first girl to play Little League baseball in my neck of the woods. I played guitar. I hunted, I camped, I played football and soccer in the dirt with dozens of boys.

I could not be forced into a dress, and I did not associate with girls much. I did like this weird insistence that girls must be pretty, and well-behaved Boys could be Jabba the Hut, and that was fine.  I was not going to be pretty and I was developing a temperment that would scare the flab right off that Star Wars monster.  Remember, horrible gender dysphoria followed me into adolescence. Reading Ursula Le Guin told me “Keep fighting. Do what you want.”

ash background beautiful blaze

In seventh grade, in my honors English class, I wrote a paper on Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 that for whatever reasons made my teacher giddy. She read it to the whole class. As a reward, aside from the big shiny A, she handed me the next book of a great beginning that I will share with you. She felt sure I would enjoy it or at least appreciate it. She was right.

 

It was a bright, clear day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Books & Beginnings VI

img_1100REVEAL: The beginnings lines from my post Books & Beginnings V comes from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. My fascination with angels and demons was deepening at this age, and this was a good introduction.

Soon after, my schooling began to interfere with my education. I was taken out of my Catholic school and received a scholarship into an exclusive school where I was a total alien. Poor among rich kids, a rebel without a clue, and suffering from intense gender dysphoria. The other students despised me as a matter of course.

I had little interest in them. I endured being stuffed in lockers and their constant teasing by silence. I would not speak a word during the school day. I wrote. It was tough balancing the much more intense school reading load with my own reading, but I managed.

I was too young to see lots of the popular movies that came out during my childhood years such as The Exorcist and a few years later, The Omen. However, no one could stop me from reading the books. I became intensely interested in the demonic, how such malevolence worked, if demons or the devil could manifest themselves as more than whisperings on the soul like the vile Wormwood from The Screwtape Letters. As my adolescence grew close, I became darker and darker.

img_1054Then, at the sunset of my 11th year, came the time of the year, starting on September 22nd annually from my 8th through my 22nd years, I would reread The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.  That made me hungry for dragons, something far from this dull and dreary world. That drove me to the bookstore and a search of the shelves. Fantasy was less popular then than it is now, and there were not that many titles to choose from so I read them all.

This book was important because it introduced me to an author who would have a profound influence on my own writing in years to come. From this first line, I knew I would love this book.

The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.

Books & Beginnings V

LordOfTheFliesI cried for days after finishing Lord of the Flies. I knew those boys described in this devastating tale. I was friends with boys very like Golding’s British school children.  I knew in the same circumstance, more of them would be Jack (a violent bully) than Ralph (the kind, logical, courageous, and thoughtful protagonist). All I could think about was the fat kid, Piggy. Everyone has known that insufferably awkward and shy kid. I had mistreated and lost him as surely as Ralph did when I was a young beast myself.

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.   – Lord of the Flies, William Golding

It terrified me to realize children are NOT innocent. They are basically cruel beasts when absent security and supervision. Without guidance and love, they turn into little monsters that grow well-fanged. Yes, most children are like the bullying Jack. Few are like the logical Ralph or the empathetic Piggy or the strange and mystical Simon.

People like Ralph often stand alone;  isolated, despised. Power and fear cannot abide logic and light, and often the masses will rise against such voices. It takes such courage to defend the Ralphs of this world, simple and logical who speak unpopular truths.   To paraphrase Winston Churchill, when people stumble upon the truth, they often run away as fast as they can and pretend nothing has happened.

In the course of this brilliant book, the mystical Simon, also an outcast, makes a chilling statement that echoes through time. This simple observation destroys our desire to find some external enemy to defeat so as to solve all our short-comings.

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”

assorted books on shelf

 

Lord of the Flies is the beginning referenced in Books & Beginnings IV. Do not watch a film adaption of this book. Read it. A film cannot do it justice.

Next up, I found a very thin book hidden in my parent’s now infamous bookshelf. It was by an author I had already enjoyed. It had a funny title and strange format. It was a book of great humor that made me think in ways that I never had before. Then it kept making me think for the next forty years and counting, the mark of great literature.

