On Shannon Hale & Childhood Inspiration

I remember being in fourth grade, awkward as ever, but overflowing with stories to tell and words upon words in the corners of my mind. My approach to reading was suicidal, I dove headfirst into every chapter, never looking back and never paying mind to what was happening around me. I remember at the time that I was just beginning to blossom in the world of structured writing, just beginning to grasp the power of words and how simple phrases could affect the thoughts of the mind that was reading it. I remember the shining moment when I got our class an extra hour of gym time – a game of capture the flag on the gravel fields outside – by writing a persuasive piece of writing to the teacher emphasizing traits such as “dexterity”, “agility”, and “strength” (three words you might recognize in any decent video game at the time) as traits acquired through physical exercise. I realized even then that my writing was probably not very impressive, but it stood out among the other pieces written by my classmates, and thus had some hold upon my fourth grade teacher. I had built up quite a reputation that year for being whiny and unwilling, but nevertheless clever. I didn’t have very many friends and I’m not quite sure I valued those I had enough. I had my head either stuck in a book or glued to the computer screen; it’s no wonder that my eyesight suffered as a consequence.

I remember the summer after fourth grade when I first started wearing hard contact lenses at night – lenses that promised to act as the ocular version of braces, preventing my eyesight from getting worse and giving me perfect vision during daytime provided that I wore them every night. I finally got to ditch the glasses that I’d been wearing since second grade and it was a good feeling to be able to run freely without the extra weight on my face. But it was also a hassle: putting them on every night and taking them off every morning and washing them. But I suppose it was worth it. Feeling the weight of spectacles upon my nose now – it was definitely worth it.

Look at its beautiful mosaic cover!!!

Look at its beautiful mosaic cover!!!

It was around this time that I discovered an author by the name of Shannon Hale, her various books nestled on some lower shelf in the fantasy genre of the children’s section. She was a No Name in my eyes, not something popular that my friends read or that the librarian recommended and was certainly not a popular book at that library as I often saw it on the shelf untouched. Nonetheless, the cover of The Goose Girl stuck out at me, some mosaic drawing upon its over. Perhaps it was the alliteration in the title or simply the plainness of its cover that attracted me, but I slowly picked up the book and again, without hesitation, plunged myself into its pages. I was enraptured, turning page after page after page. I was surprised. Some No Name author had impressed me. It had action. It had romance. And it had a female protagonist – a key factor at the time as I had trouble relating to books with male protagonists (perhaps the reason why I never continued on with the Eragon series). It was around the time when Harry Potter was shooting into popularity and when boys were often the main characters in novels of the fantasy genre. It excited me (perhaps the inner feminist in me?). It gave me power when there was no one in my life I could turn to and talk to with ease. Books were an escape.

In sixth grade, my friends and I encouraged by our teacher started a small elementary school newspaper. It featured articles mainly written by our class, but also from other grades and other students. Everything was hand done. We printed out the articles in columns, cut them out, and taped them down with invisible tape. Pictures were resized (mostly by cutting) and taped upon the page. I was part of the lucky few that got to work with layout and witness its entire process. It was breathtaking. It was beautiful. It may have been a small and silly publication with a multitude of errors, but hey, it was ours.

I remember writing an article, a book review, on The Goose Girl. Incorporating some of that persuasive writing ability that I had acquired in fifth grade, I made the novel sound to be more than it could be (or at least I hope so in an elementary standard). I’m sure I didn’t do Shannon Hale justice, but it was full of love and adoration for her and for her writing. I remember walking into the our little school library a week after and being approached by the librarian (who was friendly and knew many students quite well…I miss her) who said that she was approached by a student that wanted to read The Goose Girl after hearing about it in my book review. I was thrilled. She then informed me that our library didn’t actually carry the book. Not surprising since I did say Shannon Hale was a No Name among my friends (but certainly not a No Name to me after reading her books!). I wrote the book’s name on a piece of paper and submitted it (along with the names of other books of the series) in suggested books to purchase basket. Surely enough, the book appeared about a week later. It was a gratifying moment. I felt as if I had accomplished something…something small but yet big in my heart. I loved the school library and to have my opinions and thoughts mattered meant a lot to me. Our librarian was thoughtful and worked hard to keep our library buzzing. The library was a popular place (mostly on rainy days, often in Vancouver) and she was definitely one of the reasons why. I knew that if the book was available that someday some other kid would read it (if only because they had read almost every other book in the library due to its small size) and I hoped that it would affect someone the way it affected me. Though unlikely for that particular book to have that effect, it was another book in the library…and I believe this now more than ever, that books are building blocks to perspective, to imagination, and to developing ourselves. I had given something back to the community in a very small way, but still one that mattered so very much to me.

