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Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You

28 Mar

If there is one thing that drives me absolutely bananas, it’s people spreading misinformation via social media under the guise of “educating”. I’ve seen this happen in several ways – through infographics that twist data in ways that support a conclusion that is ultimately false, or else through “meaningful” quotes falsely attributed to various celebrities, or by cobbling together a few actual facts with statements that are patently untrue to create something that seems plausible on the surface but is, in fact, full of crap.

Yesterday, the official Facebook page of (noted misogynist and eugenics enthusiast) Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science shared the following image to their 637,000 fans:

Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific

Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific

Naturally, their fans lapped this shit up; after all, this is the kind of thing they absolutely live for. Religious people! Being hypocritical! And crazy! And wrong! The 2,000+ comments were chock-full of smug remarks about how naïve and stupid Christians were, accompanied by pats on the back for all the atheists who smart enough to see through all the religious bullshit and understand how the evil church had slyly appropriated all kinds of pagan traditions.

And you know what? That’s fine, I guess. I’m all for questioning religion and examining the sociological, historical and anthropological reasons that help explain the hows and whys of our lives today. I’m actually super fascinated by that kind of stuff, even if I do think that there’s a way to discuss it without making yourself sound smarter and more enlightened than the people around you.

But you guys? The image above is rife with misinformation. RIFE, I say.

Let’s start from the top:

This is Ishtar …

Okay, great. So far things are fairly accurate. The relief pictured here, known as the Burney Relief (also called the Queen of the Night relief) is widely considered to be an Ancient Babylonian representation of Ishtar (although some scholars believe that the woman depicted might be Lilitu or Ereshkigal). This relief is currently housed in the British Museum in London, but originates from southern Iraq and is nearly 4,000 years old.

… pronounced Easter.

Actually, in modern English we pronounce it the way it looks. A case could be made for pronouncing it Eesh-tar, but I have yet to come across a credible source that gives the original pronunciation as Easter.

Easter is originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex.

Ishtar was the goddess of love, war and sex. These days, thanks to Herodotus, she is especially associated with sacred prostitution* (also known as temple prostitution), which, in the religions of the Ancient Near East, allegedly took on the form of every woman having to, at some point in her life, go to the temple of Ishtar and have sex with the first stranger who offered her money. Once a woman entered the temple of Ishtar for the purpose of sacred prostitution, she was not allowed to leave until she’d done the deed. I can’t imagine that sacred prostitution sex was ever very good sex, but hey, what do I know? Probably some people were pretty into it – I mean, if you can imagine it, someone’s made porn about it, right?

Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that, yes, Ishtar was associated with fertility and sex. However, her symbols were the lion, the gate and the eight-pointed star; I can’t find any evidence of eggs or rabbits symbolically belonging to her. And Easter has nothing to do with her.

Most scholars believe that Easter gets its name from Eostre or Ostara**, a Germanic pagan goddess. English and German are two of the very few languages that use some variation of the word Easter (or, in German, Ostern) as a name for this holiday. Most other European languages use one form or another of the Latin name for Easter, Pascha, which is derived from the Hebrew Pesach, meaning Passover. In French it’s Pâques, in Italian it’s Pasqua, in Dutch it’s Pasen, in Danish it’s Paaske, in Bulgarian it’s Paskha, and so on and so forth.

In the Christian Bible, Jesus returned to Jerusalem from his forty days in the desert just before Passover. In fact, in the Gospel according to John, Jesus was killed on the day before the first night of Passover, at the time when lambs were traditionally slaughtered for the Passover feast (because Jesus was the Lamb of God, etc. – SYMBOLISM, Y’ALL). There are a few differing accounts of when Jesus actually died, but most Christian texts, philosophers and scholars agree that it was around the time of Passover. Easter is still celebrated the week after Passover, which is why it’s a different day each year, because the Jewish calendar is lunar rather than solar.

Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?).

Actually, according to Jacob Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie, which he wrote after journeying across Germany and recording its oral mythological traditions, the idea of resurrection was part and parcel of celebrating the goddess Ostara:

OstaraEástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy … Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing … here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.”

