by John Claude Bemis
I grew up in that swampiest corner of our state, Dawson’s Creek down in Pamlico County. I guarantee if you’ve been to Dawson’s Creek, North Carolina, you were lost.
When people who have been lost in Dawson’s Creek learn that I grew up there, they often give me a certain look…the concerned look. The honest truth is we often feel sorry for kids who grow up in places like that, places that are starkly rural, counties with only one stoplight and no performing arts centers or Trader Joe’s, places with more dilapidated tobacco barns than people, places that seem so far from… everywhere.
But growing up down there I had access to the most wondrous places in the world. As a child, I ran with packs of wolves. I crashed an airplane into the Sahara. I was lost in the jungle with only the screams of monkeys. And once –this is true—I went through a magic doorway. Really! I followed a group of brothers and sisters as they pushed their way through a wardrobe full of fur coats, only to step foot in the snow of an enchanted forest, an enchanted forest where it was always winter—always winter but never Christmas.
What a childhood! What places I went. What people I met.
How did that happen to a boy from Dawson’s Creek, North Carolina? I read books. And I mean lots of books. On the bus ride home. As I brushed my teeth. While I waited for my mom to cut the eel off my fishing line.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy reading under the covers with a flashlight in Pamlico County or inner-city Durham. Books can transport you. Books can transform you.
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis: “Once children have read of enchanted forests, all forests will forever be enchanted.”
I’m not sure how I was transformed when Peter Hatcher’s little brother Fudge ate his turtle. And I can’t say exactly how I was changed when I wept at the realization that Charlotte was going to die. But I was transformed, nonetheless. I never again saw the world in the same way.
The reality is that we grow up – most of us— and make the painful discovery that no matter how many times you open your closet door, you won’t actually see the snowy woods of Narnia. But if we have had books in our hands as children, if we have had our imaginations set ablaze in great, raging bonfires by stories, then there will always be glowing embers of wonder and enchantment burning inside us.
John Claude Bemis was appointed as 2013 Piedmont Laureate to promote excellence in the literary arts. He is the author of The Clockwork Dark trilogy (2009-2011): The Nine Pound Hammer, Wolf Tree and White City. He wrote The Prince Who Fell from the Sky in 2012.