Health issues prevented me from posting for the last couple of weeks. Sorry about that. Here we are again with a Slice of Life.
This week’s slice is from my reading life, not my teaching life. Over the last couple of weeks, while I was away, I’ve been reading The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, by Laura Miller. Part reading memoir, part literary analysis, part biography of C.S. Lewis himself, I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it – even though I never cared much for Narnia, myself; I was more of a Middle-earth girl.
On the train through Tokyo, I came upon a passage, quoted from a series that has stayed with me: His Dark Materials.
Balthamos, in this quote, is speaking to Lyra Silvertongue about her lost knack for reading the alethiometer. I read it now in the context of The Magician’s Book with a different kind of “reading” in mind: the all consuming, immersive reading of childhood tweendom, when we really believe in the books we read and can throw ourselves into stories wholeheartedly.
We lose that as we get older. I lost it, and for awhile in there, I lost books. I read, sometimes, sort of. I’ve rediscovered my passion for books and stories.
I will never read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time again. It would be impossible. I know the story so well that, when my audiobook edition was missing a disc – nearly an hour and a half of text – skipping it proved no problem whatsoever and I contentedly resumed a few chapters ahead of where I left off. I’m older now, too, and I know how the story ends – but that doesn’t mean the magic is lost.
Earlier in the chapter, Miller quotes Pullman, quoting Heinrich von Kleist: “We’ve eaten of the tree of knowledge… Paradise is locked and bolted, and the cherubim stand behind us. We have to go on and make the journey round the world to see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back.”
Part of me has always understood that. I read Sorcerer’s Stone on the cusp of adolescence and losing my childhood innocence and trust in books, and I buried myself in anything I could get my hands on to better understand this story that obsessed me. I bought books to explain the symbolism of yew wands and phoenix tail feathers.
Reading The Magician’s Book, I realized what I had lost as a reader. Recently, I picked up A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, for the first time. I will never have the experience of reading it without one eyebrow raised at the classism, the Purity Sue, the incredible coincidences. My experience won’t be the same as my fourth grader who read it last year and loved it, but maybe I will get more out of it now than I might as a child.
My roommate likes to talk about the importance of reading The Giver before you fully understand it, and again as you grow up. She already found that other way into Eden.
On the train, I nearly wept with relief and understanding as a world full of beautiful possibilities opened up in front of me. I would never read like my twelve-year-old self again, but wasn’t that the point of growing up? to achieve a new and improved understanding of our world, without losing any of our wonderment?
No matter how many books about His Dark Materials that I’ve read (and I’ve read many), I never quite understood the meaning of marzipan until that moment on the train.