Spring is a sort of resurrection after all, with the land coming back to life after lying dead and bare during the winter months. To say that ancient peoples thought otherwise is foolish, naïve and downright uninformed. Many, many pagan celebrations centre around the return of light and the rebirth of the land; these ideas are not new themes in the slightest.

And yes, rabbits and eggs are fertility symbols, and they are, in fact, associated with Eostre.

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts

After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus.

Hey! Guess what language Constantine, the Roman Emperor, spoke? Not English, that’s for sure! In fact, when he was alive, English didn’t even exist yet. He would have spoken Latin or Ancient Greek, so would likely have referred to Easter as Pascha or Πάσχα.

But at its roots Easter (which is pronounced Ishtar) was all about celebrating fertility and sex.

Look. Here’s the thing. Our Western Easter traditions incorporate a lot of elements from a bunch of different religious backgrounds. You can’t really say that it’s just about resurrection, or just about spring, or just about fertility and sex. You can’t pick one thread out of a tapestry and say, “Hey, now this particular strand is what this tapestry’s really about.” It doesn’t work that way; very few things in life do.

The fact is that the Ancient Romans were smart when it came to conquering. In their pagan days, they would absorb gods and goddesses from every religion they encountered into their own pantheon; when the Roman Empire became Christian, the Roman Catholic Church continued to do the same thing, in a manner of speaking.

And do you know why that worked so well? Because adaptability is a really, really good trait to have in terms of survival of the fittest (something I wish the present-day Catholic Church would remember). Scratch the surface of just about any Christian holiday, and you’ll find pagan elements, if not a downright pagan theme, underneath.

Know what else? Most Christians know this. Or, at least, most of the Christians that I’m friends with (which is, admittedly, a fairly small sampling). They know that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th, and they know that there were never any actual snakes in Ireland, and they know that rabbits and eggs are fertility symbols. But they don’t care, because they realize that religions evolve and change and that that’s actually a good thing, not a bad thing. The fact that many Christian saints are just re-imagined pagan gods and goddesses doesn’t alter their faith one iota; because faith isn’t about reason or sense, it’s about belief.

Look, go ahead and debate religion. Go ahead and tell Christians why what they believe is wrong. That’s totally fine and, in fact, I encourage it. A little debate and critical thinking are good for everyone. But do it intelligently. Get to know the Bible, so you actually know what you’re disagreeing with when you form an argument. Brush up on your theology so that you can explain why it’s so wrong. And have some compassion, for Christ’s sake – be polite and respectful when you enter into a debate, even when the person you’re debating with loses their cool. You want to prove that you’re better, more enlightened than Christians? Great, do it by remaining rational and level-headed in the face of someone who’s willing to stoop to personal attacks. To behave otherwise is to be just as bad as the people you’re debating.

Anyway, I hope you guys have a fantastic long weekend, no matter how you spend it. If your holiday involves chocolate, then I hope you enjoy that. If not, just enjoy the extra day or two off work and the (hopefully) warm weather. No matter what you believe in, I think that we can all agree that the end of winter and the rebirth of spring is worth celebrating.

And also? Richard Dawkins? You need to fact-check yourself before you fact-wreck yourself. Spreading this kind of misinformation to your foundation’s 637,000 fans is just plain irresponsible, especially coming from someone like you. Get with the program, buddy.

ETA: The post now seems to be removed from The Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Science and Reason’s FB page. Thanks Richard! 

ETA Part Deux: Oh. It looks like it was deleted from their timeline but not the photo album. Welp.

*It should be noted that the only actual historical evidence that we have of sacred prostitution comes from Herodotus (I’ve included an excerpt from Herodotus’ Histories below) and no one is really sure how accurate it is. Herodotus is known for making shit up, like giant ants for example. But it makes for an amazing story and people still make the association between Ishtar and sacred prostitution, so I decided to mention it here.

The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfil the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.

