On Becoming a Rebel [II]

[…continued from part I…]

I did not intend to become a rebel that day.

It was summertime, and I wanted a book to enjoy in the spare moments I found between responsibilities.  I remember sitting at a picnic table in the shade at our swim club, oblivious to life around me.  I stumbled upon Faërie for the very first time, but had no words to describe what was happening to me.  Though I had “escaped” into books before, nothing came close to the magic I felt as I read The Blue Castle.  I had discovered a new world.

Perhaps it was simply because I had never found words that bared my soul before.  And piercing words I found in abundance.  From the very first page, I knew Valency and I were kindred spirits.  Though she lived within a book and my existence involved more oxygen, I could see the world through her eyes – because they were like mine.  I had never met a heroine as honest as she.

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The first chapter of The Blue Castle was saturated with experiences I thought were unique to my life.  It was as though L. M. Montgomery had a window into my being and had simply changed a few details to protect my identity.  Her name was Valency, not Susanna. She was 29, not 15.  She had no siblings, whereas I had more than a handful.  But both Valency and I felt we had the same lot in life: an insignificant existence in which the primary ruling factor was fear of offending someone in authority.  I never dreamed I would someday be, as Valency was, “twenty-nine and unsought by any man.”  Yet I shared her tears then as I do now.

With Valency’s transformation, however, I met someone who found the freedom to be herself – and found love and meaning and purpose in the process.

And I wondered if freedom might be possible for me, too, someday.

I could easily relate to Valency’s hopelessness; her thwarted desire to enjoy a good book or simply be alone with her thoughts.  I understand, now more than ever, the longing she had to be desired, loved, and cherished, yet autonomous and purposeful in and of herself.  I felt her heart’s cry, for it was mine.  It is mine.

Though I was only fifteen and could not hope to foretell the future, I did hope that my future would be akin to Valency’s.  So though The Blue Castle was quickly black-listed and I was forbidden to read it, the memory of that hope stayed with me through the years.  When I rediscovered the enchantment of Valency’s story ten years later, it was in the throes of discovering true freedom for myself.  The rebellion had come full circle.  I will never stop reading her story.  I can never stop living mine.

On Becoming a Rebel [I]

I have always loved to read.  My Mom taught me to read when I was five years old – by opening a large-print King James Bible to Matthew 5 and showing me how to add sounds together.  Something clicked, and I’ve been spinning words around ever since. As I’ve mentioned before, my reading choices were somewhat limited growing up.  My parents wanted to raise a “wholesome” family, and anything that could possibly undermine “wholesomeness” (for example, magic, romance, violence, Faërie, or anything that went against the Christian Tradition) was off-limits.  This is how I found the world outside.

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During my teen years I moved from surreptitiously borrowing church library books to reading real library books on the sly.  Since I started volunteering at our public library when I was 11, I had read all the “easy” non-fiction (juvenile and adult alike) that piqued my interest even the slightest by the time I was 16.  I think half of what I read in James Herriot’s books went straight over my head, but they were non-fiction stories from a rural English vet that were too medical for my Dad to screen and too thick for my Mom to screen.  And I loved them.

In eighth grade, I became something of a World War II nerd.  I ploughed through tomes by Stephen Ambrose and watched documentaries on the Pacific Theatre’s major battles with my Dad.  My specialty was the Allied Invasion of occupied Normandy, France, or, as it’s more commonly known, D-Day – June 6, 1944.  I could rattle off places and names and landing gear and divisions at the slightest provocation.  My Grandfather was a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, and though he never talked about it, I learned as much as I could from his written reminisces on life.

Though I read constantly, I was always hungry for more story, more mystery, more possibilities, more deep beauty than what I found in the “reality” of non-fiction.

The fiction I found in the church library – Ben Hur, The Big Fisherman, The Robe, Christy – was a good start, but usually left me wanting more.  Jane Austen was predictable, though witty and clever.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was brilliantly frightening.  I had repeatedly read the five Chronicles of Narnia (out of seven) that were approved; C. S. Lewis’ non-fiction had not yet commanded my attention.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was memorable, not least because when I finally closed the book and switched off my flashlight, the pre-dawn darkness revealed an April snowstorm outside my window.

Though fiction was generally restricted, my parents understood that a decent education involved reading some “classics” and so carefully steered me towards conservative, “safe” books.  But then one day I discovered the YA Fiction section in the library.  Before that day, I had not much thought about L. M. Montgomery’s work aside from the six Anne books I owned.  Before that day, every book I’d ever read had gone on my reading list as proof that education was indeed taking place.  My parents had approved – explicitly or implicitly – all my reading choices up to that point.

I did not intend to become a rebel that day.

[…to be continued…]