We all have that one book. That book that took us from one thing and changed us into something else. That book that took the broken pieces and put them right. Sometimes it is directly the story inside the book. Sometimes it is just the first book you picked up after something terrible.
I searched for ages to find a quote or anything about how books can heal someone. I mean, a good hour on the internet was bound to pull up something. It was not to be.
Frankly, I probably should not have been surprised that this search turned up so little as, I suppose, it is not something people are usually very open about.
I was one of those strange kids who started reading really young (Sherlock Holmes at 7 was a bit early… no wonder I’m such a paranoid adult) and had devoured entire libraries by the time I was 12. History was a favorite subject of mine, but Arthurian Legend and Oz followed me everywhere as a child.
Certain books left such an impact on my life that I can tell you exactly how old I was and what was going on when I read it.
The first time I read The Wizard of Oz we had just moved from Iowa to the rural Midwest (yes, Iowa is in the Midwest, but we were in a pretty large city). I was alone, all my friends were over a nine hour drive away. Yes, we were closer to my grandparents (whom I loved dearly )and had my two siblings (but, we all kind of hated each other – except my little brother… he has always been sweet), but we were 20 minutes away from the nearest town and my parents had plans to homeschool us.
In hindsight, this was a bit of a dangerous thing to do to a very social kid. My siblings did not particularly like people, but I did. I loved people and the diversity that they created. And, I can tell you that (again, hindsight) that’s when the depression started. All the signs were there: distancing oneself from loved ones, irritability, lack of motivation, etc. I cared more about my book characters than about the people in the tangible world around me – this is, perhaps, due to the fact that the other kids around my age were more interested in country music and boys than actual knowledge (knowledge: that which I valued more than boys and stupid songs about partying and sex).
As you can imagine, this need to be intelligent (it was really all I had) paired with the ability to empathize and the desire to fit in was the perfect recipe for bullying. I had gone from a world where I was liked and respected to a world where I was disliked for being different.
Rather the opposite to Dorothy. But, the story gave me the hope that it would get better. I started revelling in the fact I was different than them and their cruelty still hurt. I did fight back because it hurt and I could not understand why they did not like me. I was often reminded that I had never been one to tolerate bullying, but it had never been aimed at me before. After I realized that if it was not me they were being cruel to, it would be my sister or one of the other kids so I started behaving so they would focus their energy on me and not the others. They were cruel, but kids can be. I was always terrified that if I showed any sign of weakness, they would tear into it (and they often did).
When my best (and, really only close) friend was killed in a car accident, I sank into a time where I did absolutely nothing but read. I lost my interest in science (gone, then, was my desire to work at NASA), my desire to be a photographer for National Geographic slipped into a coma… other things I was good at slipped away. I think I was just scared that if I let anyone close again they would stab me in the back or leave and never come back.
That was when I found Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: Here There Be Dragons. A simple and, rather poorly-written first book to (what I later discovered to be) a series that changed my life more than Harry Potter.
What was it about the story that made it so impactful?
I, honestly, have no idea.
Did it fix my problems? No. But, it did change how I looked at things. My weaknesses were now my strengths. So what if I value empathy? So what if I prefer classic rock to modern country? I was given my talents and my passions for a reason – even if that reason still isn’t clear nearly 10 years later.
I suggest Here There Be Dragons whenever and wherever I see or hear or read about someone struggling with depression. Not because it is an obsession of mine, but because if it impacted my life so strongly. If it changed me, certainly it could change someone else’s.
I think, though, if I have learned anything from James A. Owen, it would be that everyone has a voice. Everyone’s experiences leave them with a unique window into the world – a window no one else can even imagine looking through unless they, too, have had the exact same experiences. You never know what insecurities or terrible wounds a person carries with them.
Reading this series, though, gave a depressed and extremely anxious 13 year old a dream and a purpose. I was going to write a book. I was going to write a story that was going to change the world. Even if the only world it changed was that of one person.