The new Juliet Marillier book arrived last Thursday. It wouldn’t be honest of me to say I’ve waited for it for years, because the truth is I’ve only realized it was coming out a month ago. But ever since Mr. Hayes, my 6th grade librarian, introduced me to the first of the now 6-book-series, I have been trapped in the Otherworld created by Juliet, and inspired by the magic she wove with her words.
Mr. Hayes worked at Mansfeld Middle School as the librarian. I can’t recall any of his features clearly now, only that he had a slight limp. In a way, he’s like Mr. Ollivanders in Harry Potter. He knew every new book that came into the medium-sized middle school library, and kept track of what books each student had read. At least, he remembered my book list. But perhaps, it was my love of books and constant presence in his domain that made us bond. One afternoon when I walked in, planning to check out one or two books to read for the afternoon, he beckoned me over to the middle shelf at the very back of the room.
“Three new books just came in today, and I saved them for you.” He had a weary sort of smile. Managing the library wasn’t hard work, but maybe getting along with teenagers was. I wouldn’t know. He pulled Daughter of the Forest out from the very bottom of the 5-story bookshelf. The cover was that of a girl with her eyes closed, hands stretched out, ragged hair, and a swan in the distance. “Try it.” He shoved it into my hands.
I thanked him and sat down on the carpeted floor. From the first page, I couldn’t move my eyes to notice anything else. I checked the book out when the library closed an hour later, and walked with my nose stuck in it to the university library several blocks down, and read to 7pm, when Dad came to collect me. That night I snuggled in a corner of my bed with the book and cried so many times that when I woke the next morning my eyes were swollen and puffy.
After that, I sped through the next two books, though afterwards I felt a bit guilty. Speeding through too many good books too fast, I think, should fall under the category of gluttony. I simply didn’t know when to stop.
I have trouble putting my finger on what elements exactly attracted me to these books though. Peeling through the beautiful language, the magic, the calmness and romance, what really fills my eyes with tears is the heroine’s strong sense of family loyalty. A brother, a sister, the bond of brotherhood and kinship drove the characters to show extreme strength of character and courage in the face of unimaginable dangers. I was fascinated and jealous. How does it feel to have a beautiful older sister who laughs and dances? And a band of protective brothers that are either humorous or gentle as circumstances demanded? I was especially envious of the girl growing up youngest of seven, with six older brothers, some fearless warriors, others erudite scholars. Although when I wrote that down in the monthly book report, my Language Arts teacher asked me if they were married. I never liked her much anyway.
Romantic love in the books was described as a bolt of lightning, that strikes when it will and clutches at the heart and becomes a lodestar that guides life. Family love wasn’t so obvious, it was gentler, quieter, it flowed good and strong in the background, and influenced decisions every bit as much as romantic love did. One argument in the book comes strongly to mind when an uncle and nephew were discussing war plans. The uncle advises caution while the nephew wants action. Pushed beyond endurance, the uncle snaps, “That is all very well for you. You have no wife and family. You’re without hostages to the future!”
Hostages. It took some time for the accuracy of that description to sink in. When it did, I was struck by how realistic, how exactly right, it sounded. Yes, every one of our loved ones, parents, siblings, and the children we will one day have, are all hostages kidnapped from us by fate, so that with every decision, we ask ourselves, “how will they be affected by it?” And the needs to be near, to be close, to provide and care for, guide everything we set our hands to. If it is a burden, then it is a glad one. For why else do we go through this world seeking for more hostages as we fall in love, date, and marry? How do we dare open our hearts and minds and bodies to allow in someone else, someone so close to the soul, that every hurt and pain, joy and sorrow must be shared? For with love comes great fear, and so we must train our hearts to be brave.
I count myself lucky, and each day send prayers of thanksgiving to God above that He has provided me with wise and healthy parents, an intelligent and sensitive brother (who turns 11 today =) a very happy birthday to Jimi), and a boyfriend who’s brave enough to battle by my side through time and space for a dream we share. While they live, I have no right to be weak, or to mope, or to be anything else other than brimming with hope, bursting with love, and overflowing with joy. The strength I see in the characters I love, I must have myself also, for I know others will depend on it.
And so we go through life, surrendering our parents, siblings, lovers, friends (and sisters bonded under the moon or cross =P ) as hostages so that their tears shape our decisions, their laughter our joy. And with such courage and love and loyalty, I am certain, that our life stories will be just as bright and true as the girls I have loved for so many years, who live in Juliet’s book.