Stories as mirrors


I received a strange and wonderful letter the other day, from two readers in Italy named Alberto and Elisa. They had read the first book in my trilogy, The Shadow of Malabron (in Italian, L’ombra di Malabron) and wanted to let me know what the book had meant to them. It seems that the story of Will and Rowen reflects their own lives in certain coincidental ways. They told me that Alberto shares the same birthday with Will Lightfoot, and that as he grew up Alberto saw “his dreams break into a thousand pieces like mirrors” much in the way that Will’s life seems to have shattered after his mother’s death (the tree hung with shards of mirror becomes a symbol in the book of that event).

Alberto and Elisa met by chance much the same way that Will and Rowen do in the novel, and they even felt that my description of these characters resembles them.

I’ve had similar experiences in the past, in which readers told me that incidents or characters in my books mirror their own lives. After I published my first novel, Icefields, I met a man who had fallen into a crevasse on a glacier, much as my main character, Doctor Byrne, does in the book. And the result of this accident was a profound change in the life of this man. Much as it was for Byrne in the novel. Talking to this man I had the strange feeling that my own fictional character had come to life before me.

As a reader myself I’ve had such experiences, too, finding deep and surprising connections between my own life and certain books. I don’t know what to think about these kinds of coincidences and connections, other than that they must have much to do with Story itself, and how our own lives are woven of stories (the stories we tell ourselves, or are told by others, or find ourselves in, the stories of history and culture and religion…).  As Elisa said in her message, “the universe works with us in ways that the human mind cannot even dream.” I believe that’s true. And I believe that stories are one of the ways that we attempt to dream the universe and understand how it works.

I'm still putting the finishing touches on the third book of the trilogy, and now I find myself in the strange situation of wondering whether the adventures of Will and Rowen in Book 3 will in some way continue to mirror the story of these two readers. 

Thank you for the magical letter, Alberto and Elisa.

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