I lived in what we call around here a "newly-wed/nearly-dead neighborhood. That means there were a lot of young married people with babies or toddlers. And then there were a lot of older retired people whose children had grown and gone.
Then there was me and my brother.
Luckily for my brother a few blocks away, there was a family that had a couple of boys about his age and also luckily for him they really hit it off and ended up life-long friends. Big Brother was nice enough to me, but he was (still is) three years older than I am and the gulf between a 7 year-old girl and a 10 year-old boy is pretty wide. Also, we were latch-key kids as my mom worked and didn't get home until about 5:30 or so every evening. So after school Big Bro would often go over to his buddy's house (after seeing me safely home from school) and so I was left to my own devices - and a lot (well, most really) of those devices included reading. Sometimes I read at home and sometimes I would take myself to the Library to get new books and to read there. We lived about 7 blocks away from the old Provo Public Library (and I mean the really old one over on West Center Street for anyone familiar with Provo), and while I could not imagine letting my own 6 or 7 year old child trek 7 blocks downtown a'la Matilda whenever the mood struck, that's certainly what I did. But then it was the mid 1970's...a different time with different kinds of parents that didn't have the reasons yet to be so scared of letting children explore their world. You may be wondering though, if I was free to walk that far to the Library, why I didn't just walk to a friends house? Unfortunately I lived on the Eastern edge of the school boundaries and my school friends all lived more on the Western edge. It was about 2 miles away or so and outside the "zone" that was considered ok for me to travel to on my own - and I didn't have a bike yet. Though, having said that, everything was walking distance for us at the time because my mom didn't start to drive until I was about 10 years old...but that's another story.
Anyway, off I would go with my big blue book bag which was actually an old Pan Am travel case that I begged my mom to buy for me at the local Deseret Industries Thrift Store. Old Blue could hold a lot of books and could also get pretty heavy - if I'd had a red wagon like Matilda I definitely would have used that instead. I wonder sometimes what I must have looked like lugging my big bag down the stairs to the children's section, unloading my spent books down the return slide then turning to the shelves to see what to explore next. Like Matilda, the librarians came to recognize me and after awhile started directing me towards different selections and series. Unfortunately, I was so painfully shy that I didn't really get to know the librarians as much as I probably could have. But they were really great actually about pointing out something I might like without forcing me to actually speak to them too much. Smart gals really, if I'd had to have too much interaction with the scary adults, I might not have been willing to go to the library so often.
Like most kids I went though different phases with my readiing. There was my Annie Oakley period where I read and re-read a lot of semi-fictional biographies of the famed female sharp-shooter. This led me to a lot of other biographies of famous women (Florence Nightingale, Dolley Madison, Amelia Earhart - I was sexist enough to like the girl stories better than the boy stories at that age). I also read a lot of Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew mystery stories there for awhile as well. But I remember at about eight years old, one of the wise and discrete librarians directed me to the Narnia shelf. She told me there was a whole series and that I should start with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
I did...and I was hooked.
I loved the concept of a parallel universe - an alternate, magical place that you could get to through the most ordinary of activities. I loved the ordinariness of the Pevensie kids who, through their adventures, became extraordinary. I could go on all day about the genius of C.S. Lewis and the multiple layers and meanings in his work though I can't honestly say that I recognized the Christian allagory in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe until much later on. I only knew that Narnia was a lovely place to visit and I did visit it very often.
The thing about the Narnia books and specifically The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was that it was a gateway for me. They led me to other books with alternate realities and completely different worlds. For some reason that would probably take a good therapist to unravel, the concept of a different world really appealed to me. Not just the once upon a time in a land far away of fairy tales (which I also liked)....but a whole other places and planets. Essentially The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe took me into the science fiction and fantasy realm. It wasn't space travel I was interested in per se, it was the imagination that it took to create a completely different society with different norms, rules, dress,foods, methods of travel, methods of communication and every other possible element that makes up society. Then how the heroes and heroines of the books had to think and work and plan to navigate through the changes always came. Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series for example, was a big favorite for me. Anyone who has ever visited the complex social order of the planet Pern will understand how you can be sucked into the day to day lives of the Dragonriders and how that world can become as real to you as the one in which you eat your own breakfast every morning.
Anyone who is into Science Fiction and Fantasy can attest to the addictive nature of the genre. It is the basis after all for role playing games Like Dungeons and Dragons providing endless hours of social interaction (of a sort) for geeks of all kinds, and has certainly influenced the electronic role playing games that now unite players around the world via the Internet - the triumph of Science Fact over Fiction.
I myself never got quite that deep into the Sci-Fi/Fantasy lifestyle - I didn't do the games or the costumes. But I did jump with both feet into dozens and dozens of books that opened the gate and carried me away. There were many times in my childhood that I would have felt it a blessing and relief to be able to hide in a wardrobe and find that it actually opened to another world. As it was, I had my books
I don't know how I would have survived without them.