One of my favorite books in the world is Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
I read it first in fifth grade. It was a mountain to climb at that age, because it was one of the thickest books I had ever seen. The copy I borrowed from the public library had a faded yellow cover with red and black typeset, all wrapped a clear protective shield. The pages were browned and musty, as though the book had not been checked out for quite some time. I remember spending hours during a lonely summer sitting at the little desk in the bedroom my brother and I shared, knees up against the desk, the book settled on my lap. At the time, I understood very little of it. Nonetheless, the novel held a special place in my heart because of the journey I took through it, every page a new challenge of complicated adult literature.
I did not revisit the novel (the film, yes. Vivian Leigh is perfection in her role!) until 2014, nearly 15 years after my initial exposure. It was around that time I adopted an Audible subscription, a welcome distraction when you sit at a desk all day. The Recorded Books audio book version of this story is one of the best readings I’ve heard of any book. The narrator brings the characters to life… but none more than Scarlett O’Hara.
The complicated, multi-layered characters found in classic novels are very different than the heroes and heroines you find in recently published stories. There are so many layers to Scarlett, Rhett, and Melanie. They are motivated by different things at different times and constantly react differently than you would expect. The surprises behind these rich characters animates them in a way that seems to have been lost over time.
I think that the vibrancy of these characters is due to the shift in primary entertainment. Gone With the Wind was written in 1936. These days, even watching television seems old school – no we’re all about the streaming media on our portable devices. Back when Gone With the Wind was written, literature was one of the primary sources of distraction and both a story as well as its featured players needed to be intricate and intriguing. These days, a novelist is fortunate to hold anyone’s attention, and much of what graces bookstore shelves is “fluff”.
This is not to say that “fluff” doesn’t have its time and place – I daresay more than half my personal library can be qualified as such. But for those with the time and patience to absorb the beautiful language of writers from fifty, one hundred years ago… it does not hold a candle.
I completed my latest journey from Tara to Atlanta and back again recently, and it felt utterly like being tugged through a window to come back to this humdrum world. That is how beautifully these tales from long ago are written.
And that is just one of the reasons why I love them.