sometimes you write something, and it seems fine, but upon a later rereading you realize by not telling the whole story the piece doesn’t work, so you delete it, and try again.
If Evangeline could name her top three favorite places to visit on the weekend, she would say the library, the pool and the park, in that order. My girl, she loves getting new books. In Pittsburgh, we are incredibly lucky to have the Carnegie Library system, so on any given Saturday I can ask E if she wants to go to the library with the dinosaur or the library with the trains she likes or the library with the tent…you get the idea. On our most recent trip, she gravitated toward several beautifully illustrated fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm. These were not the Disney-ified versions of fairy tales – these were the real deal, and E was entranced. Carefully, she selected Sleeping Beauty, The Snow Queen, and Snow White to take home.
I was nervous, at first, to read them to her – concerned about my ability to handle her questions about things like evil and murder. Taking a cue from my friend Hattie, who believes children take from stories what they are able to handle that is age-appropriate, I took a breath and read to her. And it worked out just fine! Perhaps understanding her own capacity better than I do, she quickly realized the authentic tale of Snow White wasn’t appealing, but as for the other two? She held her breath for two weeks straight as we read, and read, and read again the tale of the wicked snow queen and she squealed with joy every time we read about princess Aurora and the kingdom that slept for one hundred years.
In so many ways, her favorite reading material already leans toward the dark and macabre – we spent nearly a month on a book about a haunted train. A haunted train people. That’s some scary sugar.* When she is older, hiding beneath her bedspread, flashlight in hand, totally creeped out by The Shining, I’ll know her the root of her fascination began like mine did – with real fairy tales, read on my dad’s lap.
Sam tends to worry a bit more than I do about stories being too scary for Evangeline, and I understand where he is coming from, but whether we like it or not she is already being exposed to the darkness and deceit that exists in the world. One of her best friends at school, Brandon, has recounted the plot of “The Lion King” to her endlessly – and another of her close friends is fatherless because her father died before she was born. Fiction and real life both are doing their part to prevent our instincts to over-shelter, over-protect our toddler.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had my own fascination with darker stories, beginning with my father’s recreation of some of the more famous myths, told around the campfire late at night. One of the first stories I remember hearing is the tale of Medusa, with her hair made of venomous snakes and her ability to turn men to stone – if that didn’t keep me awake at night then the grotesque clown created by Stephen King in It wasn’t likely too.
Both of my parents are big readers, but I definitely get my love of certain genres from my dad. Whether the story is about a boy who can travel across time and through worlds, or an accidental outbreak of a flu that destroys most of the world, or forbidden love causing the fall of great kingdoms, my dad exposed me to genres a lot of girls in their young adulthoods, I think, missed. As an English teacher, he also exposed me to the more traditional Great Works, and while I never took to Hemingway I certainly did to Austen, and I’m certainly grateful for that as well. But I’m honestly more grateful for the novels by Stephen King, Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson and Dan Simmons that he slipped me than I am for The Heart of Darkness – the education I was lucky enough to receive would have ensured I read those novels, but only a father whose life is made up of books would make sure I had access to Dennis Lehane.
Reading helps us understand the world, and by tackling difficult subjects in literature before I had to confront them in my real life, and I think it helped enormously. V.C. Andrews once said by the time she actually could afford a trip to Paris, upon her arrival she realized she had already been there – in books. I think reading about the fantastic, the scary, the horrific works in much the same way – senseless mass shootings and wars raged by corrupt governments make never make logical sense, but at least the first time I confronted evil it was in my bedroom, under the covers, flashlight in one hand and book in the other, my parents down the hall, close enough to call if I grew scared but far enough away to let me establish my own reading world.