That crack about ugly women was totally unnecessary, Herodotus. I am just saying.

**The first written reference we have for Eostre dates back to the 7th century AD and can be found in Venerable Bede’s Temporum Ratione, in a passage explaining that April was often referred to as Eostremonth:

“Eosturmonath” has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month.

Jacob Grimm said that he found further evidence of Eostre and her associations with Easter, eggs and rabbits when researching his Deutsches Mythologie, although he was unable to discover any written records about her.

The Saddest Songs

22 Jan

Here is a list of the saddest songs in the history of ever, according to my Facebook friends. I am recording it here for posterity and also as a handy reference for the next time I need to listen to sad music and cry forever (so, tomorrow, then).

So! Here we go, in no particular order. Well, in the order they appeared on my Facebook. That’s a type of order, I GUESS.

1. Wilco – Venus Stop The Train

2. Tori Amos – Icicle

3. Tori Amos – Northern Lad

4. Nine Inch Nails – 30 Ghosts

5. Godspell Cast – By My Side

6. Goo Goo Dolls – Iris

7. Elliott Smith – Waltz #2

8. Coldplay – The Scientist

9.  Ben Folds – Fred Jones

10. Jump Little Children – Cathedrals

11. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

12. Most things by Nick Cave

13. This Mortal Coil – You And Your Sister

14. Holly Golightly –  Tell Me Now So I Know

15. Samuel Barber – Adagio For Strings

16. Most things by Blue Rodeo

17. Ben Folds – Red Is Blue

18. Michael Jackson – Little Susie

19. Most things by Dashboard Confessional

20. Counting Crows – Long December

21. Nine Inch Nails – Hurt

22. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

23. Johnny Cash – Hurt

24. Pat Benatar – Hell Is For Children

25. Ugly Kid Joe – Cats In The Cradle

26. Moby – Wait For Me

27. Moby – Pale Horses

28. Holly Cole – Take Me Home

29. Holly Cole – Cry If You Want To

30. Holly Cole – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

31. Any version of Gloomy Sunday

32. Big Star – Give Me Another Chance

33. Bright Eyes – Shell Games

34. Lisa Germano – Wood Floors

35. Ani DiFranco – Both Hands

36. The National – Exile, Vilify

37. Johnny Mandel – Suicide Is Painless

38. Ani DiFranco – School Night

39. Maria Mena – Sorry

40. The Spill Canvas – All Hail The Heartbreaker

41. Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah

42. Joel Plaskett – Cry Together

43. Joel Plaskett – Blinding Light

44. Eric Clapton – Tears In Heaven

45. The Good Life – Album Of The Year

46. The Weepies – World Spins Madly On

47. Weezer – Only In Dreams

48. Death Cab For Cutie – I’ll Follow You Into The Dark

49. The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site

50. Hayden – Damn This Feelings

51. The White Stripes – We Are Going To Be Friends

52. The Beatles – I’ll Follow The Sun

53. Bill Withers – Better Off Dead

54. John Lennon – Mother

55. Kanye West – Runaway

56. Kanye West – Blame Game

57. El-P – The Overly Dramatic Truth

58. Tori Amos – Spark

59. Tori Amos – Playboy Mommy

60. Kimya Dawson – Walk Like Thunder

61. Homeboy Sandman – Angels With Dirty Faces

62. Kanye West & Jay-Z – Murder To Excellence

63. Kanye West & Jay-Z – To The Future

64. Ceschi – Shame

65. Ceschi – Half Mast

66. El Perro Del Mar – Party

67. Naughty By Nature – Ghetto Bastard (radio version: Everything’s Going To Be Alright

68. Robyn – Call Your Girlfriend

69. Lana Del Rey – Dark Paradise

70. Lana Del Rey – This Is What Makes Us Girls

71. Common Grackle – The Great Depression

72. Mary Cobham – Fire Song

73. The Kills – The Last Goodbye

74. Ani DiFranco – You Had Time

75. Pearl Jam – Last Kiss

76. Suzanne Vega – Luka

77. Tracy Chapman – Behind The Wall

78. Jewel – Adrian

79. Mariah Carey feat. Boyz II Men  – One Sweet Day (added sheepishly, it should probably be noted)

80. The entire album Lady In Satin by Billie Holiday

81. Blur – No Distance Left To Run

82. Rose Cousins – Go First

83. Amanda Palmer – The Bed Song

84. Amanda Palmer – Trout Heart Replica

85. Kathleen Edwards – House Full Of Empty Rooms

86. The Jane Austen Argument – Song For A Siren

87. Dan Mangan – Leaves, Trees, Forest

