What science fiction and fantasy means to me: pt 1

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

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I've always been a reader. Before I entered school, my mom had already started teaching me how to read. We had a wide assortment of books at home, plus the frequent trips to the library offered even more choices. Mom encouraged us to read on our own, while Dad did most of the reading aloud. My favorite one to have him read us was The Sesame Street Bedtime Storybook, because he'd do the voices. Grover and the Count were two of his best.

Some of the earliest books I can remember were fantasy oriented. We grew up on the Serendipity books with stories about animals and fantasy creatures dealing some sort of life lesson like cleanliness, telling a grownup when someone is bullying you, and unique is special. Fantasy has a way of softening a message to make it both memorable and palatable. I loved those books. Since my mom still does, too, I have to go build my own collection for my son.

Fantasy plays a strong role in many picture books. Other books I grew up on included the Little Monster books by Mercer Mayer, Busy Town books by Richard Scarry, and the Berenstain Bears by Stan & Jan Berenstain. The Bike Lesson and Bears On Wheels were a couple more books my siblings and I often requested for Dad to read us. Back then I didn't think about these books being fantasy. I just picked books with enticing pictures and fun stories.

In time I moved into chapter books. Even though I was still reading, I don't remember any books in particular until I entered fifth grade. My family moved, taking me from a school where a quiet girl like me could have friends, even a best friend, to a school with consolidated cliques. I was shut out by the nicer girls, since I lacked the outgoingness to just join in, and picked on by the other girls. Not over my hair or my clothes or what I believed in. The first two I could have changed, and the last would have made me like the early believers of my Faith. But I was simply different and an outsider. I became the girl who was likeliest to cry, whether they caused my tears or I got frustrated over something I was learning.

But that school wasn't all bad. My fifth grade teacher taught me the basics of writing. We had regular writing time every week with the writing process printed on a giant poster. I want to say it had been broken down into five or six steps, but it taught me to write, revise, and edit, with some sort of prewriting type step at the beginning. My sixth grade teacher never saw the harrassment happening (girls can be very subtle, and that kind of bullying was less well-known back then), but she'd offer a kind word when she saw me looking sad. She made me feel special and recommended books, even loaning me ones from her personal collection.

Because of her, I discovered Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising. Those books and the Narnia series were my first steps into a full fledged love affair with fantasy. Narnia was a new world, while Will Stanton's world was our own with the great conflict of Dark and Light going on beyond our awareness.

I learned how to step out of myself into the shoes of the main characters of my favorite books. Nowadays, we'd probably call that deep reading, but at the time, all I cared about was to forget me and become someone else for awhile. Even though the characters often faced worse situations than my own, their troubles made more sense, the issues clearer. I studied how the characters handled their problems, a quest to discover the magical answer for solving my own. I never found one, but I did learn I was not alone. I learned that even the downtrodden could find happiness.

I learned hope.

15 comments:

Emily White said...

I love Narnia. C.S. Lewis is by far one of my favorite authors.

I know what's it like going through a bad time in school. Middle school was almost pure hell and it had everything to do with my looks. Unfortunately, six thousand dollars and five years later, those people were gone and I still hadn't developed the self-confidence I thought was surely my due. It took a lot more learning on my part and I admit that my books were some very good friends over the years.

Brad said...

Outstanding post.
Like you, I've been reading since long before school, though even then I leaned toward unusual fare like Edward Gorey.
In second grade, my teacher showed a British-made animated "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" in class (thank you, Mrs. Mackey, wherever you are). She told us about the books, and that afternoon I got the first two from the library.
I devoured them, and had the entire series finished within two weeks.
I was hooked on fantasy.
The following year, the same thing happened when we were shown the Rankin-Bass animated "Hobbit" film. I immediately sought out the book, and though I didn't read any other LOTR until I was about ten, I was deeply in love with Middle-Earth.
I never really had issues with kids in school; I was bigger than the bullies, so they left me alone, and I had plenty of friends. I was pulled into fantasy and sci-fi (you know my feelings about Star Wars ;)) because it was just so much more interesting than what was going on in the real world.
Okay, longer reply than what I intended, but you opened up some pretty good memories for me.
Thank you.

