Why do I read? And why do I read what I do, which has influenced me to write the people and places and sagas I write? For Reasons, I say.
It all goes back to when I was a girl.
Younger Me was innately curious, ravenous for knowledge, for life-experience and for a world where the things I imagined and dreamed might somehow become reality (I still catch myself wondering if random closets lead to Narnia). I was a dreamer, a thinker, and a busy, busy mind. The other side this reaching for understanding was sadder: I was too often alone with my thoughts, with the chaotic feelings that growing up in an endlessly complex world created.
The books I read assuaged this loneliness. They spoke to me. They mitigated the alienation that even the gentlest, friendliest little soul can sometimes feel. They showed me that other people were confused, too. That someone out there understood enough about this weirdo-world to create characters who, like me, were doing their best to make sense of it all. Sometimes these characters failed spectacularly, but in the end, they were able to come into their own and even save the weirdo-world in the process.
These characters made sense to me. They were real. These familiarly-flawed heroes were young girls like me (or at least like me in my headiest daydreams). Aerin Dragon-Killer, the heroine of Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown; Lucy Pevensie in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, Jo from Alcott’s Little Women, Polly and other Diana Wynne Jones heroines and most especially, my two favorites: Alanna of Trebond from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series and Meg Murray from L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Quite a list—sorry to spam. No wait, I’m not sorry at all! These book-girls saved me from the isolation it is so easy to slip into when the world is noisy and muddled and too full of feels. And thanks to these writers, Young Me experienced so many empowering ideas.
I learned that, like Lucy Pevensie, girls can be incredibly resourceful and practical and humorously aware of those gifts:
“Girls aren’t very good at keeping maps in their brains,” said Edmund.
“That’s because we’ve got something in them,” replied Lucy.
-C.S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia
I learned through Jo March that I was not the only girl who felt an almost painful desire to do something big and amazing and worthy of the bards and that often these desires conflicted with simple, everyday success:
“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”
“I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copybooks; and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end.”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Alanna of Trebond taught me more than I can articulate, but most especially that strength is sometimes not about fighting grand battles, but about letting others in, letting them love us just for who and what we are:
“Alan, you seem to think we won’t like you unless you do things just like everyone else. Have you ever thought we might like you because you’re different?”
― Tamora Pierce, Alanna: The First Adventure
And of course, I learned through Meg Murray that our flaws can be transmuted into the most wonderful of strengths:
“Meg, I give you your faults.
“My faults!” Meg cried.
“But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “However, I think you’ll find they’ll come in very handy on Camazotz.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Today, I cannot ignore the legacy these writers and their so-very-real characters created for me: write women and girls who are true, who are strong, who struggle, who fail, and who push through (sometimes with battering rams) to success and a better understanding of the world. It’s a banner I’m proud to wield, and the reason something as glorious as creating whole worlds can have even greater impact in my life and, if I’m lucky, the lives of others.
I will continue to read, to write what I do, especially my millions of upcoming fiction projects, in the hopes that somewhere my words can achieve what books did for Roald Dahl’s Matilda:
“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” — Roald Dahl, Matilda