88. Tori Amos – Winter

89. Sage Francis – Bridle

90. Sage Francis – Crack Pipes

91. Tori Amos – Precious Things

92. Tori Amos – Crucify

93. Tori Amos – Putting The Damage On

94. Tori Amos – China

95. Tori Amos – Hey Jupiter

96. Tori Amos – Sugar

97. Tori Amos – Honey

98. Tori Amos – Jackie’s Strength

99. Hey Rosetta – Yer Fall

100. Sage Francis – It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The End Of Times

101. Sage Francis – Little Houdini

102. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Somewhere Over The Rainbow

103. James  – Out To Get You

104. Ben Folds Five – Brick

105. Bonnie Raitt – I Can’t Make You Love Me

106. Hawksley Workman – Oh You Delicate Heart

107. Hawksley Workman – Prettier Face

108. Harry Chapin – The Shortest Story

109. The Mountain Goats – Old College Try

110. Man Man – Whalebones

111. Metric – London Halflife

112. Christine Lavin – Errol Flynn

113. Damien Rice – The Animals Were Gone

114. Damien Rice – 9 Crimes

115. Thom Yorke – Black Swan

116. Evanescence – Missing

117. William Fitzsimmons – Heartless

118. Bon Jovi – These Days

119. Dave Matthews Band – Stay Or Leave

120. Feist – Let It Die

And there you have it – the saddest songs in the world, as suggested by my Facebook friends. Enjoy! And by that I mean, enjoy crying your eyes out alone in your dark room, I guess.

sad-music-all-day.american-apparel-unisex-fitted-tee.white.w760h760

The Past Is A Foreign Country

2 Dec

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep, etc.

And then God created the Garden of Eden, and made a dude out of mud to be in charge of it. Then one day when this dude, Adam, was sleeping God took one of his ribs (ew) and from that rib magically made Adam a lady-friend, Eve. Then Adam and Eve lived in paradise for, like, three days, until Eve, the original third wave feminist (she embraces diversity, change and choice!), took some bad advice from a phallic symbol serpent and ruined everything.

And we’ve been nostalgic ever since.

Sometimes I think that nostalgia is the human condition. I mean, we’ve got a minimum of three major religions based on this yearning to get back to a past that none of us remember or even understand; the most we know about it is that Adam thought it was awesome. Then again, Adam also thought that wearing fig leaves was awesome, and was married to someone who was basically his clone (I mean, is that how it works? what with the rib and all? what’s the science here? anyone?). Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that I’m not sure how reliable of a source he is.

I mean, here’s the thing: I am the queen of nostalgia. Ask anyone – I basically get nostalgic at the drop of a hat.

(Hey, remember that time you dropped a hat? How great that was? How much fun we had? Why don’t we ever have good times like that anymore?)

I don’t just moon over actual things that I’ve experienced either; I spent a good chunk of my childhood feeling nostalgic for just about any time in history, from the ancient world all the way up to The Great Depression (I blame a combination of having an aunt who is an egyptologist, reading excessive amounts of historical fiction, and watching Annie on VHS until the tape wore out). I used to drive my mother bananas by whining at her that I should have been born in the Victorian era (in response to which she would usually remind me of my fondness for indoor plumbing), and nearly every elementary school class photo shows me decked out in some kind of puffed-sleeve Anne of Green Gables floral-printed nightmare, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

If there was a book at the public library with a picture of a girl in a laced-up bodice and peasant skirt, I’d read it. If there was a weirdo food mentioned in something I’d read (blanc mange, I am looking at you), I’d tried to find a recipe for it. After learning that people seriously believed in fairies until not that long ago, I began to (non-ironically) leave food in our backyard in case the fair folk were hungry for chocolate-covered graham crackers and milk. And you know what? To be honest, my adult self is not that different, although nowadays I would probably eat the cookies, fairies be damned.

