In last week’s children’s literature class, Mary taught Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. This meant I got to kick back and just enjoy re-reading the book. While doing do, I came across a passage in which Sara describes the view from her attic window:
“You can see all sorts of things you can’t see downstairs,” she said … “Chimneys—quite close to us—with smoke curling up in wreaths and clouds and going up into the sky—and sparrows hopping about and talking to each other just as if they were people—and other attic windows where heads may pop out any minute and you can wonder who they belong to. And it all feels as high up—as if it was another world.”
The subject comes up again a few chapters later:
When the square suddenly seemed to begin to glow in an enchanted way and look wonderful in spite of its sooty trees and railings, Sara knew something was going on in the sky. … she invariably stole away and crept up the flights of stairs, and, climbing on the old table, got her head and body as far out of the window as possible. When she had accomplished this, she always drew a long breath and looked all round her. It used to seem as if she had all the sky and the world to herself.
These passages stood out to me because I am in the middle of writing a book that is largely “about” rooftops, and it includes a few observations very similar to the ones above. While I did not deliberately set out to copy pay homage to A Little Princess, I am pretty sure I couldn’t have written my rooftop story if I hadn’t of first read them in Burnett when I was a child. (I can’t help but wonder if PL Travers felt the same way?)
This happens to me a lot. While revising Peter Nimble & his Fantastic Eyes, I was continually rediscovering how this or that moment/character/theme/word was actually inspired by something I had read long ago. This seems right to me. Some writers make a big deal out of creating from nothing; I, for one, am more comforted by the thought that I create from the things that live within me — things put there by other, greater minds. On the shoulders of giants, and such. I love realizing how forgotten books are still unconsciously informing me, and I hope to continue making such discoveries for as long as I write.