This place has been looking a little sorry for itself, hasn’t it? Well. Instead of offering up a thousand explanations as to why it’s been so quiet, I won’t bother. I’m back in more of a capacity than I have been, and with a year or more worth of reviews and writing to catch up on… let’s just say it feels a little daunting. But, that’s OK because this isn’t a race and this blog isn’t going anywhere. In the meantime, I wax lyrical about words…
It’s no secret that words have the power to change us, to move us, to touch us. At least it isn’t to me. I’ve always been aware of the kind of beautiful, terrible power words have over us. Words are life-changing. Therefore, books, too are life-changing. When you find a book that is going to change you, sometimes you have no idea until the deed is done, until you’re reading that final sentence and feeling that smallest of shifts within yourself. But other times, there is a connection that spans the nameless spaces between art and imagination—and that is immediate. The first line on the paper and you know this is going to be different. That first line and something inside you falls willingly, gratefully into place, ready to accept the change. Words change us. Stories change us.
The first book that changed my life in any shape that I realised consciously—not the formative, subtle changes that occur as we’re hungrily ingesting stories as we grow up; rather the aware, observant changes that you begin to mark when you find anything touching you to the core of who you are—was The Lord of the Rings. I didn’t read The Hobbit first.
I’ve always been writing, always dabbling in writing horror and contemporary YA, mostly when I should have been doing something else, like homework or pretending I was interested in playing with other children. Yet instead, there I was, typing away, filling notebooks with scrawling words, my hand always too slow for my mind and the result little short of catastrophic on the page. But I hadn’t written fantasy yet. I’d dabbled with Portal Fantasy, dabbled with layered worlds and dimensions and let my imagination run wild within the borders of anywhere and everywhere. All the secret places hidden deep inside me.
But that changed when I read LotR. Everything changed when I read LotR.
There are some books that we were meant to read; books we spend our unconscious lives seeking, searching for the words that will connect with us. Words that will remain with us forever. Words are currency—currency of hearts and souls and all the vague spaces between. When I read LotR, I wasn’t just reading a book. I wasn’t just following Frodo on his adventure to Mordor and I wasn’t just witnessing the defeat of a dark lord. I was becoming Me—one step closer to deciphering that eternal riddle of sense of self and whoness. I went home within those pages; every line seemed written for me, so especially for and to me that it was an addictive, exhilarating experience, utterly unique to that moment, to that book.
My life became Tolkien—language, literature, everything. I wanted to dress in Aragorn’s leathers, bear the sigil of Gondor, to become Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood. And never had I felt so utterly at home in the world and in myself. I met people who changed my life forever through my journeys to Middle Earth, on a tiny corner of the internet and beyond. Nothing remained the same after that book. And to this day, it remains changed.
The second book came some time after my true exploration into fantasy. I’d been hungover on everything Tolkien for years and fiercely protective of the book that changed everything that I’d shied away from anything that promised something similar. Nothing could be what LotR had been. Nothing could possibly touch that same place, deep inside.
Until it did.
The more I open myself to books, the more they change me—more frequently, more deeply, more effortlessly. The more you open yourself to the notion of change—the idea that you; flesh and blood and bone can change—the more you can become changed.
The Name of the Wind came next. The opening of that book—those first lines, those first few paragraphs—is nothing short of pure magic. A welcome. An invitation. A promise. And I wanted everything The Name of the Wind promised. I’d been writing fantasy for years by this point, dabbling in Eddings and Tad Williams; both very dated and yet somehow still able to reach me. Nothing quite so deep as Tolkien, and certainly nothing as poignant as Rothfuss, but still, these books had kept me open, kept me searching. These books kept the door to the wider world of fantasy literature held ajar, even when I thought there was nothing I wanted to read.
I didn’t even realise when I finally slipped through. So many books—legion in number. When I read, I’m ready to be moved. I become intangible, mouldable as I read, absorbing those words, living in those worlds, loving those characters as friends and fearing and hating the villains as my enemies. When I read I am footprints in sand; there for a moment, but ultimately swept away and carried with the tide, until it sees fit to deposit back not the same footprints it washed away, but rather something else entirely. Another Me entirely. All that remains of what was is the memory of it. You become the words you read, house inside your heart and soul all those pieces and fragments of magic and wonder and life that you breathe in as you invite a book inside your heart.
The stories become you, become a part of you and you, somehow, somewhere, become a part of them. I’ve written journal entries to characters I’ve loved; spilled my heart to Magnus Bane and confided about my chronic illness to Jem Carstairs. I’ve revealed my heart to Celaena Sardothien and known that somehow, if I only believed in enough, through the magic and wonder that are words, she knew when I called her name.
I believe in magic—and with unadulterated faith and unswerving certainty. Magic exists, in and around us, if only we choose to see it. With something so simple, so complex, so impossible as words exacting such changes, with only the shape of a splash of ink and the almost accidental curve of meaning written into those letters, how could I not believe in magic?
I can’t imagine—don’t want to imagine—how empty life must be without the ebb and flow of words always brushing the shore of my imagination. It’s an impossibility. I think in words, think in colour and light and shape and the words people whisper to one another in the dark—to themselves, to their enemies, to their gods and goddesses. Words, words, words. The taste of them, the sound of them, the feel of them. The reluctance of words unsaid; the song of those revealed to the world.
When you connect with a writer, when you truly understand the entire shape and form and movement of their words across a world, it’s like learning another language. A language written with music and magic and inked with the fluidity of their souls. It’s a connection and it’s real. It changes you. But it changes them, too. I’ve reviewed enough books, fawned over enough writers to know that it’s true: the tiniest admission that you felt that connection, that you reached out and picked up the other end of that tether, offered so willingly on the page—they know and they feel it.
No writer has ever touched me, moved me, and moulded me more than Sarah J Maas. Cassandra Clare follows as a close second, but there is no contest with how Sarah’s books make me feel—how they open me wide and move me to tears and to laughter and to a hundred unnameable hues of emotion between. Often with a single word. Because of her books, I am who I am. It is really that simple. Because of Cassandra and her Shadowhunters, I know what a parabatai is and know that I’ve known mine forever. The only difference now is that we share the Marks, the tattoos.
There’s a phrase I’ve seen, that we’re all broken and that’s how the light gets in. That’s how the words get in too—through the smallest of spaces and across the vastest parts of that we never reveal to the world and scarcely ever to the mirror.
Sometimes I believe the world—the universe—began with a word, however silent and unspoken or other. And sometimes I think the world will end just the same way. At the end of all things, when nothing else remains—the words will. They will be the silent remnants of all the people who dared to believe in magic.
Tl;dr – Will Herondale says words have the power to change us, and because he’s a) Will and b) a Herondale, he isn’t wrong.