What I’m trying to get at here is that I’m totally guilty of romanticizing the past. Totally! That being said, I don’t use that as an excuse to hate the present. I mean, I like flush toilets and computers and being able to vote and science-based medicine and all that good stuff. I am pretty down with modern life (although I am sad that I don’t get to wear bustles or hoop skirts). I guess what I am trying to say is that I am confused by people who think that living a middle-class existence in the western world is basically the worst, ever. I’ve heard women bemoaning the fact that feminism has ruined womanhood (is that even a word? my spellcheck thinks it’s a word), and the fact that women can now vote, own property and work after marriage is somehow preventing them from being stay-at-home mothers or housewives or whatever. I’ve heard people complaining about the “chemicals” in antibiotics, and saying that they only do homeopathic or herbal treatments – nothing “unnatural” or doctor-prescribed. I hear people talking wistfully about the days when science didn’t exist and everything was just natural and wholesome and wonderful.

People talk a lot about “authenticity” when it comes to objects and experiences. They don’t want Walmart to exist; they want everyone to buy things from farmer’s markets and local mom-and-pop pharmacies and department stores. They want to drive to Mennonite country to buy hand-made furniture and hand-dipped candles. They want to practice yoga at sunrise on a mountaintop with someone who has studied in India and can read their chakras. When they travel to South America, they don’t want to go on a guided tour; they want to see the unspoiled part of the rain forest, want to see the “real” locals who are unspoiled by contact with the west. We’re obsessed with our idea of what’s “real”; these days, people worship at the temple of the real.

Sometimes I think that our desire for authenticity has a lot to do with our love of nostalgia. We think that the people who came before us lived lives that were somehow more “real” than our own.

But you know what guys? The past is a foreign country, and so on, and so forth. We don’t know what it was like back then; all we can go by is what we’re told, or by deciphering what’s been left behind. We will never be able to understand how people felt or lived back then; their circumstances, though not totally alien to ours, are different enough that we will never fully be able to grasp their emotions, or beliefs, or the ins-and-outs of their daily lives. We just have to trust that yes, being a woman before feminism was a raw deal, and yes, modern medicine saves lives, and yes, science and modernity serve some kind of purpose. I’m not saying, let’s not be critical of society; what I’m saying is let’s keep pushing forward and trying to make things better instead of daydreaming about a past that we can never get back.

I’m not saying that Walmart is amazing, or that any of the things I mentioned up there are bad in and of themselves, just that it’s hard to have some kind of moral superiority about where you shop when there are kids who would probably starve if there weren’t discount stores where their parents could get a cheap meal. I’m also not saying that our society isn’t obsessed with consumerism, because we are; we’re consumerist as hell. But you know what? People in the past didn’t own less things because they were better than us; it was because they couldn’t afford them. If you want to live a life of simplicity where all you can afford is a mattress on the floor and one change of clothes, then by all means, please go ahead. However, don’t kid yourself that you’re being more “real” than the next person.

Sometimes I think that the appeal of history is that we know how all the stories end. We know who wins the Battle of Hastings, and whether or not Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, and whether or not the Titanic will ever reach New York (spoiler: it won’t). And yeah, a lot of history was scary and bloody and downright awful, but at least we know what happens. I mean, better the devil you know, right? Our modern lives terrify us because we don’t know how anything will end; sometimes it seems like we’re careening towards our own destruction, running full-tilt at things like global warming and nuclear war and widespread poverty and famine. I’ve got news for you, though: if these things terrify you, all the hand-dipped candles in the world aren’t going to save you. If you’re scared (and you probably should be), then get up and go do something, for God’s sake. Sitting at home wishing that you lived in Elizabethan England is going to accomplish exactly nothing.

