When I was 10 I first read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. I think I probably read the book a dozen or more times that decade. It was for me what LOTR, Dune, or Little Women was to many of my peers (none of these really comparable, but all holding a similar role in their formative years). My dad would roll his eyes when he saw me reading it again. Usually he’d gift me with a favorite book of his, hoping I’d move on. Many of those books would also became my favorites as well, but never subsumed my need to disappear back into that world of Eld.
I haven’t read it since I was in my early 20s. Last weekend, I found my very beat-up first edition (mass-produced generic paperback from 1975 that apparently cost 75 cents at a used bookshop in the late 70s). The back cover is missing, the edges are water-stained, the spine is crinkled, and flaking away. It smells of old-book. Just holding it in my hands brought a powerful sense memory of home; that place I think of as my dad’s apartment circa 1981.
I barely remembered anything about the story – I don’t generally have great recall for details with things like that, but can describe with great detail tone, setting, mood, underlying components, just not names, maybe not even the plot. I remembered that it formed my desire for a certain type of house, an aversion to letting people know just how far into them I see, a certain kind of emotion about sunlight through the canopy of trees in wooded areas, and the type of conversations I imagined I’d have with my various cats if we could actually have a dialogue. But I couldn’t recall the premise, never even tried to remember character names – which is ironic because the entire fricken’ thing is centered on the power of possessing and the giving of names.
That afternoon as I was putting things back in the bookshelf that housed this well-loved book, I was curious and unwedged it from between an Ursula Le Guin novella and an underwhelming mystery novel I never finished reading. I wandered back to my desk, and curious, read the first paragraph then the next. With each sentence, it was like a veil was pulled back on a memory; details, connections made between thematic thoughts/responses I have to certain things. As I read a paragraph the next one unfolded from my memory. As if I were the prince from Sleeping Beauty, cutting through ancient growth trees on a long forgotten road to rescue the princess. Only it was old abandoned pathways in my brain and maybe some small part of a sense of self I’ve been trying to recover for decades. I was too emotionally raw that day – for whatever reason, do I have to have a reason? I had reasons, but whatever, blah blah, not important – and I could only take three chapters before it was just too overwhelming.
Today I found the book where I’d left it on my desk. Maybe I’ll finish reading it at some point during the shelter in place. Maybe I won’t. It might have been enough to find the road and know it’s still there. But I don’t really believe it’s possible to go back home, there’s no-one there and hasn’t been for 25 years. I realized a couple years ago that I’d never found anyplace that felt like home after my dad died. I’ve recently decided to make a new one and stop waiting to stumble upon one. I’m ok with this. It feels good actually.
I put the book back on the shelf. What’s that word for deep nostalgia tinged with joy?
Categories: Personal Essay