Wordsmith Wednesday – All Aboard For Books

Open book

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There’s something magical about a good storyteller. They can suck us into the worlds they weave almost without our knowing. One minute we’re sitting at home, maybe with a cup of tea – Earl Grey, hot. The next we’re in Narnia, fighting the White Witch, or perhaps we’ve found ourselves on Platform Nine-and-three-quarters, waiting to board the Hogwarts Express. Some days, we even find ourselves on the streets of Ancient Rome, lending our ears to Mark Anthony.

How do authors like C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, and William Shakespeare capture our imaginations? How do they transport us into their worlds?

First, of course, we have to invite them in. We have to suspend our disbelief by opening the book.

Second, we need the stories to have good structure. My friend Kristen has a good series on that in her blog.

Third, there has to be conflict. Why else would we keep turning the pages if not to find out what happens next? This is also something Kristen explains very well.

Fourth, we need them to resonate with something inside us. This need is why some books that don’t adhere as tightly to the second and third options can take the world by storm.

Let’s take one of those excellent authors from earlier that fulfill all the needs, and look at why one of their stories resonates. How about J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series?

Okay, there’s lots of excitement, solid structure, enchanting scenery, and so on. That got us, especially the target demographic of eleven-year-olds, interested. What really hooked all of us was that it tapped into our fears of abandonment. We’ve all been there, right? From the moment we left the womb, there was a sense of separation, loss. We were no longer physically tethered to another soul.

Then there’s those of us who have lost a parent. We know that feeling of abandonment on a far deeper level.

How many of us would feel like that loss had meaning if it forged us into a hero? That it was not in vain if, rather than a car accident or bad health, it was because of a tangible monster we could train ourselves to defeat?

Rowling also tapped into our bone-deep need for hope… that our suffering could be the learning blocks for saving the world. We can be that lonely kid living under the stairs with spiders, learn to not only face our personal demons, but conquer them as well.

Most of all, she showed us that we are not alone. Our friends can be part of our family if we let them in. They add to our strength, make us more than we are.

Through all of that, she consistently advanced her writing. The older Harry got, the more complex and mature her storytelling became, making us feel as though we were aging with Harry or watching him grow. We felt the passage of time. No mean feat, if you ask me.

When the series came to a close, we felt we had completed a journey. Our hearts bore the scars and yet were left whole. Closing the book, we blinked owlishly as our mundane world came back into focus.

To what worlds have you travelled? What authors have led you to lands far from (or near to) home? How? Why?  And what effect did it have on you?


  1. What a wonderful discussion of Harry Potter! I agree that one of the most defining characteristics that make Rowling’s books so appealing is that sense of hope.

    As for books that have carried me away, Lord of the Rings is up there. As are Brian Jacques’ Redwall series and Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (both of which I discuss in my blog).

    • Gigi Salem said

      Thank you!

      I too love the Lord of the Rings trilogy although, I admittedly didn’t get into it until after the Fellowship film came out. I had tried to read The Hobbit when I was younger and felt so overwhelmed that I never wanted to read Tolkien’s work again. Boy I was glad at how wrong I’d been!

      **writes down Jacques and Donaldson on ever-growing list of TBR books**

      I think what was so powerful about that sense of hope that Rowling gave us was that it sort of snuck up on me amidst all the other wonderful and terrifying things that were going on. I’d shut the box on it and found it later when I’d crawled in there to hide.

  2. Karina said

    The first books that transported me was Charlotte’s Web and Ribsy. One of my favorite books is still The Stand, Stephen King. He created a world that was so real, I revisited 8 times.

    I agree, though, Tolkien created a world that was amazing. I had to reread all the books once the movies came out because it had been so many years. And while I love the movies, the books have so much more depth to them.

    Harry Potter series….I was thoroughly impressed with Rowling’s ability to create such an amazing world. She didn’t talk down to her audience, she took the kids of the book and turned them into everyday heroes, using abilities they had in them, but they just had to tap into. The world where magic was not an answer to all of life’s problems.. The solution to their problems was friendship, loyalty, and good ol fashion detective work. It is a good series that can capture the attentions of not only kids…but adults as well. It was like a family trip that kids and parents could take together.

    • Gigi Salem said

      Oh! The Stand ate my brain! to the point that I ended up writing a horrible RPfic loosely based on the set up of it and didn’t know until I was halfway through it! Another of King’s that sucked me in was The Dark Half. I literally read it in one sitting because I was terrified of putting it down.

      Well, of course the Rings books have more depth. There’s only so much you can do with the film medium.

      I also like the way Rowling made all of her characters 3D, you know? They were all fully realized personalities with their own histories and everything!

  3. burnettefan said

    Nice choices, I like them too!

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