Wednesday, September 5, 2012

In the Beginning

I was raised by a man with a healthy and enthusiastic regard for the super.

Under his guidance, Spiderman was the first PG-13 movie that ever became my favorite, and the first hero I ever fell in love with. As a kid, he had connected to Peter Parker's less-than-cushy upbringing, and the idea that power can come without want or warning, and yet, should still be wielded with the utmost care and wisdom. In Peter's story, the iconic radioactive spider - by which he was bitten, and transformed into the superstar web-slinger overnight - serves as a demarcation between the nerdy, bullied high-schooler, and the wisecracking, wall-climbing wonder kid. There wouldn't be a Spiderman at all, if it weren't for one tiny bite, from one tiny spider.

For Batman, it was the bats, the murder of his parents, and his nearly-unlimited bank account, that assisted in the creation of his superhero status. For Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze), it was the attempt to save someone he cared about, by means of an all-too-costly deal, that formed the basis for his flaming counterpart. And Superman's an alien, for crying out loud.

I realize that this intro, when paired with the above photo, may cause a little confusion. However, the point I'm driving at is this one: there's a reason why those superheroes are all so amazing. It's the same reason why Cinderella made such a great princess, and why Genesis is one of the most-quoted chapters of the Bible. It's that nothing beats a great origin story.

And like those superheroes of legend which we were just discussing, the books discussed in Celia Blue Johnson's Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway: Stories of the Inspiration Behind Great Works of Literature, have achieved a iconic status in their own field.

In this carefully-curated collection, of some of the most compelling geneses of the world's most beloved stories, you can find the likes of Cervantes' Don Quixote sharing space with Capote's Holly Golightly (from Breakfast at Tiffany's), and Tolkien's hobbits pages away from Lewis' Susan, Edmund, Peter and Lucy. Here, Johnson relates the flashes of lightning, or the slow-smoldering embers, that sparked the creative flame of some of the world's best storytellers, leading them to craft such places, people, and things, that could capture the hearts of people around the globe.

For some, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it was a game: her monster was born form the idea of horror itself, his bits and pieces belonging to an overheard conversation on the topic of the reanimation of bodies. For others, like Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, the steps of the cerebral sleuth had been tread by another, as the masterful detective was based off of - at least partially - a one time medical professor of Doyle's. For C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, the inspiration came at the age of sixteen; the final product, at forty. For Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, he knew the geography and topography of the tropical island before he even began to think of its inhabitants.

The book itself is clear and well-written, which allows the magic of the stories BEHIND the stories to really shine through. When dealing with a lot of layers, its sometimes best to just stick to what's most easily understandable, and for this collection of brief anecdotes, the simple presentation allows for full comprehension of the information it relates. Which is helpful, and interesting.

And, seeing as though it is a book about what inspired books, I'm glad to hear about Johnson's own origin story: after a repeat re-read of Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, she was intrigued by the underlying history, and this interest led to a veritable scavenger hunt through literature, to find out how some of her favorite books came to be. It shows to me, that the enjoyment of reading is improved immensely, when you get to know it a little better. :)