Words are the most available magic in the world. They paint pictures in our minds, take us places new and old, create brand new worlds beyond imagination. They make us fall in love with people real and fictional, they incite emotions of all kinds, and bring change into the world – religion, science, philosophy, and more. Those with the skill can use words to change the world – and the rest of us get to experience the magic of it. I love the power of words – they suck me in, and yet drag me out into the world at the same time. It’s ordinary magic, but that’s the best kind. Ordinary magic, ordinary joy – wonder and happiness can be found in the simplest things if we pause and look.
Sometimes I forget about the wonder that’s here in the world. Sometimes I get so bogged down by the to-do list and frustrated by the mundane instead of taking time to appreciate the life I live. My anxiety often gets intense, and I have a habit of feeling everything strongly – I get both very high and very low, and it’s hard to stay level in between. A good story can bring me out of whatever funk or emotional spiral I’m in by transporting me elsewhere, and when I step away from the story I’m more myself, more present, and I’ve been reminded of how worthwhile life is, including the mundane. The temporary escape brings down my defenses and slows my brain down.
The Discovery of Witches story is the best escape I have ever found since my childhood obsession with Harry Potter – and I think the fact that Deborah Harkness helps me escape as an adult says a lot more about her writing and storytelling. I read all three books in 6 weeks – while working full time, parenting, and going to grad school. I stayed up past midnight reading so many nights and could barely force myself to go to sleep then. When I finished the series, I had a serious book hangover – I couldn’t start another work of fiction for a month, I was so wrapped up still in the story of Diana and the family she built through the trilogy.
I think escaping our lives sometimes to something different (even if unreal) is not just okay – it’s healthy. I know people who escape through exercise, running miles and miles and tuning into their own runner’s world. I know others who dive into video games, creating characters and stories, alone and with friends. Then there are people like me, who escape into books. And for the record – I escape into all kinds of books. It’s less about the genre or type of story, and more about if it can suck me in and if the characters are people I become invested in – even when I might not like them. I’m all about learning about people in real life – I take that with me into my reading and want to learn everything about the characters I meet.
I love the layers to the characters in this story. Being alive for centuries obviously creates a lot of personalities, histories, and layers to work through with Matthew – but even Diana has more to her than even she knows. I also love that as they learn more about themselves, their history, their part to play in the future – they uncover flaws in themselves and their relationships. They make mistakes, people get hurt, and they have to find ways to make amends. They are the protagonists, but I also get mad at them for the decisions they make and some of the stands they take – they become more real in that they have parts to them that are unlikeable. The magic, time travel, history, and romance are all great, but it’s the characters that draw me into their world and out of my own, making it a book (or – in this case, trilogy!) to escape into. I will admit… the characters brought in via time travel were part of my favorite storylines. Historical fiction will always have my heart!
Not to give too much of a spoiler, but the way women became mothers – to children, creatures, and something bigger in the world (like a movement, or an entire community) – and then found their own way of showing their love and mothering their children touched me to my soul. As a mother to two young boys, I am constantly battling against losing all of myself in the role of mother, and figuring out how to love my children and help them grow into themselves. There is no doubt that mothers love their children – but the how is unique to the mom, which of her children is in question, and that relationship. I didn’t just escape into this book – I found validation for my experience and challenges as I became a mom.
The world is still full of wonders, not the least of which is the confirmation that we aren’t alone in our experiences, good and bad. So many wonders can be found and experienced between the pages of a book. Right there, available at any time, for us ordinary humans. We just have to be willing to take the time to look for them; to let go of our current situation for a little bit to jump into something different.