I’ve always liked to read. From a very early age, I picked up books from the library, read them cover to cover, and went back for more! I always filled up my reading log during the Summer Reading Program at the library and proudly earned stars on my large Book-It pin.
Picture: The Riddle Game by Tom Kirk
But, it wasn’t until my mother gave me her personal copy of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, that I discovered the magic and escapism of fantasy. I remember thinking, as I was reading about Smaug and the dwarves, Bilbo and the riddle game with Gollum: “I didn’t know that reading could be LIKE THIS.” It was a turning point for me. I wanted more books exactly like THAT, whatever THAT was.
What I was looking for, which I didn’t even realize at the time, is the mythology and symbolism that is buried deep within the outlines of fiction, especially, in my opinion, fantasy fiction. People used to gather around the fires at night and keep the darkness and creatures at bay, by telling each other stories. Stories about the stars, each other, their families and friends… these stories were not just entertainment, but also lessons about life. They taught each other the meaning of the major human emotions, both positive and negative. They were a tool to examine the heights of love, the depths of jealousy and despair, and how to navigate between all of life’s potential pitfalls onto a path to more self knowledge. The stories were also a glue to bond people together- a type of community building. The people who grew up together knew the same stories and believed the same ways. Cultures, religions, entire ways of life came from these night time story telling sessions.
Gandalf- Image from: http://sf.co.ua/id122798
Modern life has very little in the way of “storytelling around the fire” but if I had to pick a guardian and bastion of this method, I’d have to point a finger towards the modern library. Within its four walls, heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, are shelves and shelves of stories. These stories, both fictional and non-fiction, allow readers to glimpse, for a moment, into the life and reality of another in a way that simple conversation or television programs do not.
Books are completely immersive. They’re also extremely sophisticated tools in that they mold and change their meaning and appearance, guided by the reader’s own mind and inner reality. When you match the right book with the right child, magic happens- like putting The Lord of the Rings into my 12 year old hands.
The only word of caution that I wish to add to this tale is that, once the child passes through that gateway into fiction, non-fiction, poetry, classics, or whatever it is that speaks to them- they will not return to you the same. Like Bilbo said:
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I know that I, for one, have never been the same. Thanks for reading! ~Heidi