I painted the picture below just over ten years ago, and it fully encapsulates the post I am about to write.
ALL MY LIFE I’ve loved stories, from the moment my mother turned the first cloth page of a baby’s first book and read to me, and I cannot conceive of how small a world it would have been without them. Neither can I truly grasp what life would have been like had that great door not opened before me. I drew THAT picture over twenty years ago:
The picture was drawn as I embarked on the first of what has become MANY trips overseas, to encounter new cultures and discover my roots. What coloured and thrilled my heart at the traveling, was that many of the stories, histories, and countries encountered throughout my life were to be realised in truth. I couldn’t wait.
A few years ago, the stats for literacy worldwide indicated that 17% were not able to read. And I am well aware that there was a strong tradition in most cultures of oral story-telling. THAT was how many stories made it into the books. The bard of Celtic tradition weaving long tales through music and song, the tribal elders relating the long saga of the clan, the players and caravans traveling the countryside with costume and exaggerated actions. We’ve got it so easy these days, with stories so well captured in CGI and multi-million dollar production, that we hardly need to use our own imaginations to be taken into another time and place. I sometimes long for a moment around a campfire, with hours of stories related in the flickering light by an aged ancient with rasping voice and waving hands. I am a total SITTING DUCK for a story.
Still, the older I get, the more I appreciate the range and scope of all the stories that flood my life, and that I can lay my eager hands upon. To not be able to read, is something I struggle to grasp. As a primary school teacher from years ago, I know the part of the day we (the children and I) loved most was the daily reading of a story aloud. The teachers who received the children I taught in the years to come, may well have sighed at their ineptitude in maths or geography, but I know I sent them out with a love of reading and hearing stories. (Oh, and they could all draw cartoons as well.) Somewhere, out there, around one hundred children are well versed in stretching their imaginations and hopefully, are reading books to their own children. (And grandchildren by now!)
Much as I love the many forms of story-telling, from movies through to plays, it is books that are my first and last love.
Within the IMAX of my own mind, I see all the dimensions possible in Tolkien’s series, along with the sound of the music, and the rhythm of the poetry. Delicious though Peter Jackson’s revelation of those stories in film were, nothing competes with the detail and life my own imagination gave them first. The same is true of Outlander. I am utterly delighted with the series that we are so fortunate to have on our screens – it is beautifully realised from the books. Nevertheless, not for a moment does it get in the way of the glory of the vision I saw played out in my own mind upon hearing/reading the books. Neither does the show detract from them. It would be a poor imagination indeed that could not fill out, amend, colour, compensate, and enhance any digitally realised adaptation of a book. If I am unhappy about any aspect of a screen portrayal of a favourite book, I just revert to reading the book version again, reliving the original vision I hold so dear, and am swept away again. This is the glory of being able to READ.
When I came across this postcard recently, from a great, great aunt – obviously living in the workhouse in London, my heart did go out to her. Oh, I hope she had access to some moments of pure escapism like her many times great niece does! How I hope she could escape the drabness of what her address sounds like, through reading. (And I hope she DID get to meet up with my grandfather – the ‘H’ on the card.) What I wouldn’t give to know her story.
Are we not the most fortunate of beings, to have so much at our fingertips that gives us wide open doors to other worlds? I am so glad that the many authors who keep me supplied are out there, even now, tapping their keys. (My one great nightmare is that I reach a day when I find there are no books I haven’t read.) I cannot tell you how much of my hopes and expectations, language and opinions, have been formed by the countless words that my eyes have sped over. Or how much enjoyment has been derived by reading aloud a choice phrase from a book just read, to someone I know who’ll appreciate it.
I feel I am preaching to the choir. If anyone has trawled this far down on my post, then you must be a reader yourself, and I hope, have had a similar background. I can still remember the day I walked into a person’s home for the first time, and found NOT ONE BOOK on a shelf or table anywhere. It so shocked me, as you see, that I am still amazed by it and typing it up here. I feel the pull of the current novel I am reading, upon me, and so will draw this blog post to a close. THANK YOU beloved authors, for all your labour – keep ’em coming.
. . . and we all lived Happily Ever After!