What is the first story that you never wanted to leave?

I’ve written about The Little Mermaid before.  I saw it when it came out in theaters. I wore out two VHS tapes rewinding and fast forwarding. (VHS is what we had before DVDs, guys). I daydreamed of having cooking shows with that French chef.  I related to Ariel and wanted to be Ursula:

I loved Ariel, I loved how she collected junk and I loved how she had a tail and adventures and a loving family but still didn’t feel normal, still wanted to have a body that made more sense to her. Like Me. I loved Ariel but I secretly loved Ursula more. Ursula was a freaky monster who lived in a cave and was a powerful witch who didn’t care that she was alone and weird because she knew how cool she was.

All of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytales contain themes of otherness, social ostracism, isolation and salvation. The cool thing about his stories is that at the end the poor unfortunate protagonists find a place to be themselves. The ugly duckling would never have been happy living with the ducks, but he found a group of swans who accepted him for who he is. The little mermaid knew she would never be happy as a mermaid, and is willing to give up everything she has to find a world that makes sense to her. (The prince is secondary to gaining a soul.)

Of course, in Anderson’s story she gave up too much for too little and ended up not connecting to the humans (due to literally not being able to communicate). It’s not until she dies that she finds her place and purpose. Much like with The Ugly Duckling, the daughters of the air recognize the mermaid as one of their own. The reward isn’t her being accepted by the group she tries so hard to fit into, it is having a different group recognize her for her own merits and celebrating her uniqueness.

Of course three year old me only had the Disney version with the more conventional happy ending, prince and all. Still, I think the creative team behind the movie was able to express Ariel’s yearning to be “where the people are” clearly enough for three year old me to recognize and relate to it. I knew Ariel because I was Ariel: on the outside looking in, wanting to feel comfortable in my skin, wanting to live in a world that made more sense to me than the crazy magical one around me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how stories sink their claws into you and don’t let go. I’ve also been thinking about how adults don’t often give toddlers enough credit. I taught 4-7 year olds art this summer and I saw how their little brains worked all day. I saw how they played make believe to make sense of the world around them. I saw them reverse engineer origami and pop up cards. One of my favorites (I’m not supposed to have favorites but I do and they can’t read blogs anyway so whatever) taught herself how to make a diorama based on the credits scene of a movie she saw.

And I talked to them about stories all the time because, come on, it’s me. Every one of them loved the Lego Movie, loved how it was about creating wonderful things. We read them a book about Frida Kahlo’s life that focused on her physical ailments and how she made paintings to express how she felt on the inside. The next day, there were a handful of little artists who wanted to grow up to be Frida.

I talked with my mom about it this morning, asked her what was her “Little Mermaid.” First she was all, “we didn’t have home videos back in my day, bla bla bla. But I asked her, “What is the first story in any media that you never wanted to leave?” and I asked her, “Why?” I will let her tell her own story, but I will tell you this: What she told me was the same. It wasn’t the magical elements, but something that connected to her on a personal level, something that reflected on how she felt about herself.

I’m really liking hearing these stories, so I’m going to ask you: What is the first story you never wanted to leave? Why?







One response to “What is the first story that you never wanted to leave?”

  1. Danielle

    First off, let me just say that I AM SO happy/proud for you at where you’ve gone with your teaching. The skills and beauty of what you are passing on to these kids I know is wonderful and influential in such a positive way. You are such an amazing wise person Brianna and I am truly honored to be your friend.
    I love this question you’re asking here, and how much of a love you’ve always maintained for stories.
    I’ve tried answering here before, but it has always been erased or my response always came out poor.
    So here’s hoping this will be the last time I have to do this:

    My first world(s) that I didn’t wanna leave (and forgive me for cheating here, but I’ll explain the overlap later) are ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (the book) & ‘The NeverEnding Story’ (the film). Both had a truly significant impact on me, and I am about 90% certain they were both introduced in my earliest memories at around the same time.

    ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is about a kid named Max whose a total brat with great imagination who gets sent to bed early for acting so crazy. To make the most of it he creates a personal world full of monsters who let him do as he wants. Eventually he realizes he’s sick of it, and realizes that even though the world’s not perfect, you start to miss it because it’s real and it has the ones who truly love you. Max is unphased by the demons saying they will gobble him up if he tries to leave, and returns home to find his mom forgave him by now and left him a bowl of hot soup. WTWA always fascinated me and still does to this day for its simple writing and its art style. I’ve always been a fan of monsters, but I have this book chiefly to thank, and I think asides just having great monsters in it the atmosphere is wonderful. (Somehow whenever I need to mentally conjure up a ‘happy place’, the woods at dusk with a big moon in the sky similar to the setting of ‘Wild Things’ often comes along. My friend’s old farm home in PA is set in one of the prettiest most tranquil places I’ve ever been in and it looks very similar. It never really occurred to me how close they are before now.) But I suppose is important in a ways to me more than I originally realized as just a cool monster book. It’s sort of a parable for me, because over and over, I have witnessed myself being in bad or boring situations where I had to use my mentality and imagination to get away from it all, to the point where sometimes it became toxic or overwhelmingly more attended to than reality; or situations where my passions flare up at other people not understanding me. But people in your family will usually if they love you at the end of the day forgive you and once things calm down they can return to normal. That is why I think this book is so timeless. It not is just great art/writing by one of my favorite authors, its an important message that kids can all be allowed to be a little selfish, wild and crazy. That we’re all at one point or another scolded by someone in authority, or put in a place where we’d rather not be, and at least mentally can rebel. And more importantly, it’s important to forgive the ones who punish you, as they have always managed to have forgiven and put up with you.

    Then we have the other one- ‘The Neverending Story’. Which is a great novel, but the original 80s movie version had a much stronger impact on me for a much longer time. (‘The Neverending Story 2’ was okay, but it didn’t have any of the same actors and an inferior soundtrack. Nothing else was ever made. NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY NADA HOWCOULDYOUJACKBLACK!?) This movie was the source of both my dreams and my nightmares.
    Its plot is complicated, but in a nutshell very simple: A young boy named Bastian escapes some bullies and hides in an attic to read a magical book, which is about Atreyu, an archetypal warrior on a save-the-world mission- he eventually realizes that the fairy tales inside of it are real, and gets sucked into it at the end. The movie’s soundtrack brought me a love of both early ambient prog-rock and dark classical music, and the stormy wild atmosphere was close to WTWA’s. I was attracted most of all to the protagonist Atreyu. At the time I felt we looked a lot in common in the same androgynous way. He was a hero on a dangerous quest archetype, but he wasn’t muscled or cold or macho. He was a warrior, but just a kid and a loner who had been summoned to duty and was just doing his best to do what was asked of him. He knew his goal was frustratingly impossible and vague, and while persistent, he wasn’t above breaking down when all seemed lost or asking others for help. He showed emotions, grief, and bore the knowledge he was only probably succeeding in the majority of his quest because he had Auryn, a sacred talisman. More than a good amount of the time, it seemed like he’d met with failure than triumph. But in spite of all of this, he still managed to actually achieve what was needed of him all along. Even still, you sense his huge frustration at the realization of him being almost a pawn this whole time: My favorite part would have to be the moment when the evil wolf Gmork speaks to him of being his last victim as the world stands on the precipice of ending. Atreyu is scared, but instead of running away, he says that if the world is all about to end anyway he’d rather die fighting, so he tells the evil beast to go come right at him and proceeds to kick his ass. It has at its core a lot deeper philosophy than meets the eye, especially when you know the detailed backstory of the novels to later embellish it. Having the basic knowledge about how events and people are all linked, about how ideas/non-ideas are formed, about how there is both good and evil in this world, but also the ultimate intrinsic forces and cosmic rules that ALL things must ultimately bow to…This was all rather heavy stuff for a 4 year old, but it laid seeds of it there.
    Anyway, I learned basically of death and acceptance of grief and all kinds of fun stuff…that mod painting backgrounds were once a work of art, and that CGI sucks monkey balls…and I think for a good 16 years I had an obsession with white horses….

    But chiefly I suppose it just like WTWTA made me long for a beautiful untamed barren terrain to explore.
    A part of me never got over that longing and I guess it plagues me to this day as I can’t seem to stop falling back on writing the same old stories and returning back to the same worlds, and looking up other places and photos of sights around the world and the universe sometimes, because it seems like my current reality is always so mundane and caged in by comparison. I always have slightly been paranoid and feel like I am not at the center of my own fate, or I don’t know who to trust anymore. Neverending Story always seemed to give one the reassurance that while you can never be ever too certain, most people in this world are good, and above all else, we all generally want to survive. Fantasia/Fantastica as its called in the book may be imaginary, but it just feels like a universal safe eternal place one can go back to which has no rules or limitations to what the environment can be stretched to.