Today, we’re talking to Andre Norton Award finalist, Sarah Beth Durst. Her debut novel, INTO THE WILD, is an adventure that takes you into the heart of the fairy tale world. Years ago, the fairy-tale characters escaped from a magical entity called The Wild. But when The Wild begins to take over again, it’s up to Rapunzel’s daughter Julie (and her foster brother, Puss-in-Boots) to save the day. (Bonus: It’s out in paperback in one month!) The follow up, OUT OF THE WILD, is due out from Penguin Razorbill this summer. Visit Sarah’s website to find out more.
Sarah was one of my fellow contributors to the amazing new Teen Libris anthology, Though the Wardrobe, and I had a chance to chat with her about her essay, about Narnia, and about why she names lamp posts.
Diana: Tell us a little bit about your essay for THROUGH THE WARDROBE.
Sarah: I called my essay “Missing the Point.” It’s about why the Narnia books resonate even if you completely and utterly miss all the symbolism. Kind of emotional support for the clueless. You see, I was clueless for years and years. I read the Narnia books dozens of times as a kid without noticing the slightest hint of religious allegory.
Diana: I’m with you there! Not having grown up in a religious household, I missed the symbolism when I read the books at nine. In fact, I vividly remember recommending them to a Jewish schoolmate who told me her parents didn’t let her read “Christian propaganda” and I was shocked, since I never looked at them as anything other than fantasy books. I definitely see a corollary to the way other books might be viewed as “dangerous” or “instructive” by adults, but the kids just see them as pure fun.
Sarah: I’m also the kid who completely believed the frame story in The Princess Bride, told all my friends that Inigo Montoya and Princess Buttercup were real historical figures, and then tried to back it up with encyclopedia research. Needless to say, our encyclopedia didn’t mention them. Of course, our encyclopedia was so old that the section on space travel said that maybe someday man will land on the moon…) Anyway, I thought there should be an essay for those of us who are allegorically-challenged.
Diana: Ha! I actually wrote into the publisher, as Goldman recommends, to get the “missing love scene.” However, I never received the response that details the various and sundry legal problems Goldman (and the hilarious lawyer, Kermit Shog) dealt with. So you’re not alone in your beliefs! What is your favorite Narnia book?
Sarah: I love, love, love the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As a kid, I used to check my closet pretty much daily in case it spontaneously opened onto another world. (I also checked it for monsters, but that’s just plain common sense. Everyone knows monsters are attracted to the smell of shoes.) I don’t check the closet quite as often any more, but I do call the lamppost outside my house the Faun Tumnus Lamppost. I think the images and moments in that book imprinted on my brain so early and so strongly that they still, on occasion, influence how I see the world.
Diana: I was always a Dawn Treader girl, myself. That’s certainly the one I read the most (I still read it at least once a year, to this day). What Narnia character would you like to be and why? If you were to fall into a Narnian book, which one would it be?
Sarah: I’d like to be the talking lion in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I don’t mean Aslan — way too much pressure and expectation there. I mean the random minor character at the end of the book who is overjoyed to help the heroes in the climactic battle. That would be me: not the hero, but totally thrilled to be hanging out around so much magical stuff. Plus it would be fun to be a lion.
Diana: I totally remember that lion, how he frolicked around while Aslan released the other stone creatures from the Witch’s castle! Great choice!
Sarah: As far as which book, I think I’d want to be in Narnia during The Magician’s Nephew. Safely before the White Witch begins her winter (I wouldn’t like being there in the cold) and safely before the world is destroyed and everyone dies but we’re supposed to be happy about it (I wouldn’t like being there in an apocalypse).
Diana: Do not get me started ranting on The Last Battle. And, speaking of things that tick me off about the series, How do you feel about the “new ordering” of the books, and the so-called logic behind it? Are you a “Publicationist” or a “Chronologist”?
Sarah: Publicationist!!! Reading The Magician’s Nephew first is like watching a making-of documentary before you see a movie. If you’re re-reading the books, then chronological is fine, but for new readers… One of the coolest moments in the Magician’s Nephew is when you learn the origin of the lamppost. This totally loses all its coolness if you have no idea about the significance of the lamppost.
Diana: Ah, a girl after my own heart. (I actually rant a bit about this in my essay.) How do you think that the Narnia books have influenced your own writing?
Sarah: One of the reasons that I’ve always loved the Narnia books is that the heroes and heroines are ordinary kids. Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, Jill Pole, Eustace… none of them have special powers or are revealed as the long-prophesied Chosen One. I like that. Julie, the heroine of my novels, INTO THE WILD and OUT OF THE WILD, is completely ordinary. Okay, yes, she’s the daughter of Rapunzel, but Julie didn’t get any magical fairy-tale powers out of the deal. In fact, the whole fairy-tale thing just makes her life more complicated. You think your family is embarrassing? Wait until you have dinner with the seven dwarves. Anyway, I know my fondness for stories that involve ordinary characters facing impossible odds stems from the Narnia books.
Diana: That’s true. Modern fantasy does seem to be chockers with Chosen Ones. However, aren’t the Pevensies prophesized? Four thrones at Cair Paravel, etc.? Still, they have no special powers, and that makes it very accessible to you normal people who can’t do magic… Um, was that out loud? Moving on. How did you like the first Narnia movie? What are your plans for the release of Prince Caspian?
Sarah: I loved the first Narnia movie, and I can’t wait for Prince Caspian. My plan involves popcorn. Lots of popcorn. And a soda, but not a large soda because I don’t want to have to sneak out mid-movie in search of a bathroom. Very important to be careful of such things. I practically dehydrated myself to make it through Lord of the Rings. Anyway, soda or not, I’ll definitely be there!
Diana: Oh, I hate the mid-movie bathroom run! All the great scenes I’ve missed due to that! I really think we should re-instate the intermission for the long, fantasy epics. (Or the ridiculously long Judd Apatow comedies!)
Sarah: Thanks for all the great questions, Diana!
Diana: And thanks for coming, Sarah!
To all the readers: In honor of Sarah’s visit, I’m giving away a copy of her debut, INTO THE WILD. Leave your name and your favorite Narnian moment in the comments section to be entered into the drawing, and stay tuned for more Narnia coverage and giveaways.