We all know that reader response is a great enigma, reading is a personal activity, a connection with the text that is so intimate that those of us who want to know more about it, about its effects, about the marks that an imaginary world has left on the reader, have to approach it through certain physical clues and verbal comments that are shared in an act of confidence or, perhaps, in a school exam. In our “Reading Changes” project, we did not want to recur to any tests or exams because our space had been created based on interest and freedom to participate, there was no assessment, it was not an obligatory workshop but instead a moment in which to be with other people who had read the same book and wanted to talk about it; we could even share popcorn or sweets with the students who chose to stay with us after school. One of the things that impressed me most about the last sessions was noting how the readers had learned the little rules of conviviality and of dialogue. Those who work with adolescents will know how important it is to achieve this, it implies we have gained their trust and that they value being there, in the hot rooms that housed the school libraries, with outside noises that seduce and lead the mind toward leisure time. In spite of all this, the students were there, passing the audio recorder on to whoever was talking, attending to Evelyn’s suggestions, following the debate, offering answers, taking ownership of the book, making it part of their vital experience.
As the last book, we were vindicated in the choice of offering the participants the first volume of the saga Memorias de Idhún. La Resistencia (Memoirs of Idhún. The Resistance), by the Spanish author, Laura Gallego García, a young narrator who has caused a sensation in her country and in Latin America, above all because of this fantasy saga in which she creates the parallel world of Idhún with its magical beings. She shows herself to be a good demiurge because, as Tolkien would say, she manages to make her cosmos visible, she succeeds in the voluntary suspension of disbelief as she convinces us of the truth of her art in which, as well as her anthropomorphic beings, inheritors of different mythologies, including the Mesoamerican, she constructs a world that contains “seas, with the sun, the moon and the sky; with the earth and all that it contains: trees and birds, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we become spellbound’ (Tolkien 19). Not in vain does the author confess that from the age of fifteen she has been thinking and dreaming about that place and the long story she is going to share with her readers, so we can revive our own life experience through the reading.
At first, our group of adolescents were anxious because the book had more than 500 pages, but some devoured it and wanted to discuss it after just one week. It is the dynamic rhythm of the events and the seductiveness exerted by this story that is to blame for their enthusiasm. It all begins with Jack, a thirteen year old boy, who is urgently riding his bike home because he has a bad premonition which is fatally borne out: within a few minutes, he finds himself without a family, a home and about to die. He is rescued by two strangers who take him to an unknown place, a kind of refuge for the members of the Resistance, a group that is against the invaders of the planet Idhún and who are trying to save any exiles from this planet who have arrived on Earth. All the girls and boys could put themselves in Jack’s shoes, especially those who live in the city where insecurity is evident and danger threatens both them and their families. This why they could comprehend the possibility of gratuitous violence that could leave them unprotected and without a home. With that beginning, there was no chance of losing these readers, they wanted to know more.
One key element of the Fantasy genre is its power to evade the dominant reality, a power that some people criticize and consider dangerous, but that is often necessary, we need it and it allows us to see in that imaginary text the symbolic representation of our social problems and human anxieties, as well as our hopes and dreams. It offers, as Tolkien said, comfort. Several of the readers mentioned that the book had made them forget their problems, it had submerged them in the adventures of the characters that made them suffer and laugh. One girl in particular, who usually assumed a defensive posture, did not want to admit she had read the novel, however, when we spoke of this possibility of evasion, she let herself go and spoke of her own reactions but when she realized we were all listening to her attentively, she returned rather aggressively to her former posture. