A friend recently sent out a Facebook request asking for a new fantasy series to read – she had just completed The Hunger Games trilogy and was looking for suggestions. It should be noted that this friend is significantly younger than me – significant meaning the world into which she was born has always had the Internet and never the Berlin Wall, the Trapper Keeper or an ABC Afterschool Special with Nancy McKeon.
I was born in 1972. So basically I came into the world at the tail end of all things remarkable, just in time to bear witness to Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter – the historical equivalent of move along, nothing to see here.
If the words of your generation are harbingers of things to come, it is worth noting that Grease hit Broadway that same year – thereby cementing “a hickie from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card” as a seminal piece of discourse from my childhood.
Not exactly Ich Bin Ein Berliner, but catchy.
And unlike the romance automatically associated with having ex-hippie parents, my parents’ only vices were Henry Mancini albums, Anne Murray and The Rockford Files.
So being a middle-class white kid in the seventies drove an early interest in fantasy novels. An interest that, until my friend’s recent Facebook request, I had pretty much left unindulged for the last twenty-five years or so.
Growing up I loved the stories of Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis. I used to walk into my closet, eyes squeezed tightly shut in the hopes that, just beyond my School Days Ginny Doll in her brown velvet skort and matching beret, there was a world that included talking Fauns serving tea, prophetic beavers and endless bon-bons.
Imagine my disappointment when, later in life, I found out Turkish Delight is actually chopped up dates suspended in a gelatinous substance that eerily resembles the Luster’s Pink Hair Gel my friend Tiffani used copious amounts of in high school in a failed effort to thwart her hair’s natural desire to grow curly and halo-like around her head, rather than straight and to her shoulders. This is the prize for which Edmund basically sold his soul to the White Witch? I would have at least held out for peanut brittle.
But I digress.
As I got a little older it was the novels of Madeline L’Engle. I not only related to A Wrinkle in Time’s plain, awkward and emotionally immature Meg Murry – I was her (minus the biologist mother, absent father and clairvoyant younger brother if you’re going to get picky).
In L’Engle’s stories, the plain, awkward and emotionally immature girl also got to be the heroine; wrestle with quantum physics (a tesseract – WTF?); face terrifying forces of evil (Voldemort’s got nothing on IT); kick metaphysical ass and get the boy – without having to shorten her skirts or ditch her glasses.
I wholly embraced the glory of my own awkward, four-eyed-self after following Meg and her clan through A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet – mostly. There was a Sally Jesse Raphael phase in my early teens that I would rather disavow.
In high school, Ursula K. Leguin’s The Left Hand of Darkness made me more cognizant of the fluid nature of sexuality and gender-identity. To exist in a world where gender has no meaning and sexuality is a moving target seemed profoundly appealing to my seventeen year-old self whose own attempts at exploring her sexuality were limited to getting felt up by a thick-fingered boy with Marlboro breath and a deviated septum in the parking lot of the local movie theater.
But then I went to college and learned that I wasn’t supposed to like The Narnia Chronicles because C. S. Lewis was a misogynist and that A Wrinkle in Time was an ecumenical diatribe against conservative Christianity. And all along I just loved the stories. Note to self – never trust a Faun or a centaur. Subversive bastards.
However, many years and mortgage payments have passed since I have indulged in these stories. Something about adulthood seemed to diminish my capacity for the willing suspension of disbelief required to trip the light fantastic. That or the fact that it took twenty-five years and graduating three kids from high school for me to get more than ten minutes to myself. I now understand the appeal of reading the obituaries. Obits are succinct and the ending is pre-ordained so if you get interrupted halfway through you don’t get anxious wondering what happens next.
When C. S. Lewis dedicated The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to his goddaughter he did so by acknowledging that “girls grow quicker than books” but that someday she would be “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
I think forty-two just might be old enough.