I have often been asked, “What is your favorite novel?”, as I was the top reader from elementary to high school. I struggled for an appropriate answer for many, many years, but now as a twenty-something, I can confidently supply an answer, with the story behind it. When I was twelve, I visited the annual book fair at my middle school with unprecedented glee, spending what little I saved on this one special occasion.
There were only half the usual number of shelves this time, and many targeted a much, much younger audience. A rather disappointing selection. I picked up Taggerung by Brian Jacques, and as I made my way to hand my bag filled with an assortment of coins and small bills, I paused. There it was, a most unusual, enchanting cover that separated itself from its peers with a thickness that looked to be a tale told more in words than pictures. Lirael, the cover read.
The little excerpt in the back sounded completely enticing, and in a manner completely unlike me, I impulsively bought the book. I spent all my savings on these two books, and I hoped that it was truly worth my year’s savings.
I devoured it. I did not let Lirael drop from my hands until I finished it, and hence comes my initial hesitation to discuss this book, and its siblings. I went home and asked to buy Sabriel immediately, knowing full well we did not have the financial resources to spend at leisure on fictional books (Abhorsen would not be out for another few years). I was denied, so I borrowed a copy from the local library and photocopied the entire novel (I still possess this copy, shown below, and eventually bought the entire series for my 18th birthday).
Now, how does a reader write on a novel that has changed her life? How can she describe, in coherent words, the complete refreshment of the fantasy genre? Lirael distanced herself from her peers by introducing a character who has very human, very real doubts; is she Clayr, with her strange physique and inability to utilize the Sight? Instead, she focuses on what she loves the most- her love of books and her position as a librarian. More triumphantly, when Lirael discovers a hidden, dangerous room full of secrets she accidentally unleashes the Stilken, a frightful creature. Rather than hiding and letting time runs its discourse with the Stilken’s gradual descent to power, Lirael takes the responsibility fully upon herself. Her path to the dangerous summoning of the Disreputable Dog and the eventual demise of the Stilken’s shook me to the core; in order to fix her err, she put herself in grave danger not because of some hero complex or deep need to please, but with the understanding that she had the power to undo the great mistake. This builds furthermore as her trials as an Abhorsen-in-Waiting grows, from facing Dead Hands to Chlorr of the Mask.
The triumph in this is that Lirael comes to terms with her lack of Sight, lack of blending in Clayr, culminated in full character growth when she understands and remembers her past. In retrospection, I find this theme especially appropriate for the targeted audience for its illumination of differences and eventual coming of terms that comes with individual growth.
At the Abhorsen’s house, Lirael accepts the position as Abhorsen-in-Waiting, knowing full well the horrors and trials she will face once she leaves its safety. Much of this is analogous to the trials teens have to face as adults, and it is understandable that many times choices are not offered or are difficult in path to choose. Braving and shutting her fears, Lirael blossomed into an admirable individual at the end of the book who never looked back at the insecurities accompanied by her former ostracized position at Clayr.
Lirael unraveled me completely, and shocks me with how deeply, and how quickly her fears echoed mine. The missing sense of belonging, the eventual acceptance of one’s self, and the difficult battles and pressures associated with a position of enormous responsibility and power. These were my battles too, and Lirael’s magic lay not only in its prose, but its messages along dark themes to not be afraid, to seize the day, and ultimately, that my future is my own and that I will succeed if I have the will and the preserverance. Despite Lirael’s insecurity she triumphed against all odds and utilizes every resource cleverly from beginning to the end in the conclusion of Abhorsen.
The answer I always give to the eternal question of a favorite novel is Lirael. I may have progressed to more advanced texts and analysis of such texts, but the book closest to me has remained the same through these years, shaking me to the core for many years to follow. Lirael is a timeless piece, poignant and haunting in themes and written in carefully-chosen prose, detailing the growth on one woman and her quest to find herself amidst strife and disaster.