Shadow Paths

My brother and I were recently discussing Frank Herbert’s Dune. I read it first in middle school and was utterly enchanted by the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear—it wasn’t their strange religion; it was the fact the I had recently started to always feel The Fear and I didn’t know how to handle it. Many rereads over many years have left me aware of “flaws in the vision”. I could absorb, but not apply The Litany any more than I could apply my favorite Bible verses to help me control my increasing anxiety. I still love Dune—it is the best book in the series.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death
that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass
over me and through me.
And when it has gone past
I will turn the inner eye
to see its path.
Where the fear has gone
there will be nothing.
Only I will remain
Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

I’m not sure if Octavia Butler was a natural move or not, but I remember Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind; I don’t really remember the last two books in that series, so I’m rereading them. In high school, I read Lilith’s Brood which made me look at aliens and relationships in new ways. I just loved the way she has clearly had such a different “American experience” from me; it suffused her characters. Her stories were so enchanting. I was fascinated by her characters and their choices because the most alien personalities were often the human ones which fit with how I sometimes felt in social and school situations.

Of course my hands and eyes and mind found a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and what a story for every girl coming of age in the late 1908s/early 1990s. The novel was a standout, much like Dune in the Herbert canon; I didn’t fall into all (or many) of Atwood’s other books the same way (although I keep trying). I did fall right in love with the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments. The world has always been a dark place for women and some of us are lucky we have the freedom and liberty we do have—but if all women, if all people, don’t have those same opportunities to succeed and fail…

I never got into the whole Earthsea thing. I like fantasy. I love magic. I just don’t get those Earthsea books, but I do love Ursula LeGuin’s science fiction and her essays. The way all of these women spin out a current theory just to see what might be is a gift. The Hainish Cycle is just a series of silken threads spun into the far future with fascinating results. I have loved every one of those books. Even the “boring” ones have something fascinating to say. The world building for each story is incredible and so is the way the larger universe is carefully connected.

I stumbled upon The Armless Maiden and Other Tales For Childhood Survivors in the fall of 1996 just a few months into my first year of teaching. It shifted my perspective on teaching, students, and stories in ways that I’m still learning to understand…The Armless Maiden and Other Tales For Childhood Survivors introduced me to Charles de Lint. I fell hard down the Newford rabbit hole and I’ve never regretted it. I absolutely loved the way he updated and used the folklore and myths of where he lived with “modern” life. I suppose that’s why I keep seeking out other authors who have their own modern takes on myth and folklore.

From de Lint I fell into Neil Gaiman. Oh, his stories are dark and bright and live in forest shadows. His stories often feel like liminal spaces. And his descriptions are sometimes too much, but rarely not enough. It’s so interesting to see what else inspires some writers via their blogs or social media feeds. His current photographs from The Isle of Skye are stunning.

NK Jemisin actually reeled me I with The Ones Who Stay And Fight. It is a great story on its own, but when paired with LeGuin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas—well, it’s a great set of discussions. Then I had to start reading her other stories. It must be obvious by now that I am a little fascinated by brilliant people who tell stories well. Especially, world builders.

Along the way I heard an NPR story about a man who taught at a university, who had an MFA (a degree I’ve been debating for a decade since I’d only be in it to become a better teacher). This man was writing a trilogy he’d mapped out with his daughter. I devoured Justin Cronin’s The Passage when it first came out. Vampires were scary and the trilogy was massive. The world Cronin built was as fascinating as the people who inhabited it.

Dot Hutchison writes about a identity in a way that reminds me of the way Hawthorne constantly weaved “being true doesn’t mean don’t change” throughout his stories; he was only really obvious in The Scarlet Letter. Hutchison , however, levels up the idea of truth by exploring identity through the lies we tell to survive. She also brings to life “the blood of the vow is thicker than the water if the womb” as she intertwines her character with each other in supportive, painful, and true ways. The found families in her books don’t (always) replace the families of childhood or blood, they expand and strengthen the safety net.

Seanan McGuire (under every name) not only embraces and explores monsters, but she has the ongoing motif(?) regarding softness that I’m just now really noticing. The amount of research she puts into her books to make the science work, to give the magic rules, to honor folklore blows my mind in the best way. She is a true thief of knowledge who wraps information up in layers of story and it put me in awe.

I’m about out of words, but I would be remiss in not mentioning an author who captured me in a descriptive net with her Binti novellas. Nnedi Okorafor is a gift. Her other stories are just as vivid and engaging. I’m working my way through them in my massive pile of books to be reading. So far, each one has been a little breathtaking and enchanting. I’m also grateful to have learned about Africanfuturism and that not everyone in this world accepts that their gods or spirits are myths.

I don’t know that more than a few people will read this and I don’t even include any of my favorite nonfiction writers or poets. These authors have given me stories I can reread and sometimes teach. They explore truth, trust, affection, friendship, and sacrifice. They allow pieces of themselves (small pieces) to be shared with their readers.

Thank you all for sharing.


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