The diary that was to have been featured today is not available, so it’s time for an Open Forum. Today we’ll talk about becoming the book you love most.
Do you remember how, in the chilling film “Fahrenheit 451,” the protagonist, Guy Montag, encountered a forest full of people who were “walking books”?
In the dystopia depicted in the film (based on the book by Ray Bradbury), “firemen” went around burning any books they found. Possession of books was completely forbidden. Only government-approved forms of entertainment, such as TV and radio, were allowed. It’s been a long time since I saw the film but I remember the TV screen filled an entire wall in Guy Montag’s house. His wife had little shells in her ears, like earphones, through which she listened to a steady stream of music or whatever programming was permitted.
But in the forest there were people who’d memorized their favorite books. They spent their days reciting them so they wouldn’t forget the well-loved words. One of them walked up to Montag and said, “I’m (name of book). I can recite myself for you whenever you like!”
I’ve never forgotten that scene. I remember how amazed and touched I was that people would do that. What an invisible boon it would be to have memorized one’s favorite book! No one could see it. No one could steal or burn it if you kept quiet about it. There was another fictional dystopia, A Handmaid’s Tale, in which books were not permitted. Handmaids were doomed to a boring life.
Put to such a test, which book would YOU be? I’ve just had a great deal of fun wondering which book I’d choose. The first two books that came to mind, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, I rejected, thinking a lot of other people would choose them. Then I thought about Margery Sharp’s Cluny Brown, surely one of the most engaging heroines ever to inhabit the world of fiction. As many times as I’ve read that book, it can still make me laugh. Or what about Margaret Drabble’s The Realms of Gold? The character of Frances is one of the most interesting fictional women I’ve ever encountered—her unflinching honesty about herself (“I am a vain and self-satisfied woman. I stole all this from Nature and got it for myself”), her willingness to take risks, and her astonishing ability to make herself comfortable wherever she happens to be--a nice address in London, an archaeological dig in the Middle East, or an abandoned cottage—make her larger than life.
Still another possibility was Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Eagle of the Ninth, a story that never fails to move me, about a young Roman soldier whose life did not turn out the way he’d planned it.
Having considered all these, I’ve now chosen my book. It would be Magdalen Rising,by Elizabeth Cunningham. The original title was Daughter of the Shining Isles, which is why I picked it up from the library bookshelf in the first place. Two words in the title tipped me off that this novel would be Goddess-related: “daughter” and “isles.” The Craft of the Wise emphasizes the female principle and “isles” made me think immediately of the Isle of Avalon, the Land of Apples in the West, where we go when we die.
Talk about independent, irrepressible heroines—Maeve is even more engaging (and intelligent) than Cluny Brown, even more brutally honest than Frances. When the book opens, she’s a girl living on an island with her mothers—all eight of them. They’re Goddess-Witches who control the weather. (I particularly liked the mother who was of a lachrymose disposition and therefore expressed herself in fogs and mists.)
Maeve, a feisty red-haired teenager, leaves the shining isles to go off to college—but the college is the College of Druids on the Isle of Mona, and the year is A.D. 15! One of her fellow students is a quiet, dark-eyed young man from the East, whose name is Esus—and thereby hangs a tale.
Yes, this would be my book if I were to become a walking book: as Maeve I’d fill your ears with my exploits and shock you with my hobbies! You’d never be the same again. I certainly wasn’t after I read Magdalen Rising.
Now—if the worst came to pass and books were forbidden, tell us which book YOU would be, and why! We’ve drawn up our chairs and now we’re looking at you, eager to hear which book you’ll tell us about…