Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Ode to Aslan and Others

When I was eleven, I spent the summer in Denmark with family. Knowing how avid of a reader I was, and how limited the English-language book selection would be overseas, my family drowned me in books for my eleventh birthday.

"Don't read them until you're in Denmark!" they said.

My birthday is in February. I didn't leave for Denmark until May. What on earth did they expect out of me? I was a book-hungry eleven year old, not some self-flagellating medieval monk.

My darling Mormor bought me the Narnia series. These books didn't stand a chance. I ripped through them like nothing else before. Talking animals! Kings and Queens that were MY age! Sword fights and wars and magic and the best lion in the world and witches and did I mention the talking animals? This was all before the age of Harry Potter (or rather, Harry would come out very soon after) and I think it was the first real, literary fantasy that I had ever encountered (the Babysitters Club, however, I was exceptionally familiar with).

Before Narnia, I had built a solid foundation that served me well in navigating this wonderful world. I remember books on Ancient Egypt and Greek Mythology- Narnian field guides, if you will, which made fauns and minotaurs all the more familiar and welcome in a book. A fantasy of sorts, but incredibly distant from my own life (though I did play Persephone on the playground-- going down the slide was descending into Hades).

And then there were these books. I wanted to BE Lucy Pevensie like I had wanted to be no one else before. Because she and her brothers and sister had something that I didn't have. Not just magical adventures and talking animal guides. They had power. They had real importance in this world, even if they were essentially and completely powerless in their own (like I was in mine, at 11).

This power, I think, is one of the most important gifts that children's literature can give to its readers. The faintest glimmer of hope-- the idea that your voice matters, that you do have something to contribute, that no matter your size or your gender or your color or your age, you can be a hero.

This has been ingrained in me. I can't help it-- I find that this principle shows up in the books that I love to read, as well as the books that I want to write. I guess there could be worse things to want to read and write about.

All of this was sparked by this:

The Dawn Treader trailer! This was always my favorite book-- I think I'm a sucker for anything set on a boat.

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