Today presents one of those constellations of birthdays of famous writers, all of whom have been extraordinarily important to me: Madeleine L'Engle, C. S. Lewis, and Louisa May Alcott. For more on all these authors, see today's posting on The Writer's Almanac, which alerted me to this alignment of literary birthdays.
These writers were important to me as I left childhood and moved into teenage years. I feel like I've already written extensively about them--but have I? I know that I've written a lot about L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, since this year marks its 50th anniversary.
Let me think about these books and these writers and what they've taught me.
I was reading A Wrinkle in Time and Alcott's Little Women about the same time, around 5th grade. Like the protaganists of those novels, I was feeling like an alien amongst my peers. I was bigger (taller and big boned) and with interests that they didn't have. I was a voracious reader and writer. I was smart in a culture and a time period (back in 1975, in the earlier days of the feminist movement and the Title IX changes) that didn't always encourage brains in little girls.
These books gave me hope that I would be appreciated, if not by the masses, then by a few special people. These books also emphasized that the larger culture often wasn't in tune with what really matters.
I want to say it was Little Women that made me want to be a writer, but I was writing stories before I read that book.
I discovered C.S. Lewis a few years later, when I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--and then it was off to Narnia! I tried reading his books for adults, but didn't like the sci fi, and the theology was rough going. But I did love The Screwtape Letters, a book which imagines Satan tutoring a young protege in how to get humans to misbehave.
Lewis, L'Engle, and Alcott emphasized the importance of staying true to one's values. They were honest about how hard it can be to maintain one's integrity in a world that's set up to undermine us at every turn. Those books were wonderful fellow travelers on the pilgrim's trail.
Yes, I look back and see myself as a pilgrim in all sorts of ways. A girl devoted to books and writing? That's a pilgrim. A girl who charts her own course and closes her ears to those who would want to keep her restrained? That's a pilgrim.
Those books encouraged me to believe that it could be done, that I could resist successfully and still find people who would love me. Those books told me that even if few of my classmates were part of my tribe, that my tribe was out there, waiting for me.
Those books also taught me a lot about science and history and probably a lot of other subject that I no longer remember. But more importantly, those books transported me. On long summer afternoons, I lost myself in alternate worlds. When we moved, I unpacked my books, those old, best friends, first. Those books both kept me grounded and gave me wings.
I'd have to say, as a writer, I have similar goals. I want to create work that both grounds the reader and transports readers. I want to show that other realities, better realities, are possible. I want to make people believe in magic and to give them the tools to make that magic manifest.
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