I mean, except reminding you how awesome those giant ruffs were. Can we bring those back, please?

Bustles - the best, right? Baby got back, etc.

Bustles – the best, right? Baby got back, etc.

Autumn Nostalgia Playlist

21 Sep

My friend Meredith posted on Facebook this morning about how she was listening to an autumn nostalgia playlist on some internet radio station. I was jealous for a second, because if anyone deserves an autumn playlist, it’s clearly me.

Then I said to myself, Self, you are a grown-ass woman – if you want an autumn nostalgia playlist, you will need to put on your big girl panties and make one. 

So I did.

And now I am sharing it with you.

You’re welcome, etc.

1. Wilco – How To Fight Loneliness

2. Dallas Green – Body In A Box

3. The Weakerthans – Left And Leaving

4. Ohbijou – The Woods

5. Woodpigeon – Home As A Romanticized Concept Where Everyone Loves You Always And Forever

6. Vienna Teng – Recessional

7. Joshua Radin – Winter

8. Avett Brothers – I And Love And You

9. First Aid Kit – Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Fleet Foxes cover)

10. The Shins – New Slang

11. Weeping Tile – Handkerchiefs and Napkins

12. David Usher – F Train

13. Jenn Grant – Dreamer

14. Counting Crows – Raining In Baltimore

15. Cat Power – Metal Heart

16. Royal Wood – Juliet

17. Hayden – This Summer

18. Hawksley Workman – Autumn’s Here

19. Nico – These Days

20. Thrush Hermit – Before You Leave

20 books that I hope Theo reads when he’s older, part I

20 Aug

It’s not exactly a big secret that I love reading (also – that would be a pretty weird thing for me to keep secret). I’m 30 and I still get crushes on fictional characters, although maybe I have better taste now than I did as a moony teenager in love with Holden Caulfield. One of my greatest hopes for Theo is that he will grow up to love books even a fraction as much as I do. In light of that fact, I’ve created a list of 20 books that I loved when I was a kid as a sort of starting point for Theo’s future reading career. Because it’s never too early for this sort of thing, right?

Keep in mind that I haven’t read some of these books in, like, 20 years, so my reviews/descriptions might not be entirely accurate. However, what I can offer you is the dominant impression these books leave me with so many years after the fact:

Image

1. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, 1959

This is a book about a 12-year-old boy, Sam, who gets sick of living in his parents’ crowded New York City apartment with his 10,000 8 brothers and sisters. His solution to this problem is to take off for the Catskill Mountains and find this piece of property his family abandoned years before (they used to have a house or something there, like, three generations ago, but then they moved to the city I guess).

Sam tells his parents that he’s going to run away to the mountains and basically says that he will go whether they’re cool with it or not, so they totally let him go. Um, amazing! How come my parents weren’t that cool when I was 12? Anyway, he apparently learns some wilderness skills or whatever at the public library (TAKE THAT, ROB FORD), and then is all, see ya, giant family and tiny apartment.

My main memory of this book is that this kid was fucking SERIOUS BUSINESS. He finds a peregrine falcon that he trains to hunt for him. He lives in a tree. He almost dies, like, fifty times. At one point he is skinning a rabbit and is like, hmmm, I really want to eat his liver. So he does, and then he’s like, welp, I guess I was vitamin D deficient. I don’t know why, but that scene struck me as especially hardcore. HE ATE A LIVER, YOU GUYS. A LIVER. I guess liver really grossed me out when I was young?

Another big impression that this book left on me was that I was a huge wuss. I would never, ever go off and live in the mountains by myself in a house that I had to dig with my own hands. I could never be that self-sufficient. Also, I could never go that long without seeing another human face (even if occasionally I fantasize about it). In spite of my wussiness, though, I still managed to identify with Sam because, hey, who doesn’t want to run off and leave everything behind sometimes? Who doesn’t want to push themselves to the limit to discover how much they can endure, and how much they’re really capable of?

