Mom, Winnie, Mars and Eco
At the age of fifty-five, I can still hear my mom reading A. A. Milne at my bedside. She read Milne’s words with animated delight, using different voices for the characters, hooking me into the drama and fun of those stories and poems about Winnie the Pooh and friends. I didn’t realize it but, even then, the sound of words—their rhythm and flow, their whimsy and magic—was gently massaging my very young mind, softly carving out a space reserved for a gradually expanding ocean of imagination.
During those trips to Pooh Corner Mom was planting seeds. But I wasn’t quite in love with reading yet. And, for a season, I became too old for “kid’s stories.”
My first trip to Mars was in 1972. I was twelve.
I found Captain John Carter there. Apparently he transmigrated to Mars after his Earthbound body died. We had some crazy times together, battling huge, many-limbed aliens and rescuing ultra-beautiful women—often accomplishing both tasks simultaneously.
These adventures, as related by Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan, The Ape Man), probably were not great literature. However, to an adolescent boy who was raised on Star Trek and was an eyewitness to mankind’s “giant leap” onto the moon, they were fun, captivating stories that introduced me to new worlds. Worlds exponentially cooler than the Hundred Acre Wood. They were vocabulary-expanding, Burroughs sent me to the dictionary often with his prose.
“I know the average human mind will not believe what it cannot grasp, and so I do not purpose being pilloried by the public, the pulpit, and the press, and held up as a colossal liar when I am but telling the simple truths which some day science will substantiate” (Burroughs, 2).
When my Uncle Jim gave me this series of eleven novellas I had no idea that it would be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with words.
As I got older I graduated to more “intelligent” science fiction: Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Dan Simmons (Hyperion, I think, is still an outstanding work—very literary sci-fi) and Frank Herbert.
Herbert’s Dune trilogy seriously captured my attention in high school. Here were books not just about high tech weaponry and ships that folded time and space; they were complex, detailed books about politics, philosophy, religion and human relationships. This was Star Trek for grown ups. Herbert even inserted poetry:
“Nature’s beauteous form
Contains a lovely essence
Called by some-decay.
By this lovely presence
New life finds its way” (Herbert, 29).
Again, I found myself getting caught up in how words sounded, their tempo and feel, their power to make me see things.
High school and college courses introduced me to Steinbeck, Homer, Vonnegut Bradbury and many others.
It became a personal journey, finally, into all kinds of fiction—popular and literary: J.D. Salinger, John Grisham, Ken Follett, Stephen King, Judith Guest, Pat Conroy, Dan Brown, Anna Quindlen and Umberto Eco. I was experiencing a growing awareness of the ability of words to project imagery onto the inner landscape of our minds, to unfold entire histories (real and imagined), to reveal humanity’s most noble and wretched instincts, to make the reader think, feel and marvel at the richness of what is within us and all around us.
As these revelations visited me I knew I was not only hooked on reading but I also wanted to one day write words that would be read by others. My greatest hope being that they might elicit such reactions as I had known in the grip of the words of my author-friends.
When I read Eco’s The Name of the Rose I was floored by his prose. His elegant descriptions painted such vivid pictures it made me jealous to read them. I ached to write one damn sentence as good as the thousands he poured into that novel. (Granted, even for me, he sometimes got a little tedious; but, man, when it was good it was oh-so-good that tears filled my eyes at his brilliance, I could feel how good his writing was.)
“…the light came in bursts through the choir windows and even more through those of the facade, creating white cascades that, like mystic streams of divine substance, intersected at various points of the church, engulfing the altar itself” (Eco, 162).
Lovely stuff, those words are “mystic streams of divine” talent!
Reading, by itself, is a sacred trip into the thoughts of others, a thing I do for its own sake and for the sake of journeys otherwise impossible. Reading is a momentary step outside the necessary confines of our egocentrism.
It is impossible, however, to divorce ego from writing (at least, if publication is something you really want). And this, as previously mentioned, is where reading has lead me–to the desire to write for publication.
It’s a little daunting to present your work for evaluation. These people, these superhuman “editor-people” have the power to reject it, to tell you it’s bad. They can (metaphorically) crumple up your scraps of genius, stick their gummy tongues (from all the envelope-licking) out at you and tell you that you have no talent. Placing your work before their all-seeing eyeballs is as intimidating as a solo performance in front of Simon Cowell.
But—thanks to Mom, A.A. Milne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Umberto Eco—that’s precisely what I want to do. Over and over again. Until I get it right. Until one of those freaky editor-demigods looks at my manuscript and says, “Hm. I think we can publish this one, Maryanne. This guy doesn’t suck.”
So I have that to look forward to.
Herbert, Frank. Dune. New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1977.
Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. Florida: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1984 (English translation).
Burroughs, Edgar Rice. A Princess of Mars. New York: Ballantine Books, 1963.