According to my mom, I was a bit slow to start reading. My sister started when she was four, but I only learned after I’d left kindergarten. I caught on pretty fast, though – I started reading Harry Potter when I was six. Barely a year later, I read 172 pages in a single weekend. (I was very proud.) I devoured books like chocolate. I went on hundreds of quests with hundreds of adventurers. I learned important lessons about family, trust, loss, friendship, sorrow, love, betrayal, duty, and the importance of being true to yourself. I learned the value of magic and the strength of honor.
I learned to see the patterns. I saw the shape of magic and of stories, and the intricate workings of the fantasy worlds I traveled. I learned to understand the way enchantments were woven and curses were cast. I learned to recognize from a look when two characters would fall in love, and to grasp from one spell the rules of an entire system of magic.
In other words, I understood the world of fiction. I understood it as I had never understood my own world, because in fiction the author will explain things for you and the characters will follow the rules. And finally, after many, many years, I learned to understand the world I’m in. I saw the patterns in fiction, and once I knew them well enough I could see their reflections all around me.
Authors try to make their characters realistic; if they fail, the stories are no fun. So even though the people I read about were battling dragons and dealing with fairies, they were people. They reacted to the hardships and the joys they faced as real people would. I understood fictional people as well as I understood anything; and fictional people are modeled on real ones. It took a while, but I finally saw the shimmering patterns I knew so well echoed faintly in the people around me. Because I understand characters in books, I actually have a shot at understanding people in real life.
I know that authors exaggerate, and I know that going to school every day is not as conducive to dramatic emotions as discovering your sister killed your brother to get the throne. All things are relative, though. Friendship and love aren’t as dramatic as in the stories, but they’re not as clear-cut, either. Things are messy and confusing. Time passes in days, not in chapters. People don’t follow the rules.
So the echoes are faint. I can just barely detect the pattern. So what? The fact that I can see it at all – the fact that I actually understand people, even if just a bit – is more than enough for me. The fact that I am (very) slowly but surely getting better at this is just awesome.
I love that fantasy has taught me to understand reality. I love that flying to new worlds has taught me about the one I’m in. I love that I can still see the magic in the life I live and in the people I know well.