It seems that the talented Mrs L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright has scored a guest post from April Freeman who blogs at Lost In La La Land. April has penned an essay that touches on some themes in The Tale of Despereaux. I can’t really do it justice so I will just quote some hilights and encourage you to go read the the whole thing. It is a wonderful essay and well worth your time, it brought Mrs Wright to tears!
There is a scene in which the little mouse hero has been banished to the dungeon by the Mouse Council, one of the members being his father. They banished Despereaux because he loved the Princess, broke the law by showing himself to her, a human, and would not denounce her. So he is cast down the steps of the dungeon and walks on, to what would be his death. He finds comfort from the crushing darkness and despair around him by reciting to himself the story he had read hundreds of times in the castle library. He tells himself the story of the brave knight, because he wants to be brave for his beloved Princess Pea.
What Despereaux does not know is that the jailer, Gregory, heard him. He picked up the mouse, and in that act saved him from the dungeon rats that would have eagerly eaten him. Gregory had never saved any of the mice before, and when Despereaux asks why Gregory would save him, the old jailer replies, “Because you, mouse, can tell Gregory a story. Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
Reading this book again, many years later and further on in my journey as a writer, this passage rings very true for me. For what else is a good book, than light in the darkness? A beacon of hope, a way of adventure and discovery, a way to be lifted out of ourselves and see the world from someone else’s eyes. A world in all its joys and evil, and where light can prevails over darkness. This is what a good book can do.
We should write stories that not only lift our readers out of their mundane routines of life, sweeping them away into a new world filled with new people, experiences, and struggles. But give them something good, something they can think about and remember. Give them light to see the world in different, better, ways.
It is one thing to enjoy a decent book and then be done with it, much as you would enjoy cotton candy and then move on to the next thing. But if you had a good, wholesome meal, it would not only taste just as good as the cotton candy, or even better, it would give you more to chew on and leave you satisfied for longer. Maybe you’d even remember it years later as that “One dinner Grandma cooked.” And this is how we should write, and how to write in a superversive way.
But it’s not only about the good and the light. To have a story you must have conflict, so there must be struggle and darkness. The light must have darkness to fight against. For that is the reality of the world. There is always much darkness, and people are often weighed down by it. So we as writers must bring light and hope, to help lift their burdens and make it through another day. Especially to those who feel overwhelmed by the darkness.
How many times, when you are outside at night, do you pause to look at the stars and became lost in their vastness and beauty? I do almost every night. I crane my neck and stare. And the longer I stare, the more immense and limitless it becomes. It gives me a sense of childlike wonder and meekness. It lifts me out of myself and makes me realized just how small and fleeting my little existences is, compered to everything else. And I smile in joy and awe, because I know I am not alone and I am part of something bigger than myself.
This is the kind of feeling we’d like to give our readers.