Friday 1 March 2013

The way to the fortress

Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights playing on Radio. As I get older I realize this song isn't about the classic book so much as a teenage girl's discovery of literature and the endless caverns of magic therein.

It was 1984 for me, at the age of twelve. I went to Roundhill college, as repressive a regime as any 80's British comprehensive. The usual drill: sadistic sports teachers, snot-faced bullies, party-loyal snitches and a culture so cold that to say another boy was your friend was to leave yourself open to homophobic sneers, subtly encouraged by the underpaid staff.

And then this funny little man with a pencil mustache and tweed suit rises from his grave to tell me in typeset ink: "It's alright young man, you are understood. This place you're in is a lie, a spineless stupid lie, and it cannot hold you forever. It cannot own your mind"

I can't identify with that 12 year old kid anymore (in many ways he was an arrogant little shit, actually) but I can sympathize. Fiction is an escape, sure, but one that leads into a fortress.


  1. The funny thing is, I went to get Nineteen Eighty Four out from the school library for a pal, but the librarian informed me that the Parents Teacher association had deemed it unsuitable. I've never trusted authority since!

  2. For me it was C.S.Lewis' Lion Witch and Wardrobe, age 8. My aunt bought them for me as a birthday present, because I was old enough to read big kid stuff now. I didn't know what to think of pages and pages of just words with no pictures. And I couldn't for the life of me figure out where to begin. Introductions were for skipping, everyone knows you don't read the first section of any picture-less book, that's the part that has all the boring self congratulatory thanks for reading the book in the first place. But skipping the first chapter I found myself lost in a world as beautiful and captivating as any I had dreamed up lying on the grass on a spring day letting the wind sketch ideas in the clouds. So I backed up and read the "boring" part, and to my utter delight found it wasn't boring at all.
    To pass ages while reading and grow up over and over while almost no time passed for me here was an idea I held with me for meany years after. Each book a gateway to a world with people I could come to know and love as dearly as any I knew in my own life.
    An escape, certainly, but one that helped me forge the strength and compassion that make me a better more productive person today.

  3. You give an enthusiastic kid a copy of TWTLATW and you may was well give them an actual wardrobe into Narnia. Thanks for sharing, Sej!