Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Courage & Fantasy

I recently commented on a post on Charlotte's Library:

"I LOVE this book. I have re-read it a large number of times and recently acquired my own copy. Usually I am a very timid person - not too long ago I was running away from large dogs - but for some reason Maddie's story was a good one"

I've thought more about that now, and I intend to go a little further - I believe that I love that book precisely because it's not so long since I ran away from large dogs.

We learn our courage in two ways. We learn courage in practice, by doing courageous things. And we can learn it in theory, by hearing about courage and being inspired by it. I've learned it both ways. I'm sure all of us have. Sometimes it's easier to see courage when its expressions are different enough from ours, when it's a little further from home, so to speak. If we hear about someone giving a speech in the other county, right before we have to give a speech, it smacks vaguely of a moral - especially if our people are telling us the story constantly, with a certain look in their eye.

But in a fantasy book it's distant from us, this courage. It's something in another place, another time, maybe even another world entirely. Because it's not thrown in our faces as an example for us, we are sometimes more willing to accept it as our own.

I have never faced a werewolf to save the life of my friend. But I've cried and prayed through a choice on whether to follow my own desires or go and sacrifice to help someone else. I have never fought a dragon, but I've taken the SAT. I've never defended my city in hand-to-hand combat, but I've watched my hopes slowly and methodically slip away till I'm left staring at nothing. I've never gone on a dangerous mission to rescue someone from the enemy fortress, but I've had to make the decision to speak out for my beliefs or stay unobtrusively silent.

Courage isn't one thing in what we call "fantasy" and another in what we call "reality." When I invoke myself to bravery I do not say "Remember the great usefulness of doing what I ought to!" I have my journal entry to prove that I said not that, but: "Shall I not be Maddie-brave also?"

I was, that time. It wasn't easy.

But I want to do better next time. It's not like I haven't had enough examples. I want to be brave like Frodo, I want to be brave like Maddie, I want to be brave like Henry York, I want to be brave like Kate Sutton, I want to be brave like Katniss, I want to be brave like Sabriel Abhorsen. Heavens, I sometimes think I would settle for being brave like Arwen, who stayed and waited and endured when everyone else was out doing something, while she patiently stitched her banner of hopefulness.

Maybe next summer I can go off the zipline with my eyes open. Maybe tomorrow I can stop cringing away from the dogs in the yard back behind of mine. Maybe next month I can keep my knees from knocking together as I go onstage. Maybe next week I can speak up when I know I ought to. Maybe next autumn I can be quicker to leave my selfishness behind as I go to serve another.

Maybe I'll go read another book.


  1. I, too, find it spine-stiffening to remember the bravery of fictional characters! I posted a bit about that a while ago-- http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/2008/02/things-that-stuck-in-my-head.html.

    I truly believe that having a store of brave, strong characters in one's head--people who loose everything, but keep going--can be inspirational.

    But I hope I am never in quite the desperate straits that Maddy finds herself in!!!

    (who is Kate Sutton, btw? I recognize all the others)

  2. Kate Sutton is from Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard. You might like it. It's Tudor-age England, with... um... are there fantasy elements or not? There are two schools of thought on that...
    I like it extremely, though I haven't re-read it recently enough to do a review.

  3. Oh yes--I've read that, but only once, and as a grown up. I enjoyed it, but I think it's one I would have Loved more if I'd read it when I was younger....