You are a little girl. You are reading a story that has a plot like this:
Starving, deprived of food by the enemy, he steals to feed his mate, his children. The enemy puts a price on his head. Over and over, they try to kill him, but he eludes them. They devise a plan to pursue his mate, and finally they capture her. They break her neck with ropes tied to horse, while he watches helplessly from afar. He follows the body of his mate into the heart of the enemy camp, where they capture him. But they cannot hold him, for that night he dies of a broken heart.
You peek up from your book, and you nod. You had suspected as much.
The book is called Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton, and the story you are reading is “Lobo the King of Currumpaw,” the story of a wolf and his sad end. You look about you. None of your adults seem to mind that you are reading this book. They have, in fact, encouraged you. Usually adults don’t tell you secrets, don’t want you to know about the heartbreaks and horrors that are possible. You have guessed a great deal. You hear things they say to one another when they don’t realize you’re playing under the kitchen table or skulking in the next room. You have to find out almost everything there is to know about the adult world surreptitiously.
But now they have handed you a book that talks about survival, injustice, murder, brutality, heroism, despair, and unspeakable devotion and love. Your adults are not alarmed because it is a book about animals, after all. Books about animals don’t count. But somehow you feel that you have discovered something true, something profound and terrible and wonderful.
I hope that might be the experience of a child when she reads Blue Mountain, as Seton’s stories were for me. Ursula K. LeGuin has said, “The use of imaginative fiction is to deepen your understanding of your world, and your fellow men, and your own feelings, and your destiny.” I hope my child reader sees that my story is asking real questions about loyalty, courage, betrayal, dreams, death and the demands of a community. I hope, as she journeys with Tuk toward Blue Mountain, the world opens up to her a little.
I hope she peeks up from her book and nods.