It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a girl who grew up surrounded by stories of dashing knights in shining armor or brooding Mr. Darcys would have unrealistic standards in love.
A tad unfair to real boys who can’t hold a candle to dreamboats that pop out of the page, you might say, but there’s no bit of jest in this. My 13-year-old self once swore she wouldn’t settle for anyone who wouldn’t love her the same way Mr. Rochester loved Jane Eyre. These teen years, really, they’re an era of folly, of giggles at the smoldering heroes of Austen and the Brontë sisters. More than Disney and its sanitized happy-ever-afters, these authors have ruined real guys for me.
Revisionist fiction or retellings still fill bookshelves to the brim these days—old fables pop up with shocking twists, we see fairytales shed their Disney-fied formula to give newer nods to their darker roots, and we even come to know stories of antiquity thrown in with “cyber” sensibilities. With the unremitting creativity of writers today, the possibilities are endless. Readers may clamor for something “original”, of course, but I find that there is charm in revisiting familiar narratives refashioned for the modern eyes.
Personally, I enjoy reading reimaginings of classic myths. I was rapt, for instance, while leafing through the story of the tragic Greek hero Achilles and his bosom companion Patroclus in Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. I devoured Circe, a feminist take on a classic character from Homer’s The Odyssey by the same author, with equal fascination. There is also Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, spun from the decades-long wait of Penelope for her husband Odysseus from the Trojan War. None of these felt old to me. In fact, they gave substantial and refreshing heft to the original materials. Since then, I’ve been on the prowl for modern narrations of old legends.
That’s why when I heard about Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls—events of The Iliad, but told from the perspective of a significant female character—I just know I have to grab a copy.
Half-baked characters from my half-written stories have this habit of lingering precariously on the peripheries of my undemanding days. Not always, of course, but they are frequent visitors at hours they think they are most welcome. With their sinews and bones molded from printer ink and several unfinished drafts several folders deep in the corner of my laptop, they would say hello when a certain scene in my day would trigger their presence.
For instance, when a shaft of sunlight poured from the blinds straight through my clear mug of coffee one morning, it reminded me of the color I gave the eyes of a Little Prince-sque kid in a fairy tale I abandoned. I took a sip of the beverage and he was there, slumped on the chair beside me.
“Have you ever thought of coming back?” he asked, cradling his face in his cupped hand. “You know… of opening my story again and giving it a happy-ever-after?”
When I was a little kid and no one would answer when I asked this question, I simply imagined angels playing in heaven, with one clumsy cherub accidentally spilling a can of blue paint right between the clouds. This was enough of an explanation for me back then.
Today, witnessing sunsets that douse the skies with an array of color, both warm and cool, makes me want to curl back into those innocent thoughts.
Science may have taught me Rayleigh scattering and atmospheric optics, but in a world that has unfolded to be so complex before my growing eyes, I would sometimes like to revisit the vision of little me: that girl whose tickled mind made her so curious that she poured all contents of a paint box onto paper to imitate the skies. That girl who then wrote about them with all the words she knew, which eventually made her decide that her heart was for the arts.