And I guess that’s the main message I got from this book: if you really want something, and you really prepare for it, you can achieve it. And also maybe you will get a sweet pet falcon out of the deal.

Image

2. Warrior Scarlet, Rosemary Suttcliff, 1958

This one takes place in Britain, during the Bronze Age. It tells the story of Drem, a kid with only one functioning arm. The thing is, Drem really, really wants to be a warrior (in case you were wondering, this is kind of a Big Deal in his tribe). At first everyone is all, no way can you be a warrior, your arm doesn’t even work! You’ll have to go live with the sheep-herders. Have fun with the sheep, Drem! And then they’re like, well, I guess you can train with the other youth. Maybe.

So of course Drem goes to train with the other boys his age, seems to prove that he’s able to keep up with them, and totally starts to get over the fact that he’s different. He even starts to bond with his peers! BUT (you totally knew there was a but coming here), in order to become a warrior he has to kill a wolf. And of course the killing gets all fucked up (the wolf injures him really badly, so his friend steps in to help, which is TOTALLY NOT ALLOWED according to the tribe), and it looks like Drem will be spending the rest of his life with the sheep people. Of course, some other stuff happens, Drem ends up somehow killing the exact same wolf he failed to kill years before, and there’s a happy ending where he completes the super seekrit initiation ceremony and becomes a full-fledged warrior. Yay! Everybody wins! Except the wolf, I guess.

My main memory of this book is how insanely fascinating, beautiful and bad-ass it made Bronze Age Britain sound. I remember poring, practically drooling, over passages about midnight bonfires and sacred rituals and ancient magic, and whoa, did I ever want to live in that world. I remember this being a book that I daydreamed about a lot, and that’s something that I want for Theo. I want him to have books that he loves so much he ends up spending hours and hours imagining what it would be like to exist within the confines of that story.

Plus, you know, super seekrit initiation. SO AWESOME.

3. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, 1962

First, can we all just agree that Meg Murry is awesome? She’s not conventionally attractive, she has self-esteem issues, she’s socially awkward, she beats other kids up, and she’s super smart. I mean, sure, she’s not as smart as Charles Wallace, but then who is? Anyway, she’s someone that a lot of people can identify with. And she ends up kicking major ass.

The book takes place in small town America (I want to say somewhere in New England, but I’m not sure) during the cold war. The Murrys are a family that includes two super-smart parents, their super-smart daughter Meg, their super-super-smart son Charles Wallace and their totally boring and average twins, Sandy and Dennys. Mr. Murry disappeared during some kind of secret science mission, and now everyone in their village thinks that he just ran off and abandoned his family. Oh and everyone also thinks that Charles Wallace is developmentally delayed, even though he’s a genius like whoa.

Anyway, Meg and Charles Wallace end up teaming up with some extraterrestrial-type ladies, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which, and Meg’s hot schoolmate Calvin O’Keefe (who is super popular but ALSO has issues) in order to go rescue Mr. Murry. They travel through space and time in a sort of “wrinkle” called a tesseract (SCIENCE!!!!) and have some adventures before finally arriving at the planet where the force of ultimate evil darkness is keeping Meg’s dad prisoner. Even though you would think that it would be Charles Wallace who ends up saving the day (because he’s so frigging precocious), it’s actually Meg’s badass contrariness that gets everyone out of there alive. HIGH FIVE FOR SMART, CONTRARY WOMEN.

My main impressions from this book were: a) whoooaaaa I think I like science fiction and/or fantasy (it was probably the first sci-fi/fantasy book I read) b) I wish I could be part of the Murry family and c) I triple wish that Calvin O’Keefe was my boyfriend (he is seriously so nice, you guys don’t even know). It’s a book about a smart, resourceful young woman who realizes that she’s strong and awesome and ALSO she gets a hot, nice boyfriend without even changing anything about her looks. He even tells her he likes her in glasses! Aw, you guys, I love this book so hard.

