I could care less about most celebrity deaths. I don’t mean to sound cold, but other than a “Gee, that’s too bad,” the death of a movie idol or pop star has little impact on my world. Frankly, I find it abhorrent that the demise, however regrettable, of a drug-addicted, overpaid narcissist routinely garners more attention than the hideous deaths of thousands from famine, disease, and violence.
I have one categorical exception to my not-mourning-the-deaths-of-individual-strangers rule. Authors. Again, these are people with whom I may never have had direct contact; we have never spoken, exchanged words, or even glances. Yet, in many cases, they have touched my life in a way that no actor or singer, or even casual acquaintance ever could. I think the difference lies in the honesty. An actor or musician is, by definition, performing his art. One never knows the person behind the public face. For an author, however, the art is entirely revelatory. It is impossible for an author to write a decent work of fact or fiction without sharing his voice, and a bit of his soul.
The downside to maturity is the watching of beloved faces pass from our lives. As we cross into adulthood, those who have shaped us leave forever, and are replaced by those who have not yet made a mark. In recent years, I have mourned not only the deaths of loved ones, but of beloved writers.
I’m not necessarily referencing luminaries like Updike and Salinger. These greats have contributed to the society at large, but their loss, for me, is a more general and more gentle regret. The literary figures I mourn are not, perhaps, the giants or geniuses, but theirs are the voices that provided the narration for my life.
As an awkward, bookish, introverted girl, I identified with Madeline L’Engle’s Meg Murray and Vicky Austin. I read L’Engle’s books until the spines cracked and pages frayed, clinging to the belief that at least one person in the world understood me, that she was writing just for me. If I could escape into A Wrinkle in Time or A Ring of Endless Light, I could see a future beyond the limitations of junior high and high school, beyond the walls of my own insecurity.
I first met David Eddings (or at least his books) my junior year of high school. Pawn of Prophecy was loaned to me by a girl with whom I desperately wanted, yet somehow never quite managed, to be close friends. She, too, seemed to grasp that our high school was a soul killing place in which to mark time, and yet, she was far cooler than I. Eddings’ books had that same witty coolness. Escapist fantasy, tales of once upon a time, but with a smart-ass humor that appealed to the teenage rebel who did not dare to show herself.