I proceeded to read several others of Hale’s books: Princess Academy, and the sequels to The Goose Girl: Enna Burning and River Secrets. That was the expanse of her books on the shelf at the time and I thought to myself, “This is it. There’s no more from her”. At the time, the library was the world to me and I was not yet fully experienced with Google which was only blossoming at the time. She disappeared for a very long time.

I yearned for more. Needed more. So I turned to other books to satisfy me. But nothing ever satisfied me as much as reading The Goose Girl for the first time. I think it was then that I realized how much writing and reading – how much language meant to me. I knew I would not be able to escape it for the rest of my life.

I chanced upon her name a couple of months ago at Indigo; a couple of her books were on sale. I was flabbergasted – she was gone to me, I thought she had stopped writing, I thought she disappeared. But here she was, alive and right in front of me. I know it’s an exaggeration to say since Shannon Hale was not physically standing there…but her books were. And that was enough. I had to read them. I had to read them all.

I dove into Austenland, Midnight in Austenland, Ever After High, and The Actor and the Housewife. One after the other. I enjoyed them all thoroughly. Ever After High was a burst of nostalgia for The Goose Girl was a fairy tale (rewritten). But the other three novels were a surprise to me for I had known Hale as a children’s author and was surprised to read her writing intended for an adult audience. Having strong female protagonists (YES!!!) comforted me and I easily slipped into her stories. The romance felt real more so than the fairy tale ones, than the stories of princesses and princes. It was a beautiful experience and I’m grateful for her contributions to the literary world.

The Actor and the Housewife awakened a new yearning in me and with that, a new understanding. I wanted a best friend, a relationship as fulfilling as the one that leapt out at me from the pages. I wanted a Felix Callahan in my life. Someone who understood without the words explaining it, someone who feels like you’ve known forever, someone who doesn’t need to be by your side or talking to you everyday to still be your friend. And I suppose I also related to that feeling, to that kind of existence. Because the internet is kind of like that. You have friends from all around the world that you don’t necessarily talk to every day but still get along with right away once you find the time. Like Becky and Felix in the novel with their telephone conversations, I have found so much fulfillment talking with people miles away. Distance didn’t matter to them. And I realized, distance shouldn’t bother me either.

Shannon Hale, I know you’ll never read this, but I thought it’d be nice to declare. You have inspired me, connected to me, and reached me with your novels in a way I’ll always remember. Thank you. And please, please keep writing.

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One thought on “On Shannon Hale & Childhood Inspiration

  1. Nessa, this is beautiful. I know how you feel about books. I’ve read some that I prayed would never ever end, for surely the characters were living and breathing in the pages. Some, I realized I was slowing down after reaching the halfway point…….already grieving the loss. They are the books that I’ve purchased time and time again, and given away time and time again. There, surely more than words. Though I might normally shy away, I’ve been known to cuss the silence between books, like you, having read everything I can find and still wanting.

    To read is to travel, to live beyond the constraints of geography and time. It is to carry another’s memory in our bones. I personally believe it one of life’s greatest treasures. I laughed when you described the cover. At times when I’ve been between books and wanting for words, I scan the covers (one of many reasons I resist the e-book revolution). Some of my favorite books were purchased for no other reason than a cover that pulled me from the safety of names I know. One I immediately think of is “The Time Traveler’s Wife”. The cover is magical……and the story didn’t disappoint me.

    As for friends, they are like angels. You don’t have to see them to know they’re there. ~ We are here. We are all right here. ~ Ever with love, Bobbie

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