Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Return to Prydain, Triumphant

Ethan, in his reading, is a creature of habit.  He likes series; long, long series, so there will be no unsettling surprises.  I read a lot of Magic Treehouse books to him when he was younger.  This fall he's just chomped his way through the entire My Weird School and My Weird School Daze series of humor novels.

The other evening, wailing that he had "nothing to read" in spite of overflowing bookshelves, I gingerly pulled out a book with trepidation... was he ready?  Wasn't he?  Because this was a special book, much beloved from my childhood.  And not just the story, but the actual book, a paperback survived these 42 years.

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book 1)
The book?  "The Book of Three" by Lloyd Alexander.

The first book in his wonderful, award winning five part fantasy tale, inspired by Welsh mythology (oh, those names with the double "Ff"s and "Gwy"s); a time of enchantments and ancient kings, swords and barrows.  Ethan has been loving the Deltora Quest fantasy TV show and books.  We have lived in the magical world of the Last Airbender for a while now (the books and the wonderful TV show, not the goofy movie).  So maybe, maybe...
My 1969 copy of the book
The cover and the pages have yellowed, but not crumbled.  Ethan was astonished by the cover price: 75 cents (how times have changed, my computer keyboard doesn't even have the little strike-out "c" symbol to render that properly).

But Ethan was suspicious; the book was an unknown entity.  Ignoring him, I picked it up and forged ahead, using my sneak attack maneuver: starting to read out loud while he was seemingly distracted by something else (in this case drawing).  It worked.  Two pages in, he came over and snuggled up against me, rapt.

When I got to the end of the first chapter and went to put it down, he begged me not to stop. "This is too good, Mom, we can't stop here."  And that's when the trap is sprung, "I have to do a few things before bedtime, honey, but you can read the next chapter by yourself if you want."  And he did.

So now, every night for the past three nights we have read two or three chapters.  I read one or two out loud, he reads one or two to himself.  He talks and conjectures about the characters, questions their futures. He pesters me to tell him the secrets, to answer the deep mysteries that are revealed only at the very end.

He howls at my reply: "You'll have to keep reading to find that one out," is placated by the one or two bones I toss him to keep him from dying of curiosity.

And tonight Ethan uttered the words that made my book-loving mother's heart melt anew: "Mom, I love this book."

I am kvelling.  I am over the moon.  The fact that I was exactly Ethan's age when I first read this book?  As thrilling to him as to me. 

For you see, I am a reader, I have been all my life.  Books have been my dearest friends since I was a young child.  And the Prydain series?  My very best friend for many years.

How many times I read these books over and over as a child I could not count.  There is something that deeply captivated me about them, the stories full of large and small perfect moments, the characters richly nuanced.  Watching Taran mature and grow from a feckless youth to a young man, wise and capable of leadership, still stirs my soul.

I always imagined sharing these books with a child of mine someday.  And that day is finally today, and my heart is fluttering.  This is a moment made ever more sweet and precious because for a long time I wasn't sure we would ever get here.

Because Ethan, while like me in many ways, is also clearly not me, made little.  He did not come to reading with joy in his heart.  He is a child of the age of electronics, a computer game kid.  And when he was learning to read at 5?  He declared reading and books "boring."  Way to stab an ice pick into your book-loving mom's heart, kidddo!

It was hard to find the right book to hook him with, a gateway book, as it were, but I worked at it, patiently (don't laugh, I can be patient when I need to).  A lot of trial and error, me holding my peace when books I thought would be a bit hit were declared "stupid" "boring" "girly" "babyish" "scary" and otherwise rejected.

We finally found a few that he liked, such as Louis Sachar's wonderful Sideways Stories from Wayside School books and proceeded from there.
Ethan reading a Wayside School book, summer 2009
Remember, I had a deeply hidden agenda in my back pocket: there were those books from my childhood that had meant so much to me, that I had hoped to someday share at least some of with my children.

Having only boys, and in particular a boy who (my best feminist intentions to the contrary) despised all things deemed "girly," I realized it was unlikely we were going to be visiting my well loved Little House on the Prairie or All-of-a-Kind Family series together.  Island of the Blue Dolphins?  Not likely either.

But a visit to Prydain, Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea?  Maybe... probably... oh YES!

And?  The next "hold my breath" beloved yet boy-friendly childhood book? A Wrinkle in Time Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, Mrs Which, chill your jets a little bit longer.  All signs are pointing in the right direction, we're coming soon.

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