Sunday, April 3, 2016

A book that changed my life

Last week, German author and blogger Guddy shared a picture asking to "Name a book that changed your life" and since we only recently talked about our favorite childhood books, I was reminded of my favorite book again: The Golden Compass - or rather, the entire His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman.

As you can see, the German books are quite old and well-used. We're missing the English version of book 1, I guess I should get it some time soon!

The second time I thought about the books again was when I realized that I forgot to post one day of the #piitstagram challenge (you can find more information about what it is in this entry and my previous posts on my Instagram): to post a picture of my favorite book.

I realized that there is a lot I want to say and typing it all on my phone in an instagram post will not be sufficient. So I decided to write a blog post.

I got the first book of the trilogy, The Golden Compass (also known as Northern Lights), when I was about 7 years old, from my step aunt. It was probably the first "Fantasy" book that I actually read, previously I had mostly read German children's literature about crime solving kids or otherwise with very little fantastic elements in them. So when I first picked it up, I found it confusing to read, because it directly drops you off in a world that is very different from ours, and the concept that a "dæmon" could be something else than the malevolent demons I head previously read about, was very foreign to me. But hey, I was only seven years old. I didn't take me long though, to start to relate to the girl in the story, Lyra, and to be intrigued by the world she lived in, that was so similar to ours but just slightly different.

I was a bit older when I got to read the second one, probably 10 or so. Back then my English wasn't good enough to read such a book in its original language (aside from the Harry Potter series, I realize now that I read mostly German books while in middle school), so I had to wait until it came out in German. I ordered it from a bookstore and was so excited to get it, I remember I started to read it right away on my way home from school by train after I had picked it up. 

So not only were these one of the first fantasy books that I ever read, I also read them at a time of my life - in particular the second and third one - when I was not very happy with my life. The books explore the idea of a multiverse, an infinite amount of parallel worlds that exist next to each other, some with only subtle, some with vast differences. It seemed very intriguing to me. I was wondering - hoping - that somewhere, there was a version of myself that was better at everything. A version that had lots of friends and was happy. A version whose parents hadn't divorced, or a version who lived with her father, or who grew up as an orphan, like Lyra. And at the same time, I was so fascinated with this character. She was clever, brave and strong, she was everything I wanted to be. But I did not feel the wish to become more like her - not because it didn't seem desirable, but simply because I didn't have the confidence that I even could be like her. I rather wished I had a friend like her, who looked out for me and went to the end of the world just to save me, like she did for her best friend Roger.

But still, without me noticing, the book changed me. It changed my view of justice and authority, and I became brave. Stupidly brave, one could say, as I started to defy my parents and teachers and engaged in word duels, armed with argument after argument, and baffled the adults around me. My 5th grade geography teacher once complained to my mother that I "asked too many questions". My 8th grade English teacher insisted that I had answered a question in a quiz wrong, so the next time I brought her books to prove my answer - needless to say, she didn't appreciate my participation in class very much after I had proven her wrong. In 11th grade, I got into an argument with another teacher. As she told me that I should be old enough to know when not to talk back, I replied to her that I was definitely old enough to know not to back down when I see someone being treated unfairly. She was so mad at me that moment, but interestingly, she never held a grudge. I think she knew that I was right in that situation, and looking back, I am still proud that 16-year old me had the guts to stand up to the teacher that got nicknamed "the witch" because she was so mean and evil sometimes.
I guess I was very frustrating to be around as a kid, but what better way to annoy adults than by beating them in an argument? It's not exactly something they can punish you for, so in the end, you usually get what you want, even if they are mad at you, simply because they cannot think of another point to make. Like when my mum refused to allow me to get my ears pierced when I was 15, claiming if I didn't want them anymore I would have ugly scars. I claimed, nobody would ever notice tiny scars on my ears, but she still didn't allow it. So I waited till she was away on a vacation for a week and got an earlobe piercing. A couple of weeks later she finally noticed it for the first time and was on the brink of freaking out when I told her I actually already had it for a long time before she even noticed - so if she didn't even notice the piercing, how did she expect to notice a tiny scar, if I ever decided to take them out?

