It’s funny, what sticks with me from the books I read when I was younger.
I ponder this as I watch what fiction my kids take in. J and I have talked about this, about how there’s no way of knowing how kids process stories. I, for instance, read a lot of things as prescriptive when they were probably meant as descriptive — and descriptive of dysfunctional or terrible things, at that. Observing my habits, no-one on the outside could know that understood the Little House on the Prairie television series to mean “conform at any cost, lest the entire town know and shame you,” but that I found Stephen King’s IT to be inspirational literature.
Tl;dr, people’s heads are complicated.
The point I set out to make, however, is that sometimes the oddest little things stick in my head. There’s a series of books, the Fifth Millenium books, jointly written by S.M. Stirling, Shirley Meier, and Karen Wehrstein. They are post-apocalyptic fantasy, full of cultural mashups and depictions of women, queers, and people of color that were liberating to teenage-Sigrid, but are, um … more problematic, now.
(Still. I can’t slam those books entirely, even though I wince at many bits. First portrayal of lesbian and bisexual women who actually had sex I had ever read in my life.)
Hm. I digress again.
The bits that sticks with me the most comes from Lion’s Heart and Lion’s Soul, the two books by Karen Wehrstein that tell the life of Chevenga, leader of the army that destroys the evil Arkan Empire. In them, at some point Chevenga is pondering something he calls the size of his shadow. How we go through our lives and we do things, and we cannot predict how those actions ripple through people’s lives. We can’t predict or control how our shadow falls. Yet, we owe it to others and to ourselves to be aware of our effect in the world. We need to remember to look behind ourselves and see if we have thoughtlessly caused harm or offence. And, if so, we need to turn around and go try to repair the damage.
I think about that, when I look at human systems. The actors, in these systems, do they know where their shadows fall? Do they care? How much of a given mess could be fixed by someone stopping to turn around and check the path of their actions, to reach out and help someone back up?
It’s funny what sticks with you, in books. Knowing where your shadow falls.