I have a thing for Lewis Carroll. I love his whimsy, even if it was probably opium-inspired. I love that he made language his own, as if the words passed through him like a sieve made of Wonderland. Today is about language and its many mutabilities.
Also, if you are one of the many people who found their way here yesterday through one of my dear friends sharing my blog — thank you most sincerely for visiting. I hope you’ll be back many times.
Now. Off to Wonderland and a small town in Nazi Germany to explore two great writers and how they make words breathe.
The best writers push you down through the rabbit hole until a new world swirls around you, tugging at you from all sides, insisting that you hear what it has to say. They bring new places to life so that you cannot help but chase, chase their words from page to page, flitting through wonder and tension alike.
As you follow, the story takes place around you. You become a part of it, living and breathing and laughing and crying along with the inhabitants of this world until the end leaves you satisfied and longing, at once joyous and saddened to leave the pages for reality once more.
I used to think writers made new realities, that whatever gave us the stories simply opened us up to those worlds. Maybe it’s true.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
All mimsy were the borogroves
And the momeraths outgrabe.
Perhaps one of the most-used and loved poems in Wonderland: The Jabberwock. Somehow reading it, you can’t help but know what it means somewhere deep inside, like the strangeness of the words whispers to you. Something creeps around the edges of your mind and you know very much that you would not wish for a frumious bandersnatch to come anywhere near you. Language is a responsive thing, and those like Lewis Carroll know how to coax it and wheedle it into saying just so what they wish to say.
One writer that I’ve mentioned here before is a man named Markus Zusak, who wrote a book about a little girl in Nazi Germany who happened to steal books. It’s a story told by Death, who gets lost in colors as a distraction. A distraction from what?
It’s the leftover humans.
They’re the ones I can’t stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail. I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them, but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs.
Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors — an expert at being left behind….
I saw the book thief three times.
The leftover humans. The words chosen to describe these survivors makes you see it as if they are indeed encased in Tupperware — a type of Tupperware that hides them from Death, though unbeknownst to them, Death has his eyes on them anyway. He can’t look away. At first glance, the subject matter of such a book feels almost unbearably grim. It’s only when you keep reading that the colors show you the wonder in it, as bright and shining as Wonderland in the height of splendor.
It’s all in the words. Allow me to show you a little more.
Yes, it was white.
It felt as thought the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it had pulled it on, the way you pull on a sweater. Next to the train line, footprints were sunken to their shins. Trees wore blankets of ice.
As you might expect, someone had died.
The story of Liesel (for Liesel is, of course, The Book Thief) is somehow very akin to the story of Alice. Both are young, yellow-haired, and a little selfish at first. They both have their own worlds, wrought in painstaking detail from words that drape across the windowsills and lurk in basements with dirt floors with Cheshire cats and caterpillars.
There is somehow as much wonder in book told by Death in the darkest era of humanity as exists in a land of it. I dare you to go plunge into both, just as Alice did.
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