I think most writers start out as lonely kids whose best friends are books.
A little over a month ago, my wife and I were packing to visit my family for Thanksgiving. All of my clothes were neatly packed and I was frantically searching our bookshelves for some light airplane reading. Reading an engaging book on a plane is one of my favorite things, so I wanted something good. My index finger came to rest on a small paperback with a cracked spine; a book I hadn’t read in a very, very long time.
When I was eleven years old, my family moved out of state. I changed schools and, in that cruel pre-social media world, lost touch with nearly all of my friends. For two years, I went to a small charter school (there were less than 15 students in my entire grade). I struggled to fit in and when I couldn’t seem to make any friends, I turned inward.
There was a small, white bookcase in my classroom and students were encouraged to borrow books. Being in middle school and being lonely, I naturally gravitated to escapist fiction and picked up a slight book with a dragon on the cover — A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin.
LeGuin’s book came to me at the perfect time, as great books often do. Set in an Iron Age world of islands and magic, the story follows the journey of Sparrowhawk, an arrogant young sorcerer who breaks the barrier between life and death and unleashes a malevolent shadow into the world. As he seeks to defeat it, he comes to understand the balance of the universe.
It completely captivated me. It wasn’t an epic fantasy, like The Lord of the Rings, but a personal fantasy; a coming-of-age story about one man learning to master his demons (both figurative and literal).
Of even more interest to me as a budding writer was the nature of magic in LeGuin’s imagined world. In Earthsea, the key to magic lies in knowing the names of things. To know the true name of a person or a force of nature gives you power over it. In my own life, I was also learning that words were powerful.
A Wizard of Earthsea was my gateway drug. LeGuin’s trilogy led me to other works of fantasy and science fiction. It also inspired me to write my own stories. If writing were a superpower, those books of fantasy would feature prominently in my origin story. Throughout middle school (and especially in those two years before I transferred to a larger public school), I started to write consistently for the first time in my life.
I had nearly forgotten about A Wizard of Earthsea until I happened upon it while packing my bag. I had nearly forgotten why it was so important to my development as a writer and how it had kept me company when I was a lonely kid in a new town. I don’t intend to forget again.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. His most recent short story, the Evidence for Coal, was published this month by Creative Colloquy in their Christmas update. He can be found on Twitter or on his couch rereading the books that he loved when he was younger. What books inspired you when you were young? Sound off in the comments!