 

4. The Great Brain, John Dennis Fitzgerald, 1967

This is actually the first of a series of books about Tom Fitzgerald, the titular Great Brain. The books, which are set in late 19th century Utah, are narrated by Tom’s long-suffering younger brother, John. See, Tom is a genius, but he only wants to use his powers for evil, i.e. “swindling” people out of their possessions and thinking up get-rich-quick schemes. He also does things like trying to frame the schoolteacher for being “a drunk”. You guys, these were THE BEST BOOKS EVER, basically.

No, but seriously, even though Tom occasionally receives his comeuppance, he still gets away with a lot of stuff. When I was a kid, I mostly wanted to hang out with him and stir up shit and learn how to swindle people out of their possessions because, hey, it sounded like a lot of fun! Plus, they had so many whacky adventures. If these books are anything to go by, Utah is way more fun than any place I’ve ever lived.

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5. Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943

There is some kind of law that every French-speaking person has to read this book at least once over the course of their childhood. Now, let’s be totally clear: no kid is going to understand this book. They might enjoy it, but they won’t understand it.

Plot-wise, the book is about a pilot who crashes in the Sahara and is struggling to survive. One day, a young boy, the titular Little Prince appears. Now, this Little Prince is from space (!!) where he lives on his own personal asteroid (!!!) that has three active volcanoes (!!!!) and one rose. Weirdly, the humanoid prince falls in love with the rose (to be fair, I guess he didn’t have a whole lot of options in terms of life partners), who then lies to him because she’s super vain and kind of rude. They break up for a while, but then I guess they get back together.

The Little Prince decides he needs to explore the universe, so he sets off to visit a bunch of other asteroids, each of which is populated by a single, ridiculous adult. One of these adults, a geographer, is all, hey, you should totally check out the planet Earth! And the Little Prince is like, okay cool!

On Earth, the prince meets more ridiculous adults, and discovers that his rose isn’t beautiful or unique after all. He’s pretty bummed about this until he meets a fox (who totally steals the spotlight and gets the best lines in the book) who convinces him that yeah, dude, your rose IS special because she’s the one you love. Whoa! Revelation!  The prince also meets a weird snake who tells him that he can send him back to his home asteroid, but the prince is all, no, that’s cool, I’m good for now.

Anyway, the prince tells this whole story to the pilot, and then helps him find a well so that he doesn’t die of thirst or whatever. Then the prince is like, welp, I guess I’ll go find that snake again! The pilot realizes that the Little Prince will have to let the snake kill him in order to get him back home, and tries to convince him to stay on Earth. The prince totally ignores him and lets the snake bite him. Sorry, pilot! The story ends with the pilot looking for the prince.

As a kid you read this book and you’re like, hmmm, I guess this is fine. It’s kind of funny or whatever. Then you read it as an adult and you’re like, oohhhh, I get it. Adults are boring and totally sucky, while kids are awesome (fact). Also we have to appreciate the people we have in our lives who love us, and not spend time comparing them to other people (double fact). And finally, you realize that you want to spend all day hanging out with the fox, who says things like, “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (One sees clearly only with their heart – the essential is invisible to the eyes)

As an adult, I’ve read Saint-Exupéry’s other books, and have realized that he is this crazy amazing poetic philosopher. Wind, Sand and Stars is, in particular, my favourite. But I’m glad that I read The Little Prince when I was a kid, even if I didn’t understand it. I’m glad to have my childish impressions so that I can compare them to how I see the book now – I think that’s especially important given that it’s a book about the magical worldview children have that we lose as we age.

I’ll finish off here with a quote from Wind, Sand and Stars:

Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. You are a petty bourgeois of Toulouse. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.

Stay tuned for parts II, III and IV. And please feel free to leave book suggestions in the comments – if I get enough of them, I will do a whole post about your suggestions. I would write about books all day every day, if I could.

p.s. Can we all just agree that Holden Caulfield would be, like, the worst boyfriend in the history of ever?