Well, I might not exactly have been on "Lyra-Silvertounge-level" but as I thought about the book these days and how it changed my life, I realized that I somehow lost this trait, this strong sense of justice, this feeling in my gut that made me furiously defend someone who was treated unfairly, even if it meant I would suffer the backlash. On one hand, I think it is because I was stepped on so, so many times since then, that at some point I just started to walk the path of least resistance simply because I don't have the strength left in me to defy someone. Compared to now, life at school was so easy. If you talk back at a teacher, but still have good grades, there's pretty much nothing they can do to you. Especially if it's only one teacher who holds a grudge and you're good with all the others, there's not even disciplinary consequences (at least at my school). With parents, it's the same. You can talk back all you want and do stupid things like getting your ears pierced without permission, but they would not throw you out of the house for that (at least my parents didn't). In the end, most problems or conflicts at that time were still pretty tame. Now, if I defy my boss, I might get fired. I would feel horrible if I got into an argument and he held a grudge against me, and the times when I mistakenly thought he did, I could not sleep at night because I was so worried (even thought it was always about stupid things). Add to that the fact that my social anxiety has changed from "I wanna be the person everyone likes" to "I am so scared that people will hate that I prefer not to interact with anybody at all". 

It's easy to talk big when you're on the internet and to appear confident if you have to. I remember how people I met in high school and during my Bachelor's always thought I must be such a confident person - perhaps because of the way I dress. Even back then, most of it was just fake, and act that I put up to hide my own insecurity. But when there was a situation where I felt like somebody should step up, I always did. At that moment, it didn't matter that I felt insecure. I only saw or felt the injustice, and I acted. Today, I let it be, and when I get home I feel tired and exhausted for putting up with it, I feel sad and ashamed that I was not strong enough to say something, and I am worried and scared that everything will turn to worse if I keep not saying anything - self hate rears its ugly head.

 Now I wonder if anybody would still think I am self confident today.
Probably not.
I wonder if I have really changed for the worse.
Perhaps it is time to become more brave again, but where do I start?

That being said, there is still another aspect about those books that changed my life - and it is something that definitely holds true until this day.

The book also changed my view of religion. And it fueled my fascination for the unknown - it lay the ground stone for me becoming a scientist, as the physicist Mary became an equally strong role model for me. I was never raised with a particularly strong focus on my religion or any kind of faith. My grandma had a picture of Mary and Jesus on her wall above her bed, and she taught me some prayers that we sometimes said. I went to church when I had to at school - I went to a school led by catholic nuns, but the only subject taught by the nuns was religion, and it was pretty harmless. In high school, I went to Protestant masses a couple of times because they were so much more interesting than the Catholic ones. In the end, the absolute turning point was probably reached when I was 14, and my grandmother died, despite all the hopes and prayers and signs I might have wanted to believe in. Ultimately, I thought for myself, whatever or whoever is out there, he sure ain't listening to me, so why bother talking anymore at all? I started to realize that for me, it just didn't matter if there really was a god, because the fact had no influence on my life at all. It was people around me, people who hurt me, who destroyed the world, who broke others dreams and were cruel to each other, but also humans who were kind and compassionate, who listened and lent a helping hand. There was no sign of gods, and no necessity for them to be able to explain what I saw.

I still hold a strong fascination for the supernatural, for Fantasy stories and I dream of impossible worlds, they are just not my reality. It does not matter though, because perhaps they are someone else's reality, in another world, that exists beside ours.
I find that thought very comforting, because besides all the cruel things that people come up with and do to each other, imagine another world if all the wonderful and fantastic things that we can dream of, are also true. And if nothing else, I believe that anything that we can dream of exists somewhere, in another world. And if I get to see these worlds in my dreams, that is the greatest gift I could imagine.

So these books definitely had a huge impact on my life. Even after all these years they are still very important to me.
And I am left to wonder, what would happen to a person who grows up to be brave, like the proverbial lion, but turns more and more into a coward? Would their dæmon protect them from that? Perhaps having such a companion around would remind them of their true nature and help them preserve their ideals and wishes during life. I certainly wonder what kind of animal my dæmon would be.

Have you read these books, and if so, what do you think of them?
What do you think your dæmon would be like? :)
And lastly, are there any books that changed your life?

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