With regard to the questions taken on by a story- to the extent each are answered depends on the power of the story. This power comes from the author’s ability to draw in, inspire and sustain the interest of the reader. By lighting a match to invite that first spark a fire will emerge, powerful and strong.
In Jonathan Aldridge’s February 2015 interview with Warren Adler for The Writer, Mr. Adler states, “there is no way to address the big questions without first captivating the reader’s emotional interest”. But, how does one do that?
Whether in simple children’s stories that open a child’s eyes in wonder or whether in large adult stories that influence readers to peel away the layers, think deep or dispel confusion over the meaning of life, death or love, there are questions that need asking.
For instance, in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina old patriarchal values that support the landowning aristocracy contrast with the newer freethinking values of westernizers and their obsessions with technology, rationalism, democracy, and freedom, all of which beg to examine differences in values and beliefs, or conversely, with which to identify. Why must there be different classes within one society? Why can’t everyone treat one another with the same care they treat others? Is there a cost to freedom?
Likewise, providing fuel to spark a fire, Tolstoy drops further suggestions to debate the appeal or outrage of women’s rights, the fading tradition of arranged marriage argued against the potential to find happiness in marriage by choice, or the institution of traditional family and the happiness versus unhappiness associated with it, as well as the limitations of freedom, and the idea that faith, happiness and family life can all be aligned with one another. Why must the rewards of family be compromised by dysfunction and unhappiness? Is this something we bring on ourselves or is it a natural consequence?
Each question stirs intrigue through story lines and plots within large adult depictions of aspirations, failures or successes. These questions are deep yet simple at the same time. We can find universal questions taken on by small, simple stories written for children just as easily, opening doors to new and exciting worlds and opening minds to new beginnings in which to explore new found friendships, secrets and adventures. After all that is where it begins for all of us at some point in time…..in the innocence of our childhood when our minds were open and eager to learn.
In another one of my personal favorite childhood stories, written by Mildred Myrick in 1963, three boys form a friendship born of innocence, curiosity and the natural innate desire for adventure. “The Secret Three” I CAN READ book centers on a lighthouse and boats and a secret club, writing things in code and messages in a bottle- all the adventurous things children find enchanting. Even the title is mysterious and intriguing for young readers, imploring from them questions of possibilities and “what if’s”. In fact, I have no doubt Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer would have sought escape and adventure with Mark, Billy and Tom and their quest for escapade, thrill and friendship.
The Secret Three is certainly a simple early reader story, but heartfelt and as real and big to children as are the advanced adult story lines explored through Tolstoy’s and others adult authors’ famous classics. From the ‘I CAN READ” books of my childhood. to the big giant adult masterpiece classics like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Mary Shelley’s Valperga and Steinbeck’s Of mice and men, readers are drawn to the “fire” by their passion to seek life’s answers to the questions that drive them as humans.
As in life, the largest and most lasting fires begin with a small spark and it is the writer’s pledge to provide that flicker by encouraging questions, desire and interest. Regardless of whether those questions are answered it is the power to open the reader’s mind to wanting to know that matters. But, of one thing I am certain- there is little chance to light a fire with only wet matches.