One of them is simple. When we begin reading fantasy, it is usually in our childhood formative years. It is the best time for wonderment. We are introduced to wild things and green eggs and ham. We are entranced by fairy tales, following the yellow brick road, and discovering lions and witches in wardrobes. We walk through the Shire and find wrinkles in time. It is a magical age when we think anything is possible—and it is.
Some people are never introduced to the fantasy of youth, or perhaps adulthood thieves that wonder away. But some of us keep those stories inside our hearts and minds, and search out new ones for the rest of our lives.
During my early childhood, I did not read. I did not grow up on the likes of those fantasy novels mentioned above. No Goodnight, Moon. No Baby Beluga. No Lorax. I didn’t read The Hobbit until I was 21 years old. Both of my parents worked odd hours and I was rarely read to. It was the way it had to be due to life’s situation.
By the time I was 10 years old, I was severely stunted when it came to reading those great books. I was behind. I was lucky enough to have some wonderful middle school librarians though, women who worked hard at expanding minds like my own. I’ll never forget being handed The Book of Three written by Lloyd Alexander. Or being whisked away on adventure in The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. Or picking up The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, which sat on my mother’s sewing machine. Or my 8th grade teacher suggesting I read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant–Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson. Or becoming lost in The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly.
But, I have often wondered, how much of those books made their way into my personality? How many of the characters in those books remain in my head, unbeknowst to this head’s owner? The wizard Ingold Inglorion? The orphan Harry Crew? The leper Thomas Covenant? The last gunslinger Roland Deschain? Or the pig-keeper Taran?
How much have I incorporated during those reads?
Geoff Kaufman, a post-doctoral researcher at Tiltfactor Laboratories at Dartmouth College, has a theory about such things. The theory? You are what you read. Click HERE to read more about it. In short:
Researchers have found that when you lose yourself in a work of fiction, your behavior and thoughts can metamorphose to match those of your favorite character.
For instance, Allanon is one of my favorite characters from my youth. He overcomes all odds, no matter the cost. He is dark and forbidding, with an ability to push himself greater than a normal human man can. He rarely tells the whole truth. He is the epitome of guardianship in the Four Lands, a man who works tirelessly for the betterment of others. He is the Druid featured in The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, and he is one of the most celebrated characters in the genre.
Now, I’ve read the Shannara novels featuring Allanon countless times and when I re-read I find something new about the character I love.
How much of Allanon is within? Did a part of that character make me a strong personality? Did he help me overcome cancer last year when I needed those attributes the most?
Is there a Dexter inside of me, waiting to be unleashed?
Or a Tinkerbell, for that matter?
What do you think about such things? Is this theory a possibility? If you think so, who have you assimilated and how do you feel about that?