How to lose a fond memory in 10 pages

Lately I’ve tinkered with the idea of re-reading some old favorite childhood books, but worried that my experience would be markedly different than it was when I was 10-, 12-, or 15-years old. Markedly different in the sense that my adult sensibility might turn the pages to excrement. I don’t want to destroy a fond memory, you see.

One night, I scared up an old, tattered copy of Pawn of Prophecy. Published in 1982, it’s the first of five volumes in The Belgariad series by David Eddings. In high school, I had read them with great care and studiousness, and I, a perennial D student, would have aced any quiz, test, mid-term, or paper, if only my teachers had taken the time to create one for me. The blurb on the back cover gives you an idea of the book.

Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

But that was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the dark man without a shadow had haunted him for years. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved — but did not know?

You get the gist. I held the book, and probably even smelled it — I’m weird that way — and just before opening it, I let my mind go blank and allowed words and feelings to bump around a bit: “Garion,” that was one word; “Aunt Pol,” another. “Warmth,” this was more a feeling, as was “safety.” Slowly a scene knitted itself together, a place of pots and pans, of boiling water, of coriander and bay leaves, and of little nooks and crannies. I knew immediately it was the opening scene of the book, involuntarily recollected, in good Proustian fashion, from thirty years ago. Thirty years ago! An impossibly large number, that.

Here’s the first paragraph from Chapter 1:

The first thing the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor’s farm. For all the rest of his life he had a special warm feeling for kitchens and those peculiar sounds and smells that seemed somehow to combine into a bustling seriousness that had to do with love and food and comfort and security and, above all, home.

The good news is that you’re now acquainted with the finest sentence in The Belgariad series. The bad news is that Eddings is an epigone of J.R.R. Tolkien without any real talent for innovation: there’s an assortment of strange characters, each with a unique gift, whose adventures through exotic kingdoms is driven by a quest for an orb (not to be confused with the Ring of power), and so on.

Fortunately, the adult-me doesn’t sneer at the younger me and hasn’t turned the pages of The Belgariad into shit. At least not all of them. I still feel a child’s trembling joy at the sight of the book covers, all five of them. And that’s reason enough to keep them and gaze at them once or twice a year.

10 Responses to How to lose a fond memory in 10 pages

  1. nicole says:

    Ahem, smelling books is not weird. A failure to smell books is much, much weirder.

    Since I’m doing Xmas with the Fam, heading out tomorrow (blizzard be damned), this is my chance to bring back all my Little House books (already wanted to re-read these, and AR has made it a definite) and, I’m thinking, also some Lloyd Alexander. Really, really can’t wait to re-read the Wilder—and fortunately I’m not too worried I won’t still like it.

  2. A. J. says:

    So your perception changed. With the change in perception the facts about the book changed, yes?

    • Hi A.J., well, my appraisal changed. Which is common enough, isn’t it? But I don’t think my shifting and evolving appraisals change the book or the story. The only thing that’s changed is me. Best, K

  3. Jeff says:

    When Lloyd Alexander died a couple years back, I revisited the books of his I’d loved, and then I set about reading and writing blog-reviews of his many other books. (I’m eight or nine books away from finishing; the project is on hold.) I think it’s true that you threaten to smother a childhood memory when you return to the beloved books of your youth, but there are benefits, too: you can learn what writerly tricks made the books so compelling in the first place.

    Plus, so help me, those old books, library glue and all, do smell wonderful.

    • Hi Jeff, I always appreciate a new visitor. Thank you for dropping by. Ah, smell. Yes. The greatest charm by far of my old favorite childhood books are all those subtle qualities that pass through the finger tips and nose. To protect a cherished memory, I’ll often handle and smell a book, say, The Cay or The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and only sample a few random passages. At the first sign of shoddy writing, I close the book, fast. I’ll swing by your blog later this evening. Cheers, Kevin

  4. Jeff says:

    Just so you know, I found you via Steven Riddle; I just bookmarked your site. Lately I’ve seen several blogs fade away or shut down entirely, so I’m glad to have found a new one…

  5. Dwight says:

    My “loss” came when I discovered my copy of Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun by Roark Bradford, packed away for 20 to 30 years. What I remembered was a loveable Uncle Remus-like telling of Bible stories. I remember being vaguely uncomfortable with it when the stories were read to me, but when you’re a kid it’s easy to ignore undeveloped sensitivities. Now… I’ll probably save it for my boys when they are much older but for different reasons than the book intended.

  6. Biblibio says:

    I do this often and so far I haven’t been too disappointed (though, granted, I’m only a few years out of childhood…). Even when I do find the book to be less than the amazing I remember it being, it doesn’t mean that the book didn’t have a profound impact on me as a child. I’ll always treasure it for what it was, even if objectively I know it to be something else.

    But perhaps we should talk again in 20 years when the impact has actually faded a little and it’ll have been more than a decade since reading the books. It’s comforting to know though that I’ll probably still hold fond memories of the books…

    Also, smelling a book is the first thing you do with it. It’s a well accepted fact.

    • Ah, Biblibio, I always especially enjoy your visits. Thank you for swinging by. Really, if I could give you a virtual beer right now, I would. As for smelling books, thank you for cloaking my deviancy in popularity. I feel better for that. Many cheers, Kevin

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