Stories change lives. Stories change our lives incrementally, one moment at at time. I remember a moment when Robin McKinley touched my life: I was sitting in my windowsill, looking at the woods in winter (no leaves on the trees, the glass was cold) maybe twelve or thirteen years old, reading The Hero and the Crown. I remember thinking how much I wanted to be the kind of strong, un-bully’able young women that Aerin was. Another moment with Robin: reading the heroine’s desert journey in The Blue Sword. I wanted to see the deserts of South Africa, burnished hot sand dunes, sky blue robes whipping in the wind. Another moment: I’m an adult, I’ve graduated from women’s college, backpacked across 5 continents, left a miserable relationship, and was living by myself in a new state. Driving across the mountains of West Virginia in January for ten hours, I’d borrowed the audiotape (tape!) of The Hero and the Crown from the library. My tape player wouldn’t work right, I had to reach down and flip the cassette periodically, then wrestle with the plastic bound case to find the next tape in order. McKinley’s writing touched me all over again–the wild-haired woman who couldn’t be bowed, the fighter, the searcher, stair-climber, and sensitive skin haver. (Need I mention my hives in Peru? The walnut-sized insect bites in Malaysia?) I was taken again by the language and visuals, the careful narrative, the complexity of the flashback (almost making a frame story), the development of the protagonist’s point of view from the beginning to the midpoint of the book; and then her evolution to timeless goddess by the end. “What a woman who wrote this book!” I thought. “I’m so glad I read this book when I was a young woman!” I thought. How blessed was I to find this tale of backbone and insight at the age of twelve (before body image, bullies, bitches, took their bites outta me).
Because, you see, there’s an idea out there. (An idea I subscribe to, when I’m feeling particularly progressive about the human race.) Undoubtedly, we become who we envisage.* We make images of ourselves, we read and absorb stories of the self from the world, enshrine them in our childhood mind until they crystallize in our adult mind’s eye, reappearing as if from nowhere one afternoon on a windy, snowy mountain road. It’s not as clear cut as saying, “Well, this one book changed my life forever,” but it is a rainstorm that fed an aquifer. McKinley’s books were deluges that I danced in as a child; they still carry me with joy.
*I found this quote when I was twelve, too, and wrote it in my spiral bound, doodle decorated, quote book. (Which was 27 handwritten pages of literary quotes and poems.) The bummer of it is that quote was written by Claude M. Bristol, a self-help writer who was apparently supplying a mantra to make more money.