On paranormal fiction and losing yourself

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I loved Maggie Steifaver’s Shiver from page one. It’s a beautiful and thoughtful book about youth and love and werewolves, with a twist to the werewolf myth that ratcheted the adolescent tension and gave the whole novel a misty feel that still makes me smile when I think of it. I’m talking, of course, about the fact that when Sam shifts, it’s for the whole winter, and he can’t shift back until it’s warm again.

I saw Steifvater in conversation at an Melbourne Writer’s Festival event a couple of years ago when I was volunteering. It was a school event, during the week, and during open questions one kid raised their hand and asked, “Why did you decide to write a book about werewolves?” To which Steifvater replied,

It’s not a book about werewolves. It’s a book about losing yourself.

This phrase, this idea, has stuck strongly with me. I’ve been turning it over in my head for a good long time, and it especially comes back to me at times when I become aware that the reason I’m reading is to escape.

Sam lives a life where for six months of the year, he is physically unable to be himself. He doesn’t remember the winters, just flashes of snow and cold and pack and Grace. Grace is the person who connects his summers and his winters, the girl who lives on the edge of the forest his pack prowls in winter and shops at the bookstore where he works in summer.

We read for a lot of reasons – I read for a lot of reasons. For love of language. To understand the culture that informs my choices. To step outside and view that culture. To better understand history, my personal history and the Western history that each of our lives is dripping with. To imagine different worlds, better worlds, worlds where the strive for justice and equality is dramatic and bold and brave, rather than a long series of arguments that leave everyone, participants, reporters and onlookers included, exhausted. To escape.

I’ve always read books to escape. Ever since I was a teenager, wishing I was prettier, braver, more outgoing, friends with more cute boys, I’ve read books as a way to imagine myself in those lives. As an adult, that becomes harder to do. There’s so much we have to do – get to work on time, cook dinner, wash clothes, vacuum the floors – simply in order to live that we don’t have time to sit and dream away our days. When you’re an adult, dreaming isn’t enough. You have to do.

This is why, I think, that paranormal fantasy is so popular, why it pulls us in so successfully. A world like the one that Sam and Grace inhabit is only a hop, step and a jump away from ours. It’s not for nothing that Pinterest is filled with sassy little images that say, I didn’t find a magic wardrobe when I was 8. I didn’t receive my Hogwarts letter when I was 11. I didn’t get taken to Camp Half-Blood when I was 12. Gandalf, I’m counting on you to bring me on an adventure when I’m 50! It’s possible to believe that magical worlds exist just beyond our comprehension, that we simply don’t know about them because we fall into the ‘mundane’ category. Even as an adult, you can quietly believe in the paranormal, even just as much as helps you hang onto your childhood, because, hey. There’s no proof that it doesn’t exist.

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One thought on “On paranormal fiction and losing yourself

  1. Couldn’t have been said better. Although of course, one always wonders if this is just a part of our ‘grass is always greener on the other side’ complex.

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