But all my life I’ve wanted to be the kid who gets to cross over into the magical kingdom … Because even when I was a child I knew it wasn’t simply escape that lay on the far side of the borders of fairyland. Instinctively I knew crossing over would mean more than fleeing the constant terror and shame . . . There was a knowledge that ran deeper – an understanding hidden in the marrow of my bones that only I can access – telling me that by crossing over, I’d be coming home.
That’s the reason I’ve yearned so desperately to experience the wonder, the mystery, the beauty of that world beyond the World As It Is. It’s because I know that somewhere across the border there’s a place for me. A place of safety and strength and learning, where I can become who I’m supposed to be. I’ve tried forever to be that person here, but whatever I manage to accomplish in the World As It Is only seems to be an echo of what I could be in that other place that lies hidden somewhere beyond the borders.
— page 60 from The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
My earliest memory is of sitting at my small wooden table in the living room at night eating corn beef and mashed potatoes while watching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I must have been only four or five years old because I saw Star Trek before I saw Star Wars, which was when I was six or seven. It’s funny how I’ve developed into a Star Wars fan rather than a Trekkie, even though I was introduced to the latter first and I love both series. It’s also funny how, looking back, I can see how a lot of who I am, what I like, how I write, and what I believe in was influenced by what I read and watched. For example, I can trace my belief in the reality of stories to The Neverending Story.
I’ve read a lot of books. At last count, I have over one thousand books in my collection, and that was a couple of years ago. I haven’t made a more recent count, and over the years, I’m sure I’ve read far more than that, especially since my introduction to anime and manga. But there are some books that, for whatever reason, have stuck with me and touched me in some inexplicable way. These mark certain formative turning points in how I viewed and reacted to the world.
I remember that, when I was little, Mom and Dad would read me stories and, even though I was too young to read myself, I listened to them so often that I could recite them from memory and never allowed my parents to skip a single word. (They asked me why I wanted stories read to me if I had them memorized. I said it was because Mom and Dad told the stories better than I could.) I remember that one of my favorite books was a green book simply known as Fairy Tales (retold by Katherine Gibson, illustrated by Isobel Read, Whitman Publishing, 1950).
Dad would read me those fairy tales all the time, and I still remember them because many of them were so unusual. The Laidly Worm of Spindle Stone. The Sea Maiden. Mother Hulda. The Goose Girl. Childe Rowland. The White Snake. King Thrushbeard. The Princess Who Lived On A Glass Hill. The Tinderbox. Most of these I have never found anywhere else. I also devoured books on Greek mythology, astronomy, anatomy, biology, and encyclopedias. Granted, most of those I spent looking at pictures rather than reading, but they expanded my knowledge and allowed for fantastic ideas to develop.
Oddly enough, as much as I loved fairy tales, I didn’t turn to fantasy once I learned to read for myself. My first love was horses. I devoured books by Bonnie Bryant and Marguerite Henry, along with dozens of obscure authors who might have only published one book, but because they featured horses, I read them anyway. Horse stories, horse breeds, horse poetry, horse care, horseback riding…I read them all. Often I only got into a new series because it had the picture of a horse on the cover. (I started reading Animorphs by K.A. Applegate solely because Book #13 had a picture of Cassie changing into a horse on the cover. I also started reading ghost stories because one series I read featured a ghost horse.) Gradually I became interested in fantasy because of the similarity between horses and unicorns. Dragons followed soon after because of course dragons and unicorns go together in fantasy. At least, that’s what my seven-year-old mind told me.
Slowly but surely I gravitated away from the realistic horse fiction that was my staple and started delving into fantasy (thanks to unicorns) and science fiction (thanks to the combined efforts of Star Wars and Star Trek). Science fiction interested me for a time, but there were surprisingly few sci-fi books for younger kids. While I think that my reading level was exceptional for my age, there was no way I could comprehend enough of Orson Scott Card or Kevin J. Anderson or Ben Bova to appreciate them. But fantasy abounded in the children’s section and, over time, it took precedence over every other genre to the point where I will rarely pick up a book that isn’t fantasy unless the description is highly intriguing, it’s by an author I already know and like, or if it comes highly recommended to me by someone I trust.
We are all shaped by the influences in our lives. It’s the old nature vs. nurture question about what makes us who we are. Personally, I think it’s a mixture of the two. My nature leaves me inclined towards solitude, creativity, and escapism. But I have also been influenced by the things I’ve read and seen that helped form my own way of looking at the world, and this is reflected in my writing. The kinds of stories I like, the kinds of characters I like, the themes I emphasize and the scenes I tend to avoid, all of this can find roots in previous visual and literary experience. So, I’m going to take the next few entries and dedicate them to some of the books that had a profound impact on my psyche…and I hope that, if any of you have read them, you will share your reading experience, or if a book offered a similar epiphany, that you will also share.