Expecting Misadventures

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Before I could even read, I was read to. When I was young, my dad seemed determined to introduce me to the fantasy and sci-fi that he'd loved in his youth (and I mean die hard fantasy and sci-fi. Those thousand-page novels with a few dozen books in the series that have their own mostly-abandoned section in your local bookstore). I never complained; I was interested in the imaginary, as all children are at that age. So, through his lengthy bedtime stories, I met the reluctant little hero of The Hobbit before I was old enough to connect with any real people. Bilbo Baggins, the mostly humble hobbit who styles himself adventurer extraordinaire, treasure-hunter, ring-winner, Luckwearer, and other riddlesome titles when facing the terrible dragon Smaug, sparked my love of fantastic adventures and danger. I hated him.

Granted, "hated" is probably too strong a word to describe my initial feelings towards Bilbo. Though I couldn't make the distinction at the time, my childish scorn actually sprung from a rather intense case of jealousy. "That ungrateful little man!" I remember thinking as my dad read me that night's chapter of the hobbit's adventures. "A wizard comes to hand him the adventure of a lifetime, and he only complains and wants to go home! What a wimp!" And then I started writing.

It wasn't a coincidence that my sudden passion for creating worlds of my own struck me during that first reading of The Hobbit. I craved the adventure that I could never really practice in "the real world." I wrote with an egotistical notion that I could one-up Bilbo's adventures, assume the gung-ho attitude that I foolishly believed should be the persona of every hero character. If it was his reluctance that irked me, it was my own enthusiasm that drove my plots. Through the eyes of my characters, I learned about love and hate, and the grey area which connects the two. I've died a thousand times (in increasingly dramatic and heartbreaking fashions), destroyed the world, and saved it again. I've been the wise teaching the foolish and the foolish taught by the wise. I've survived soul-shattering moral conflicts, transforming from Average Joe to hero, to villain, to layabout, then back again to paragon.

I can't quite explain my own personal growth to someone who's not a writer. That person often views my through-writing experiences with skepticism, claiming that I can't possibly know about weighty matters, especially those of the mind, unless I've experienced them firsthand. I disagree. There are two ways to really experience something. The first is experience it in actuality; the second is to experience it through writing. A friend or an elder who reads my work often asks me how I know so much about love or Times Square or the behavioral patterns of an angst-ridden teen. After a shrug, my answer's always the same: "I've written about it." After all, fiction isn't the art of telling lies. It is the art of telling the truth in a dramatic (albeit exaggerated) fashion.

At some point in my process of becoming a writer, I went back to reacquaint myself with Bilbo Baggins. Although I remembered the story of The Hobbit (how could I forget!), the details had faded from my memory, and I had the privilege of reading the book again for the first time. He and I are now on pretty good terms. I respect his transformation from respectable hobbit to clever hero. I've mimicked his internal journey once or twice through my own characters and found it pleasantly satisfying to write about. And I've gotten over my childish jealousy of his misadventures (between all my characters, I've done more than he ever will!).

Although outside of my reading and writing I'll never travel through Mirkwood forest and free my friends from a mad elven king, I have a world of my own to experience. I'm granted a lifetime to slay my own dragons, less ostentatious but more challenging than Smaug on his piles of treasure. I'll turn down chances to slip on a ring and vanish into anonymity (because like as not, that ring also holds the embodiment of pure evil that'll lead to a new series of problems). Even though I will play the occasional game of riddles in the dark, I'll never underestimate the problems I must face. After all, a clever hobbit once warned himself against laughing at live dragons. The advice is as trustworthy in real life as it is in the stories.





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