When I was a kid, I loved to pretend I was someone special. Yes, I know, we’re all special, but that’s not quite what I’m going for here. One summer we visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Back then there were a number of shipwreck ruins on the sand. I climbed onto them and played pirates, the wind whipping through my hair as I waved a stick for a sword. Another summer we traveled north from Virginia all the way to Canada, staying in a bunch of lushly wooded campgrounds along the way. My cousin and I wandered among the trees, pretending to be Robin Hood’s men and hunting for magical geodes, armed with my daddy’s hammer and two bows we’d constructed from sticks and string. (My cousin had a sliver of granite in her thumb until the day she died, from our continual rock-bashing.) When I moved to South Carolina, the house we lived in was a few yards from a marsh. There’s something eerie and lovely about marshes, and I spent hours climbing on the branches of live oaks and sitting quietly, waiting for the fae to appear and take me to their land under the hills.
All those things I did because I read books. I read about magical creatures and mythical adventures, places that I could never see with my ordinary eyes, but only with the sight of my imagination. And as I read, I discovered that I wanted to be more than just a school kid. I wanted to fly, to cast spells, to fight evil and emerge triumphant. I wanted to be those heroes I read about.
According to a study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a reader who becomes utterly engrossed in a work of fiction can find his behavior mimicking that of his favorite character. In other words, you are what you read. It depends on how deeply the reader is drawn, of course, and even on what kind of reader you might be. Not everyone becomes immersed, and I doubt that sort of reader would have the same experience, but generally, I think the study might have a point. I know that I was affected by what I read. I learned ways of dealing with my fellow human beings by reading what fictional characters did. I used to be shy in middle and high school, until the year I read Dune. Paul Atreides was taken from his home, dropped into a world he couldn’t possibly have been prepared for, and then discovered that he was different in ways he’d never suspected. I was different, too (not the level of a Muad’Dib, of course – we can’t all be messiahs!) and now I saw that different was okay. Even cool. If Paul could overcome the tragedies he suffered, then I could overcome high school. And I did. It wasn’t all thanks to Paul, of course, but he helped.
I want to hear today about characters whose behavior spoke to you, made such an impression on you that you found yourself changed. Huge ways or small, it doesn’t matter – it’s the change that’s important. Tell me your tale.
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