A few weeks ago I came across an article about some study that had been done on the influence of book-reading. As I understood the article, the main finding was that after we have enjoyed a novel, we often aspire to become more like the main character.
If there were ever an article better suited for an issue of DUH! Magazine, I don't know what it is. Maybe one of those essays about how sleep is really good for you.
That said, it did resonate with thoughts I'd been having about various books I've read -and reread- over the years, and how I'm growing more aware of the ways they helped shape me. There's a daunting essay forming in my head around Mary Renault's The Charioteer, which I hope to tackle at some point. But a recent death has me thinking about another book today.
Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George was a book I reread obsessively as a kid. I have only the vaguest of memories of the first time I read it, which suggests it came into my life pretty far back, maybe age eight or nine. Thanks to Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books I already loved wolves, and aspired one day to join a pack somewhere, preferably as a full fledged member. Julie achieves this dream too, at least briefly; like Mowgli, she eventually realizes she has to return to the world of humanity. I always found that part of both stories distressful, if not downright tragic, and was determined that if I ever got the chance, I wouldn't blow it.
In 2004 I had the privilege to work on a stage adaptation of the book. Ms. Craighead George had collaborated on the script and attended many of the rehearsals, her presence was warm, generous and supportive, never daunting in any way. This was production number five where I played non-human characters, in this case a wolf pup and caribou (well, half of one, but not exactly in the way you're picturing). On the day of the performance, I asked her if she would sign my copy of the book.
"Oh, it would be my honor," she said. Here's what she wrote:
The most incredible caribou and wolf pup I have ever met.
Thank you, Thank you,
Jean Craighead George
I can say that her book contributed greatly to my appreciation of nature, my environmental concerns, and my love of wolves. All those things are central to who I am as an adult. But if I'm completely honest, I'll admit I also haven't entirely given up on the dream of living with wolves, even becoming one. Living in one of the biggest urban centers on the planet may be a weird way to go about it, but I don't think it's a coincidence that so many of the roles I've played over the years have been animals, special emphasis on canines. And with that in mind, her book dedication stands as one of the nicest reviews I've ever received.
Thank you, Ms. Craighead George, for sharing your beautiful world with us.