Adrienne made a comment on one of my recent posts about the sad dearth of ordinary stories about ordinary people – the likes of which were written by LM Montgomery, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, etc. Considering that I just recently wrote on how important fantasy is, it might seem odd that I now turn around in defense of “ordinary tales,” but I truly do believe both are vital.
Fantasy can help to expand us, help us see beyond ourselves to the possibilities that exist in our dreams and imagination. Everyday stories, I think, help to ground us, and to show us the beauty and joy that comes from just living, just as we are now. Both, in their own way, show us the magic that exists all around us.
I can’t imagine growing up without Anne Shirley, Betsy Ray, Garnet of the wheat-colored braids, and as I grew older, Rilla, Lizzy Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Molly Gibson. Et cetera, et cetera.
There’s a big emphasis I see these days in people thinking that one has to already be special in order to do or accomplish anything special, or have a worthwhile life (running contradictory to the other popular idea, which is that “everyone is special,” and which also produces laziness, but that’s a topic for another time). There was a lot that I disliked in the recent movie version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but one of the things that drove me nuts the most was a tiny little throwaway line from Reepicheep, where he tells the dragon-that-was-Eustace,
“Things like this don’t happen to just anybody, you know. You’ve got to be someone extraordinary.”
(Or something like that. I don’t remember the exact quote.)
It made me want to scream, right there in the theater, because that’s not true and it’s not how Lewis wrote Eustace. I hate that we seem to be living in a time that believes you have to be born “different,” somehow, for your life to have meaning. And right now, in MG and YA lit, that “different” usually does equal mystical or supernatural.
And that, I think, it a dreadful use of the fantasy genre. I would much rather read about Anne Shirley, overcoming an incredibly difficult and mundane birth and early life to live a life of simple grace, love, and beauty (one of my all-time favorite quotes ever is from Anne of Avonlea (or is it Anne of the Island?), where she tells Gilbert her life’s goal is to add beauty to the world and people’s lives, that they might have some joy or hope that they wouldn’t have had otherwise), then about what’s-her-name from the book whose title is synonymous with dusk, who whines and mopes and finally becomes a bloodsucker in truth as well as metaphorically. What’s inspirational about that, again?
And I think it will be a true shame if this generation grows up only reading books that reinforce the idea that it takes something supernatural to make you special, that you can’t live a meaningful or exciting life if you don’t have fangs or wings or both.
Life – just as it is, in reality – is both beautiful and exciting, and always meaningful, if we are just willing to look hard and work at it. We can’t just sit back and allow life to pass us by because “we weren’t born special.” We don’t need a prophecy told about us at birth to enable us to achieve great things.
Everyday stories, about every people living everyday lives, can be just as inspirational, and for me, at least, have been an enormous help in finding joy in life just as it is, just as fantasy helps me seek even deeper into the beauty and wonder of life.
Do you like reading “everyday stories”? What books can you think of, about ordinary people and ordinary life, have helped you develop and grow as a human being? Can you think of some recent titles in YA that are those sort of everyday stories? I’m drawing a blank, myself!