I can remember specifically discovering certain stories when I was younger that I instantly or almost instantly fell in love with. One that I recall brought me to the frozen tundra of a world that had been cursed by a witch and who’s people desperately needed spring again, another immersed me in history and taught me how difficult life might have been just 100 years ago for a girl in a covered wagon, another told me the story of a boy who could write anything and have it come to life, another about a man who could read anything and have it come to life, and yet another about some orphans who had a lot of hardships to face, just to name a few. I would always show them to my family, the people who were most important in my life. Sometimes my findings were met with huge amounts of skepticism and even cynicism, sometimes they were met with encouragement and excitement. But they were all important to me, these stories. I learned a specific lesson in each book that I picked up.
If you are a reader, the kind who gets hooked on stories and basically lives with them in your head for the duration of the time you read the book or the series, and sometimes even after that. The kind who gets so involved that after a few pages of a good book the words melt away and you are seeing pictures in front of you instead. The kind who a person could find up at 2 am just to get in that 1 last chapter, and the kind who lets books change your heart and teach you truth that you didn’t know. This is the kind of reader I am and also many of the reasons why I love books so much. When I was young I didn’t know all of this though, I just knew that I loved them and that for some reason I needed good stories.
Consequentially, when the stories I loved were misunderstood by the people around me, my little 11 and 12-year-old self was crushed. How could they understand me if they didn’t understand some of the things I loved so much? That’s at least how it felt.
One such story that I remember getting a lot of negative feedback from was called “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. When I discovered it I was a little skeptical, but after a closer look I found out that it would be a story that I came to cherish, like so many others. However, when my mother saw how much I loved it and saw bits and pieces of the movie for the first time, she was concerned. Perhaps reasonably so. It is a little on the creepy side. So when she looked at the screen and saw Count Olaf slinking away after another attempt at killing the three orphans in the story, or heard Lemony Snicket warn you about watching any further because it would be difficult to take, or saw the dismal looks on Violet, Klaus and Sonny’s faces when they are disappointed yet again by a guardian who refuses to see reason, she was skeptical. She probably even asked herself.. “Why would my daughter want to read something like this?”
And now to the point. Why would a child want to read or watch something with so much evil and darkness in it? Why not read a happier story about children who never have to face such things? Children who’s worst problems are faced at school with friends and at home with family. Problems that are I’m sure very difficult. But they don’t include a man with a million disguises who is responsible for your parents death and who will never cease to make you and your siblings perpetually unsteady and unsafe.
When I looked at the story, I saw something very different from what my mother saw. There was darkness and danger there and I knew that. But even though the story was eaten up by it, it was not defined by it. What I saw when I looked at the story were three children who had been dealt some of the worst cards a person can get. They didn’t ask for it and they didn’t want it but it’s what they got. What they do with it is the beautiful part.
I saw three children who had hardships like me, but never gave up hope. Hope that something would work out for the better for them, hope that they would figure out all the secrets that their parents tried to keep them from, hope that even though things looked dark there was still so much good in the world. I saw a brother and sister who always tried to see the best in each other, who were devoted to figuring this out together until the very end. I saw resilience, hopefulness, courage, bravery, resourcefulness, ingenuity, wit and genuine joy when they found small places of sanctuary throughout the stories. I saw kids who dealt with real evil, and triumphed over it because they were smart, and hopeful and good. That’s why I fell in love with the story.
I knew even then what evil was, and although I may not have known the full extent of what it can accomplish ( I may not even know that now). I knew that it surpassed things like me being worried about my friends liking me enough or whether or not I could go to a certain school function that I wanted to go to. I knew that there was real evil in the world, and I wanted to know how to face it. These characters taught me how, and they did so in very real ways.
Sometimes, all the terrible things about the world are not the things that are most difficult for us to fight. The most difficult things tend to come from inside us. For example, if you are going through a situation that is perplexing and difficult to know what to do with you might think about it often, write some things down, talk to a few people about it, maybe even talk to yourself about it. But when it comes down to it and you lay down to sleep at night your head and heart are not troubled by this thing unless it directly affects something about you or those closest to you. If you lay down to sleep at night and dream of your child being in some type of terrible danger and you are trying to save them because you know that you are the person that they rely on more than anyone, or you dream that you are calling to a loved one who has already died, hoping to get a response because you don’t want them to be gone, or you think before you close your eyes “Why do I even exist? What is my purpose here?” Then you know how difficult it is sometimes to pull yourself up out of those thoughts.
To know and love characters who face real and difficult evils like loneliness, longing, fear, depression, angst and so on. And then to watch those characters conquer those things with courage, kindness and ingenuity is like handing someone a cup of hot tea with honey and lemon when they are very sick. Then saying to them ” Don’t worry, I know how you feel and you will get better soon.” It doesn’t fix the problem but it does give you a palpable, soothing, heartwarming remedy that can help you if you let it.
I tend to be drawn toward stories that are full of difficulties and hardships, sometimes they come across as creepy and dark and I still get questioning looks every now and then. But I know that the darker the dark, the brighter the light is. And that’s truly why I love them.
The story I mentioned is just one example that I thought would be appropriate for this subject. But what I mean to say is this : don’t judge a book by its cover. Ask the question “What is this story defined by?” If it’s defined by truth, love and hopefulness at its core, then you’ve probably found a good one.