I’ve been thinking this week about stories I love. You know that moment when you are reading or watching along and then it’s like you just walked off a drop off on the water? Boom! Suddenly your head is under and you are in another world. That moment is one of my favorite things in life. I don’t particularly want to scientifically analyze that because it’s magic, and magic can’t be analyzed. But since I like to reread and rewatch and relive my favorite stories, I’m thinking back and trying to remember that point of no return. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. It’s the moment when you feel an authentic connection between two characters.
For me that’s the gateway in The Lion, The Witch, and Wardrobe. The first chapter is completely dull. Then Lucy finds the wardrobe and the magical world on the other side, but even that isn’t quite it. It’s when she meets Mr. Tumnus and he’s just as scared of her as she is of him that you know this is going to be something special.
The connection doesn’t have to be that positive, either. I was hooked on Pride and Prejudice from the very first chapter where we see Mr. and Mrs. Bennet interacting. Their relationship is so dysfunctional and real and witty and entertaining that I knew I wanted to keep reading as fast as I could. And that was true even the first time I read it, while I was hiding out and eating my lunch in the library in high school. But that’s another story. The point is that Jane Austen is a genius. Oh, and something about connection. Where was I?
This happened to us the other day when we finally watched the movie version of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’d read the book and loved it, but for my husband it was the first time. About 10 minutes in, Henry and Claire meet, and it’s just so warm between them, even though they are strangers (sort of…you know), that my husband immediately said, “I’m going to like this movie.” And he was right. It was lovely.
There are so many more. You know that moment in Stranger Than Fiction when you realize he’s going to have an actual relationship with this voice he’s hearing? Brilliant. Or The Royal Tenenbaums when Margot steps off the Green Line bus and the whole movie clicks into place. I don’t even have to say anything about that because you already know exactly what I mean. There’s just something about the human connection that casts a spell on us all.
2. It’s the moment when pain and beauty intersect. Because life is pain, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. (Everything I know I learned from The Princess Bride.) But life is also beautiful…if you can learn to live with the pain. As soon as I can see that the story is going to be honest about all that, I’m in.
There’s this wonderful series of books called the Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier. Each book has a fairly slow start but the payoff is totally worth it. In the first book, Daughter of the Forest, I was finding it hard to totally connect until the young heroine is brought face to face with harsh reality in the form of a young man her father’s men had tortured. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not into super dark stuff. I actually sort of avoid it. But as Sorcha works make things come out right and true while going through one immensely painful thing after another, it’s riveting. It makes me want to be a better person. And that’s what the best stories should do.
Am I getting a little too earnest? Because I hate getting all intense, but stories do funny things to me. Anyway. This mix of pain and beauty (which is another word for truth) is what I love about the best super hero stories, too. This is what Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have that none of the other Batman movies had. And this is what the original Watchmen comic had that the movie couldn’t quite achieve.
It’s there is nearly all of my favorite stories: The Count of Monte Cristo, Ender’s Game, even Little House on the Prairie.
This is already way too long for my non-fiction attention span, but I think I’ll have more on this topic next Tuesday. I’m kind of into it. I love thinking about the really good stuff.
How about you? What really gets you in a story? Which ones grabbed on and didn’t let go? What are the moments that will be with you forever?