Every once in awhile I’m reminded of how powerful words and stories can be. That’s not to say that I’m not always aware of this fact, but there are times when it’s a little more in focus.
I’ve been reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Science fiction isn’t really my thing, but when school work demands it, then we do it. More or less.
I was relishing the fact that I did get a chance to read it, though, because I’ve done nothing but marvel at it since I started. The writing is fluid, and the concepts seem so fresh and sincere to me (I’m indulging, let me indulge), but mostly I’ve been marvelling at the main character, Shevek. And “marvelling”, as we all know, is just code for “adding to the ever growing list of literary characters to lust after”. Duh.
He’s got his flaws but he exudes this goodness, and calm, and a level-headedness all of which I found admirable. I suppose it also helps that he’s a genius in his world, a world he is attempting to understand and improve.
When you start growing fond of a character, you always want them to win. And when you see that stumbling block looming ahead, that block that will test their strength, you can just feel your whole body stiffening in dread, and you’re afraid that they’re going to let you down. But then that little voice squeaks “I still have hope. I think they will triumph.” Well, my little voice is currently cowering its cave of shame because it was totally and utterly wrong. My character failed me. He disappointed me.
And the disappointment was strong. The sinking-in-the-stomach-feeling strong. The I-can’t-believe-you-let-me-down-like-that-and-yes-I’m-talking-to-a-fctional-character strong. Yes. That kind of strong.
It shouldn’t be surprising to such a bookworm as myself, I suppose. But it was. And this time I couldn’t help thinking about how we let ourselves become invested so much in fiction, so much so that the actions of an imaginary person can influence our mood so strongly.
Whenever (real) life disappoints me, I always find myself thinking of that quote from Pride and Prejudice: “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and everyday confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense”, usually remembered with some bitterness. I’ve never before thought of it in relation to a fictional character, though.
But as I said, it shouldn’t be surprising really. Stories will always hold sway if you let them. I cheered when Matilda finally escaped her horrid family to live with Miss Honey. I felt a burning pride when Jane Eyre found the strength to stay true to herself despite the forces of many around her. And I cried like a baby when Dobby died. So it’s only natural that my favourite characters could also anger me so.
I’m sure that there are others who’ve felt the same way. What else can account for the popularity of reading? It engages thoughts and feelings, and it’s both pleasure and pain. Words, stories and their power always continue to amaze me.