Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wells of Words

The Books We Come Back To

Recently, Stant Litore (The Zombie Bible) conceived of the notion to collect a library of sorts for his daughters River & Inara. I won't try to over explain it, he does a fine job of saying just what it is over on his blog. (I encourage everyone to read through the contributions; it is beautiful.)

As I considered what quotes and what books I'd lay out in this particular light, I started to notice a trend in the sorts of books I quote.

First and foremost, whenever I am asked to offer a quote from a beloved book (we might take a moment to remember that I love books of all sorts) I come back to two particular texts without fail:

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

and

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

With The Velveteen Rabbit, it is always the same excerpt:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

...once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. This sentiment is the reason songs like Iris (by the Goo Goo Dolls) speak so strongly to people. We are so afraid of being flawed, ugly, broken in the sight of the people around us that we forget we are always beautiful in the sight of those who love us - and that those who love us are the ones who matter most in this life.

On the other hand, with The Last Unicorn, I tend to pick and choose (there are SO MANY quotable bits in that book (many are maintained in the film)) to suit the audience doing the asking. In the case of Stant's Library, I offered the excerpt about heroes knowing the order of things - it is a testament to the Hero's Journey and the cyclic nature of our personal narratives, not just those of fictional personae. But in truth, it is Molly Grue when she meets the Unicorn... this is the true quote that lives carved into the inner walls of my heart:

“Where have you been?" she cried. "Damn you, where have you been?" She took a few steps toward Schmendrick, but she was looking beyond him, at the unicorn.
When she tried to get by, the magician stood in her way. "You don't talk like that," he told her, still uncertain that Molly had recognized the unicorn. "Don't you know how to behave, woman? You don't curtsy, either."
But Molly pushed him aside and went up to the unicorn, scolding her as though she were a strayed milk cow. "Where have you been?" Before the whiteness and the shining horn, Molly shrank to a shrilling beetle, but this time it was the unicorn's old dark eyes that looked down.
"I am here now," she said at last.
Molly laughed with her lips flat. "And what good is it to me that you're here now? Where where you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?" With a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. "I wish you had never come. Why did you come now?" The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.
The unicorn made no reply, and Schmendrick said, "She is the last. She is the last unicorn in the world."
"She would be." Molly sniffed. "It would be the last unicorn in the world to come to Molly Grue." She reached up then to lay her hand on the unicorn's cheek; but both of them flinched a little, and the touch came to rest on on the swift, shivering place under the jaw. Molly said, "It's all right. I forgive you.”

And really, of all of that, the only parts I needed to know were Molly's words, "Where have you been? ... How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?" All the weight of her life is in that simple four letter word - this. I didn't need Mr. Beagle to explain what she meant (though he helpfully does for those who may not know/understand); at sixteen years old, wrung out from a childhood of particular abuses, strained family relationships, few friends, several upheavals, foster care, an orphanage, a new home or two every year, I already knew what Molly meant - and this is why her words are the true quote for me from all of that wonderful tome.

All of this really brings me around to this question: What words, what books have etched their words into your heart and/or mind? When you're asked to offer up a favorite quote, from what well do you draw your bucket?
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