Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Alchemy of Authors

Last month, I talked about some of my favorite stories that transform our world into someplace new. But, like I'd said, I also really respect authors who create their own unique worlds. There's so much thought and work that goes into creating entire worlds out of nothing more than thought. What rules dictate the world? What does it look like? Who lives in it? What are its marvels? Its troubles? It is the closest mortal man has to becoming a god. It is the purest, most imaginative form of magic we know.

While he rides the line between these two types of storytellers, I think Neil Gaiman belongs more to this group than the other. While many of his stories begin in our reality, they tend to take cliff-dives off into marvelous worlds completely unlike ours. Whether it's graveyards filled with ghosts or the gap between worlds throughout London or the background of the universe where only gods may play, Gaiman’s stories may share space with our reality but they are definitely not our world. They exists with their own sets of rules and norms that are at once strange and yet make perfect sense. With a whimsical sense of humor, that balances an oft disturbing darkness, he makes you think, no matter how strange his world is, your own may be just as arbitrary and odd. Perhaps more so.

J.K. Rowling did this too in her Harry Potter series; essentially taking the most ordinary of us and thrusting him into a world of magic. Say whatever you want about the popular children's series, but you simply cannot fault the world Rowling built. From paintings that move to letters that talk, from Quidditch to Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, everything in her wizarding world is fascinating and wonderful to look at. She created a place that entire generations of readers never wanted to leave. Still don't.

But, of all the worlds I've been to traveling through the pages of a book, Phillip Pullman's Golden Compass series, His Dark Materials, pulled me in the deepest, I think. My friend had turned me onto the series, lending me the full-cast audiobook recording. After the first few chapters, I bought a paperback copy as well, not wanting to miss a single word. By the end of the book, without giving away any spoilers, I must say, The Amber Spyglass left me earbuds plugged in, book pulled up to my face, and eyes uninhibitedly crying on a public city bus on my way home from work, not even caring who was watching because, at the time, Pullman’s world, full of soul-touching magic and multi-dimensional intrigue, felt more real and more impactful than my own. It is the highest compliment I can pay an author and one I hope to one day live up to as well.

As I've said before, these fictional and author-built worlds, that are often so very different from our own, shine insightful lights on our own world. They make us throw a mirror up against our world and forces us to look at it differently. See what's right about it. What's not. There's an admirable and contagious magic in that. These types of stories challenges us; if these authors can create whole worlds out of nothing--arrange a chaos of words built phrase by well-crafted phrase into places and people that endear and enchant, that question and conquer--couldn't we, as ordinary and grounded in the reality of our world as we are, change and transform our world into something marvelous too?

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