From 5 - 15 years of age
Due to these books being deeper in my past, their links with my stories are generally more thematic than otherwise. I also made myself be quite vague in places to avoid spoilers. Once I realized the connections, I set out to add the books listed below to my collection. It's quite fun to revisit them at times.
1) The Lorax by Dr Seuss
This is definitely the single most influential story in my life, in terms of having a dramatic effect on me when I first encountered it. I was a second-grader at the time, so six years old. I can't say that this story created my lifelong fascination with cipher/singular characters--'one of a kinds' in type or species...that fascination, I believe, already existed. But my introduction to the Lorax certainly massively exacerbated it, incurably so. This book also sparked a lifelong sorrow and fascination over the destruction and extinction of races and species, and that is definitely a palpable thread in my writings. Last-of-their-kind sorts may be a rather horrid cliche at this point, but it's too close to my heart to ever give up.
2) The Silver Pony by Lynd Ward
This book I did not own as a child. I found it in the library, and 'read' it multiple times, I'm sure. It's a strictly picture book--aside from the title and header page, there are no words anywhere--even the chapters are demarked by stars. It's a sort-of 'Calvin and Hobbes' conceit--the pegasus is supposed to be a figment of the child's imagination, but I never read it that way as a kid (or now!). I hunted down my own copy sometime after college, because I remember how huge an impact the story had on me. That's when I discovered that my interpretation of the ending was well outside the mainstream understanding. A good thing too, perhaps, or anyone who knows that story might too easily guess at the ending of my 5th book! Well, maybe not that easily, but the influence between them is very strong to me. I love stories of friendship (especially between different 'species') and sacrifice, and that will certainly never change.
3) The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This book I didn't have as a child either (I should just type 'ditto' from here on out!). I didn't see it in the library, but in Target (a store that sells inexpensive clothing and household goods, etc). My mom would sometimes leave just me or me and my brother in the book section while she went off and did the 'boring' shopping. This was the Target on Suburban Avenue, I believe--there's no way she'd leave us alone in that store as the neighborhood is nowadays. Anyway, killing time perusing the kiddie books was where I found that story and reread it multiple times. I got my own copy for myself after college. I realize some people have strong issues with this book because the relationship seems so lopsided or even codependent. But that's not how I read it as a child. Again, a friendship and sacrifice from one creature to another, crossing species lines. I so wanted a wonderful tree-friend like that when I was a kid (I didn't read it as allegory). I've loved what I saw in that story, and have found myself emulating it in daydreams and tales down the years...except that I want the friendship a bit more balanced than what is depicted there.
4) The Unicorn and the Lake by Marianna Mayer, illustrations by Michael Hague
Again, didn't own, read it multiple times in/from the library; got myself a copy as an adult. I think I was fascinated with this one around the 10-12 year old mark. Once again--the unicorn is a truly one-of-a-kind, 'magical' creature, that lives at peace with nature but is hunted by humans, and so retreats to the highest mountains. Gentle yet a fierce warrior when the need arises, able to hear the cries of the forest animals as they suffer for lack of water. The t'DoL-parallels seem obvious, though the more direct connection would likely lie with the earlier incarnation of t'DoL that I played with around the age of 14.
5) Everybody Knows what a Dragon Looks Like by Jay Williams, illustrations by Mercer Mayer
Ditto on the library here. I have memories of reading 'The Giving Tree' and 'The Unicorn and the Lake,' but I don't remember reading this book, so I can't guess at what age I found it. I so love this story, and again t'DoL parallels can be seen. The gorgeous dragon (this is set in legendary China, so an eastern dragon) that makes himself look like the dumpy little man when people call for his aid, the acts of kindness by the boy who believes him that persuades him to save the city when nobody else in the place particularly deserves it. Probably a strong 'Apple-grower' resonance there. Things not being as/who they appear, and kindness being rewarded--as well as the humor of all the arrogant, upstanding, 'important' people expecting that dragons would look just like them. It's priceless, and the illustrations are so delightfully quirky. I had a hard time finding it after college, as I couldn't remember the title or much about it at all, but I finally succeeded in 1999 by persistently trawling through Amazon.com and landing on the right word combination. I wish I could buy a copy for everyone who reads this!
1) Dream Thief by Stephen Lawhead
I find it quite amusing and wry that I failed to mention this book in my previous post on influences and inspirations. Because it's this book where the strongest overt parallels can be seen between that story and my Geren books. I think I discovered and fell in love with this near-future sci-fi around 8th grade (so age 13-14). I devoured it repeatedly, dreamed about it, drew cruddy pictures about it, and so forth. One of the chief villains still gives my mom the willies. As it is, I can't go into the parallels without strewing book spoilers about like confetti, particularly book 4 and 5 spoilers. But again there's the image of a lost race, a lost civilization. I'd say I was as inspired by the thoroughness of how Lawhead depicted his vanished Martian culture, history, civilization, architecture, ethos, and biology/physiology as I was by the events of the story. They're so precious to me...but if I say any more, I'll say too much. I owe so much to that book, but the fact that it often drops out of my mind, and that I read it so long before starting into the Geren story, helps console me that I wasn't engaging in any overt copying, at least not consciously so.
2) Bird entry in 'International Wildlife'
My wonderful aunt, during my earlier-middle teenage years, I believe, gave me and my brother gift subscriptions to the magazines 'National Wildlife' and 'International Wildlife.' The photography was gorgeous! I can't remember how old I was, or alas, what species it was, what issue--not much of anything except where I was sitting when I read it. A little blurb tucked away somewhere about the 'rarest bird.' So called because there appeared to be only one left, one male who for years was seen/heard around parts of the island (one of the Hawaiian islands or further west) singing, singing, singing, to find a female, but there were none. At length he was heard no more. That shattered me; one of those moments when one just wants to scream sorrow until the world tears apart. I've never forgotten that, and I know I owe a part of t'DoL to that last, lorn little bird, endlessly pricked by a desire to search for something he intellectually knows he can never find.
Mar 22, 2008 NOTE: Thanks to the wonderful internet, not only was I able to find out what bird species I read about in that article, I was also able to find a clip of its forever-lost singing! You can read a little bit about the Kauai O'o and hear a 2-minute presentation that contains its song here. What a blessing!
I'm sure there's more, and something might leap into my head right after I post this. But I think I've covered most of the strongest and deepest book influences between the first post and here.