On Narrative and Comfort Books
by Jarad Johnson
There’s nothing quite like a familiar book, is there? You open the cover, and you’re immediately
transported back to a different time. Not only through the story you’re reading, but to the time
you originally read it. One of the reasons I think that we love certain books so much is that they
capture a moment or memory of when we were happier, unburdened, or content. So, when we re-
read that book, we are taken back to that time and to that mindset.
I recently re-read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (the review of which can be found
here) and it brought up many issues that I felt at the time, and still feel today. I’ll probably
discuss those things here because I like to ramble – and because it’ll bother me until I write it
The book itself was one that I read for a course in college. It’s probably one of my favorite books
to date. Here is the blurb for the book, as it sums it up better than I can. “Harvard graduate
student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation.
But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie
discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing
fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches
Connie on a quest-to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular
power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge. As the pieces of
Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-
ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could
have ever imagined.”
A pressing mystery, ancient grimoires, and bad-ass grandmothers? That’s not a book I could
refuse. I remember when I first read it; I was reminded of myself as a child, the kid longing for
one of his relatives to send him the ancient tome that would teach him all about witchcraft, just
like in the movies. I had a bit of an obsession with witches as a child. That obviously didn’t
happen, but I was under 10 years of age, ok? It was cute, I’m told.
Trust me, if you think I was a weird kid, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, because I turned into an even
weirder adult. However, books speak to us on a deeper level than just reading a story. Narrative
evokes something within us, touches something that I can’t quite explain. But when we
recognize it, we know this immediately. I knew it with this book, and I’ve known it with others.
It’s recognizing a story that we have within ourselves, and when we love a book, I think it is
often because we recognize that narrative on a deeper level that we can’t quite identify.
Of course, we also love books because of the story. We get lost in it; that’s the mark of a good
book. Fiction can be a wonderful escape from the everyday. If you want my opinion, which you
obviously do since you’re reading this, our society is lacking in so many ways, and we are
malnourished, both physically and spiritually. No longer are our worlds full of myth and magic,
gods, and monsters. The forests are no longer places of wonder and danger; instead, they are a
resource, the spirits and ancient guardians chopped down to build another row of cookie cutter
houses, bound to start falling apart within the year. We are reduced to humdrum, meaningless
existences, ground to a pulp and devoid of any uniqueness. Capitalism is the ultimate predator.
But in some ways fiction and fantasy can combat it, and so must we, those who hear the ancient
rhythms and voice of Spirit.
As you may imagine, I often feel as though I’m out of place in this, “modern world.” Don’t get
me wrong, I enjoy modern conveniences and the social progress we have made (if it lasts), but
the values of corporate America do not resonate with me. Honestly, I often feel as though I am in
opposition to them. Trying to twist myself into someone who could tolerate that kind of
environment and be the person who can succeed there puts a sick feeling in my stomach. After
all, money must be made to sustain me and allow me to live how I want to, but I strive to
navigate my career in such a way that it doesn’t destroy the important parts of myself. Wish me
luck. And get me a drink.
Perhaps I need my escapism more than others. The way I see this world is colored by my
spirituality, and some would argue that this is also a form of escapism. For me, it’s a
homecoming, and never has my spiritual path affected my engagement with the many issues
plaguing our society. Quite the opposite, in fact. As the saying goes, “as within, so without.”
These are things that have been on my mind lately, and I find it endlessly fascinating how books
can bring issues that we’d rather not think about to the forefront. Narrative has a power over us
and our lives in ways that we don’t even usually recognize.
Anyway, I think that you should not only read new books, but re-read things that you love, if you
feel so inclined. And you should also read this book-because I said so. In fact, read all the books,
right after you finish reading this post, of course.
As for me, I’m going to disappear back into the misty forest, with a wolf by my side and raven
overhead, leaving you to wonder if I had ever existed at all.
Just kidding! I’ve got laundry to do.
Jarad recently graduated from college at MTSU, loves tea and coffee, and tries to spend every spare second reading. He has been a fervent gardener for 6 years and is fascinated by all related topics and has spent the last several years writing about this passion. He believes that nature is our greatest teacher. He majored in English with a concentration in literature and plans to pursue and master’s degree in Ecocriticism.