Quite often when joining a writing community one is asked to mention a couple of favourite books. The last time I did this was on a writing forum and immediately afterwards was standing at the stove preparing and cooking dinner. As I chopped and diced, stirred and tasted, I pondered on my choices and what made them part of my life.
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Cruel Sea
The Jungle Books
The Lord of the Rings
I realised they had all been read, and more than once, before I had left my teens – that means four and half decades ago, so long! I have read all of them more times than I can remember, but all of them at least three times a decade and three ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘the Jungle Books’ every couple of years.
If there are only half a dozen plots then all these share one just one. They are all ‘the personal journey’. They tell of the evolution of a person or group of people while living through momentous events, great events or just life events; how the outside world changes the course of a life.
Young Scout (Mockingbird) observes a time of challenge and danger – not just the trial and its brutal aftermath but the painful acceptances and transitions of children growing towards maturity. As a child I did not always understand the subtleties but the tale is so beautifully written it can bear constant readings. I have found as my life has progressed to maturity I can understand and sympathise with the other characters as well.
In the Cruel Sea the are men sent to war in ships – ordinary men, bank clerks, journalists – sent to confront terrible danger and incredible personal losses; some manage, others fail. The failure, though, was not their fault – even as a young child I could realise this. Some events overwhelm. Life – I learned early – was down to great deal of luck. Not a conventional war book, very little gore (forget the film of the book!). This was about a group of individual men turning into a disciplined crew and the effect that five stolen years have on them.
Mowgli – well what a journey he has to make: from feral child to member of society, and his losses are tremendous. His family and friends may have been animals but he had to leave them all and his loss can be mirrored in every story of every refugee. I always thought he would have been a wise village elder one day because of his tribulations (again forget Walt Disney and his film!).
The Lord of the Rings – what can I say? I fell into Middle Earth at 12 and have never lost my connection. I was given the hardback set for my 21st. I had the paperback to accompany me on my own wanderings. A six-week stint at a peach canning factory in SA paid for the deluxe leather-bound version with its bible-thin pages. Of course the video, the DVD and the unabridged audio version sit on the shelf with the boxed set of the BBC’s dramatised version. As long as no one messes with the story it’s still mine. I don’t speak Elven, cannot quote chapter and verse, muddle the battles and cannot for the life of me pronounce the names but oh how I love their adventures. From silly hobbits frolicking to mighty heroes saving the world, despite themselves. Their task, as in the ‘Cruel Sea’, is too great for one individual; it must be a team effort. Their guiding force, as in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, is justice and preserving a decent society. For some members of the fellowship the losses are more than can be borne; in victory, defeat.
The mince tasted excellent even though I say it myself – one of my better creations!