Self-exploration through Mordor, Massachusetts, and the Mediterranean Sea

Hello lovelies,

Today, I’m sharing a personal narrative I wrote for my AP English Lang class. I talk about the effect three dear books have had on my life. It was challenging, inspiring, and wonderful for me to share my experience as a reader. I hope you enjoy it!

Angry voices struck the air. The woods failed to conceal the spite-filled argument. Glassy droplets landed dangerously near the open pages. I tried to wipe an errant tear away from my eye, yet the stream wouldn’t stop. Reaching out to comfort the girl, I found a barrier. As much as I tried to get past it, I was stuck. Realizing I had to go, I closed Little Women.

Growth found within written words, the prospect of change

Books. Food for the mind. Portals into new worlds. They have nourished me throughout my childhood. Almost every important memory can be tied to reading. A place of comfort, yet also a place of confrontation. The March sisters, the Fellowship, and Aeneas modeled traits I tried to nurture, expressed arguments I related to, and experienced adventures I desired. I couldn’t tell you when this event happened or on what page, but the impact is clear. The traces of Louisa May Alcott, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Vergil can be found through my whole psyche.

On and on, he journeyed, beset by fortune and foundation lost

At twelve years old, I first encountered Aeneas among the pages of my Latin textbook. A raindrop in the ocean of epic protagonists, he blended in with every other hero I’d met up to that point, bursting with manly pride, fighting to gain glory. I stuffed him in my closet of heroes, until I entered high school, when a second meeting proved to be the charm. I realized that Odysseus of Ithaca could not compare to the Trojan in magnanimity and transparency. What made his story different from the other epics?

When I learned I’d be translating the Aeneid in AP Latin, I squealed in excitement. Like every other classically educated child, I had read some form of it: in D’Aulaire’s beautifully illustrated books and Fagles or Fitzgerald’s interpretations. But reading the Latin was sacred. I had finally summited this Mt. Everest of my budding career in the classics. The spirit of the original language was entrancing, the beauty incomparable. Latin lent itself to this narrative of change and chaos within Aeneas’s life.

Mortal met with heaven, the spirit of a wayfarer

Aeneas was just as human as I, despite having a gorgeous goddess as his mother and a lofty position as royalty. As he overcame struggles, I saw myself battling their parallels in my own reality. I watched among the smoky ruins of Ilium as the prince was caught between rescuing his wife, though trapped and certainly doomed to die, and saving his family from further division and destruction. My heart almost tore in two, trying to understand the permanent separation of these lovers. The Latin captured his vulnerability that the English failed to express.

Fire descended from the sky, impending doom

The sky had darkened outside my house, all silent. I climbed into my bed, mentally exhausted from grueling Latin translations and complicated algebra. Flipping on the booklight, I opened The Fellowship of the Ring, careful not to wake my sister. Escape awaited me in Middle Earth. Minutes passed, or was it hours? The air grew chill, my palms sweaty. The Nazgul screeched outside my window. Something moved in the dark corners of my bedroom. I tucked my feet closer, paranoid that Gollum would poke me with his slimy paws. When my eyes closed, Gandalf’s words echoed through the landscape of Middle Earth: “For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

After that nightmarish evening, my mind couldn’t understand the underlying themes. What did it mean? The rest of my journey proceeded with questions. The plot enveloped me. I knew there was more than a typical good versus evil story. There had to be more.

The fight of good versus evil impacted me more than I would have predicted. It paralleled the Bible, an ever-going battle to finally defeat evil. Aragorn, the promised king, remained hidden for years in the wilderness as Jesus had before his own ministry. Frodo, ringbearer, was unpretentious, quietly taking every rebuke or taunt and relying on internal strength to defeat the power of Sauron, as Christ had born the word of every naysayer to defeat death altogether.

The expanse and intricacy of Tolkien’s universe both puzzled and filled me with admiration. It still stands as the pinnacle of fantasy, the grand standard to which all must bow. How could I even think to compare? I couldn’t. Yet, I could certainly pay homage.

Every NaNoWriMo, I saw bloggers post about their writing projects and works-in-progress. I envied their creativity and courage to write something so personal and share it with the world. I was able to write short pieces of poetry and insightful literary analysis essays but could not bring myself to begin a novel. I felt this imaginary pressure to keep up with the blogosphere and to join the ranks of other young authors. That brilliant stroke of genius would never come, I despaired. Yet, I discovered it, thinking of the creation of Middle Earth. I took the plunge last year and began writing a novel, something I would never have the capability to do without the influence of Tolkien and his groundbreaking attention to detail as a master artist. The expanse of his world-building techniques seeded my ideas as I built my own world and cast of characters, hoping to impart something more than cliché and make my own mark in fantasy.

Wildflowers dotted the moor, a strange beauty

I huddled underneath my covers. Laughter rang in my ears. The sunlight shone, illuminating the already bright smiles on everyone’s faces despite the crisp spring air which dotted my skin with goosebumps. I followed the March sisters as Meg wed John Brooke. Tears of happiness lined my cheeks as if my own sister was leaving home. In distinct ways, I related to each girl: Meg, responsible and maternal; Jo, often wild and angry, a blossoming writer; Beth, the introvert who needed quiet; and Amy, a talented artist torn between childhood and adulthood. Their squabbles paralleled mine with my sister, huge in the moment but, in reality, inconsequential. I’m glad to this day that my sister did not burn my writing notebook.

If I identified with a particular March, it would be Jo. My own cheeks burned with shame for her outbursts, my eyes overflowed with tears during quiet reflection after her hurtful arguments. Like Jo, I am headstrong, proud to the point of refusing good advice. Her own literary successes fueled an inner desire to write and to be in print – one which often hid in fear of disapproval or failure. Like her first stories, my own felt formulaic and false. Yet here I am, trying to craft a novel. In the event of a raging fire, I’d attempt to rescue two books: my Bible and Little Women. The cover is worn from annual readings, the pages wrinkled from dried tears.

There were no huge fire-breathing dragons or conniving sorcerers to vanquish, yet I knew from living in the shadow of the March sisters that day-to-day life, while sometimes monotonous, surpassed mere routine. I have seen mystery and heartbreak, intrigue and deception, true adventure and exploration. Heartbreak became real to me through these novels.  Mourning when their father passed, I shed hot tears, craved to hold Demi and Daisy safe in my arms, and tell them it would be alright, only to realize they existed in a world I could not enter. I argued incessantly with Jo in my mind, disagreeing with her choice to reject Laurie’s proposal even as I knew she was right. Watching Aeneas decide to consciously leave his wife behind in a burning building stopped me. How can you consciously leave the love of your life, knowing that you’ll never meet again? As Frodo sneaked silently away from the troop, my whole being ached. He must have felt like a traitor yet he knew within that it was necessary to bring the ring to Mordor.

Through my exploration of Middle Earth, the ancient world of the Greeks and Trojans, and Civil War era Massachusetts, I have come to know myself better. Reading has become a form of self-exploration I never knew existed. I changed between the first and the last page of these beloved tales. Reading about the exploits of the Trojans made me realize how grateful I was for my home and stable life, how I often fail to lead as I should, and how courage is not the total absence of fear but rather the ability to overcome and deal with it. Delving into the March home forced me to appreciate the small wonders around me and my relationships with my family, not knowing when loss would come unannounced. The epic journey through Middle Earth provided a fantastical look at life and a subtle reminder to my faith. We can make anything interesting if we only try.

I would love to hear your thoughts! What books hold a place in your heart?

live creatively,

Gaby

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