I was looking up at my bookshelf the other day, where well-loved pages await to offer brief respite from the duties and stresses of a 21st-century life. On the shelf, amongst giants, sits a small paperback – ripped and tattered, front and back covers missing. This is my second copy, purchased when the tears and missing pages of the first copy surpassed possibility of repair. That is what happens when you have a favorite book – you read it over and over, cover to cover. You read it again because you want to relive the magic that made you fall in love with it in the first place.
The day I came across my favorite novel, Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, I was in my high school library and spotted a themed table entitled “Banned Books.” A rebel to my core, when I saw the sign I marched right over and picked up a book with swans on the cover. The word “daughter”: the novel’s heroine to be sure, I deducted, one that could inspire me at a time when I felt anything and everything but a hero.”Forest”: a sea of towering green, magic around every twist and turn. Swans: flight and freedom. A quick glance at the back description and this book seemed the perfect escape.
At the time it was something I desperately needed, because high school was an endless cycle of periphery experiences and surface-level friendships. I had passions in my life, but certainly no purpose. I needed the escape.
And so as it often goes, as I began to read, I was transported to a new world. Specifically, a partially magical, partially historical world based in Ancient Ireland and Britain. I stayed up reading until my eyes lost their battle to the night. The next day, I held my book under desks and inside textbooks. I read, albeit dangerously, while walking to class. Everything that was happening around me lost importance apart from the story. Because somehow despite all the falsehood surrounding me in daily life, the truest thing became this shabby fantasy-fiction novel.
This book became so important, and influenced my interest in ancient Celtic culture. I went on to study abroad in London, England and took a class called “Celtic Myths and Legends”. During these months abroad, I backpacked across Ireland and saw the Celtic history coming to life before my eyes. I had many other adventures, including attending a storytelling night in Edinburgh, Scotland (which you can read about here), and all were so meaningful because I loved the place before I even got on a plane.
After reading Daughter of the Forest, I began learning more about Celtic tree lore (based in the Druidic practices of the Ancient Celts). It is similar to astrology signs, but based on wisdom in the trees instead of the stars. Now, I pay more attention to the seasons and understand the world in a different way. For me the forest used to be a lovely place of retreat, but now retreating to the forest is an essential part of my life.
Over the years, I have steadily added to my beloved bookshelf with care and intention. Perhaps this favorite novel inspired a life of writing, of feeling that need to put pen to paper. Maybe the reason I feel so strongly about women’s issues is because I have fallen in love with strong, independent women characters, including the protagonist of this novel.
When Juliet Marillier releases a new book, I buy it without so much a glance to the back cover, because I get the same feeling after finishing any of her novels. Even if the story didn’t go the way I’d hoped, I always feel like I have taken in something meaningful. Daughter of the Forest helped me fall in love with reading. But the written word is not just a material object in the form of a book. It helps us look inward.
We love stories because we make sense of our own lives through them. As writers, our lives undoubtedly influence the stories we tell, however fictional – there is always a piece of a writer in a work. But how much do these stories influence our lives directly? Why do stories speak to us so much?
I began listening to a new podcast recently, called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. In this, the creators decided to go through the Harry Potter series as though it were a religious text. In the same way a Christian may look at passages in a Bible, the podcast examines the chapters through themes and attempts to find meaning beyond the pages. In the introduction, one of the hosts mentioned that he connects so much more to the Harry Potter material than the religious books he spent time with in the past. In that same vein, I could say that my favorite books are one of my own sources of reflection. They cause me to think deeper, gain insight, and go further into the world trying to be better.
I dare you to pick up a book today. It can be new or used, virtual or hand-held, the story classic or fresh. Let the words move you, challenge you, inspire you. And then walk into the real world with that inspiration lingering.
The written word is a powerful thing. It can change your life.