I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them…

 

Books & Beginnings IV

img_1099Watership Down by Richard Adams both traumatized and delighted me. The story ensured I would never look at rabbits the same again nor would I ever eat rabbit stew again. This masterful tale is an engaging and amazing story of family, strength, courage against impossible circumstance, and vulnerability born nobly. This was the book’s beginning from my post Books & Beginnings III

The next book enraged me, sent me into despair, and informed me on the corrupted nature of my fellow man.  It turned the playground bully into a monster. I had met in some form or another every character in this book.

When I finished it, it was a summer evening. I was nine years old. My parents were on the screen porch having a drink. I ran out, book in hand which I had finished in a single day,  and slung it at them. I wished my mother had never told me of its existence. It haunts me to this day.  It is brilliant. It is true. It is fiction. I wonder if you recognize it.

The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.

“Hi!” it said. “Wait a minute!”

Books & Beginnings III

img_1098The Once and Future King by T.H. White propelled me further into a world where reality and fantasy melded into truth about humanity. A disturbing and tragic truth. This masterpiece is the beginning from my last post, Books & Beginnings II. It starts happily enough. Disney even adapted it into The Sword and the Stone. I was little prepared for the tales that came after young Wart became King Arthur. I had not, in my young mind, conceived of such tragedy as wrought by Mordred and the love of Guinevere and Lancelot.

T.H. White’s masterpiece was rendered from Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur which inspired Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Hence, my fascination with “Idylls”.  It also began my love affair with poetry.

BlankBookNext up, a book I read when it was practically brand new to the shelves. It had only been out for four years when my mother handed it to me and bade me to read. It was a thick volume and I took it, skeptically. I was nine and had decided I was done with anything childish. This book seemed to many pages of text to be what my mother claimed. It was such an odd sort of novel. It was not fantasy nor a mystery or a thriller. And it certainly was no child’s story.  This story transcended all expectations and my admitted limited experience of literature. And forty years later, it still does.  There are precious few books that can claim the imagination of this classic. Can you guess it?

The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog’s mercury and oak tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was filled with rabbit holes.

Books & Beginnings II

At age eight, books turned from escape to pure magic. I would read them out loud to anyone or anything that cared to listen from the perch in a tree house my friends and I had constructed in the little stretch of woods that ran behind our houses and the neighborhood next to the lake.

img_1095In Books & Beginnings I my mother brought me A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine D’Engle.  At the time, the book had been out for more than ten years but to me it was fresh and new. This was one of my earliest influences apart from the obvious. These great books will continue in the general order I discovered them.

img_1097I read madly. It was late in my 8th year or early in my 9th year, I became enamored of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.  Those I would read every year through my university studies. And then there was C.S. Lewis – it started with The Chronicles of Narnia. These were the obvious influences on the writer I grew into. I found great truths in these volumes that many cast aside as trite fantasy.

I discovered Agatha Christie and her mysteries in the shelves of my mother’s family beach house along with a constant deluge of mysteries and thrillers that my parents called “beach cozies”. I read them all.

As my eighth year ended, my grandmother on my father’s side, began my instruction in two areas I loved, history and theater. We began to attend plays together and she instructed me on European history going back to.before the Romans began their conquest.

It was these stories that influenced the next great beginnings. It was near my ninth birthday when my mother dug deeper into her bookshelves and came out with a thin book of poetry, the most gorgeous verse I had ever imagined, and a thick paperback that encased a story based on that verse.

TreehouseUp to my treehouse I went. The birds, squirrels, snakes, my English Springer, Winston, standing guard below,  and myriad of insects, and the neighbor’s fat orange hunting cat joined me on an adventure that changed the way I thought of story.  I read every word out loud, staying until the light was too dim for me to read another word. It made me often late for dinner.

By the time I received this amazing book, the pages were browned with age, making the story all the more authentic to me. I loved the scent and feel of old books on my fingers. The opening of this volume suggested a routine life familiar to my own. One that sparked into adventure … and great tragedy. I never gave this book back to my mother. It became one of my treasures.  Can you guess the title?

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was Organon, Repetition, and Astrology. The governess was always getting muddled with her astrolabe, and when she got specially muddled she would take it out of the Wart by rapping his knuckles.