Brandi G. said...

I was so quiet in school that my teachers thought that I was autistic, so I used to get a special time where I would go to the counselor and just sit on the bean bags and read. It was fun (when my mom found out about it, though, she was furious). But I'm grateful for the misunderstanding because it really opened the door for me to love books. :)

Star-Dreamer said...

I love both of those series.

And I know what you mean about being teased and such. Maybe it wasn't quite the same thing between your experience and mine, but it was similar. My first writing project? A chapter book where all the characters were well known superheroes... the trick was, they were all in cohorts with eachother. I was nine when I started it. The manuscript was taken out of my hand one day as I walked into the classroom and the next thing I knew I had girls surrounding my desk and telling me how stupid that was, and reading the book and telling me how stupid it sounded.

Of course, now I realize it probably was a silly idea, but I liked it at the time... back when the Power Rangers were popular and I always wanted to be Kimberly. (yes, I was a geek... but aren't we all at heart? :D)

Breaking into fantasy wasn't so easy for me: I loved Barenstine Bears and such, but when it came to chapter books the only thing available (mostly because of my faith and my family at the time) were western romances and mystery novels, which were interesting for a time but quickly began to loose thier luster. When I ran out of books at a friend's house (an older friend's house...) he let me borrow his collection of the narnia books which he'd had since he was a boy. And that's what started my real love of fantasy.

Jaleh D said...

Thank you for sharing. And don't worry about the long reply, Brad. I said on Monday that I was hoping for responses of all lengths. Next week, I'll continue with my step into science fiction and what spec fic means to the grown-up me.

Bullying really does have some long-reaching consequences. I'd maintained for years that it felt like those two years wrecked my confidence and set back my social skills. When I was doing some research on emotional trauma for my YA fantasy, in addition to what I needed for the story, I discovered that I'd been right about myself all along.

I can see I'm in some good company. It's hard to build confidence. Emily, I'm glad you keep working to build yourself back up from your school experience and from later. It's part of why I like you. :)

Oh, The Hobbit. I forgot that one. (Shame on me. Thanks, Brad, for the reminder.) My dad showed us kids this animated film of the story, not sure if it's the same one. He also had an LP with the part of the story involving Smaug, my first experience with dragons. Funny that it didn't scare me away from dragons completely. I loved Smaug's deep voice. The books came later, but my love of Middle Earth came from my dad.

Brandi, that made me chuckle. Reading on school time over a mistake. But at least it helped you. Books are such a valuable commodity.

Nichole, I'm glad you found your way into fantasy, despite the roundabout way you had to take.

Anyone else want to share their introduction into fantasy and reading?

David Deangelo said...

You have shared a very nice blog about books. In the library all the books can be accessed.

Jaleh D said...

Thanks, David. :)

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jaleh D said...

Thanks for sharing, Tim. Trust me. I kept tearing up while writing my post. And my experiences were so vague that I can barely decipher why they were traumatic. But I guess the undefined nature of what I went through was part of what made it traumatic for me.

That was a terrible situation you were in. I'm glad you survived it and found your way to our welcoming band of spec fic writers and readers.

Juliette Wade said...

This is a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your touching stories - and thanks also for reminding me of how much I loved the Serendipity books. Now I can share them with my children...

Jaleh D said...

Thanks for dropping by Juliette. And you're welcome. The Serendipity books are adorable.

I finally realized that it was time to write about those early experiences in more depth, since I kept repeating bits of them in various comments on other blogs over the past several months. I couldn't write them down for myself, but in sharing to help others, I could.

website promotion company said...

I think you are right what you all describe in the post. Thanks that you shared with us.

Jaleh D said...

In case anyone comes back and wonders, I only deleted Tim's comment because he requested it.

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