Sure, some people read books and are inspired by them; they’re influenced by them; they are changed by them. It’s normal. It’s part of the wonder of, especially I think, fantasy literature. That world just beyond the mirror, that glen just over the bend that blinks in and out of existence. It reflects the worlds we want to exist, lingering just there on the edge of what we see.
Except, for most of the fifth grade, I didn’t just like the Narnia books: I believed them. I hoped in them. I wrote strange notes to Aslan (some of which I still have) asking him to use me, to send me on missions because I was ready and willing. I knew that one couldn’t get to Narnia by thinking about it. That was one of the first rules. But I figured no one on earth had tried as hard as I did, and that had to count for something.
I remember sitting in the grass behind my house in Dalton, MA, spread-eagled, eyes closed, while the summer sun made my face warm. I remember being utterly alone, enveloping myself in the sights and sounds of the season, letting Nature swallow me whole. I believed with all my heart and soul that I was going to be taken that day. That Aslan would scoop me up and bring me out of this stupid world, full of sadness and confusing emotions and loneliness, and make me someone special.
But he never came, and I felt defeat and sadness like I never had before.
When I finally couldn’t stand it any longer, I drew my legs up under my chin and stared down at the weeping willow tree, sadly unanimated. No dryad. No magic. Nothing. I was alone in my own world with my sick father, my crumbling mother, and more feelings and frustrations than I knew how to cope with. I remember feeling, above all, that I was vastly different from everyone else (who doesn’t at that age?) and that no one really understood what I was going through. No one understood the pain my father was in (though I recall talking to our guidance counselor, I don’t remember any particularly good advice) or the stress my mother had to endure, holding up our entire family as she did. But Narnia let me escape all that, and even then it had failed me. When I needed it the most, it wasn’t there. (I think at last count I read the entire series six times over until a teacher kindly suggested I read something else; I know I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at least ten times.)
Time passed. I found other worlds. I followed Meg Murry into cells and across planets; I gallivanted across the Shire and Middle-Earth with the hobbits; I sought out Exalibur. But nothing ever moved me the way Narnia did. Nothing struck me, as Narnia had, had made me believe so firmly in something that wasn’t real.
Except, there’s the rub. Yes, Narnia failed me in not being a real place. But it didn’t stop me from pretending otherwise. It didn’t stop me from crossing over to my other worlds, from painting my own landscapes and passing through my own mirrors. Narnia stayed with me as the first world to which I truly escaped. It served as a point of origin for my desire to write. I’ve written plenty of secondary fantasy worlds, but Pilgrim of the Sky and most of my early work all holds a “through the wardrobe” sort of feel. And I think it’s important that this book has come first. Because, in my evolution as a storyteller, Narnia came first.
Without Narnia’s grave disappointment, I would never have tried so hard to find it again.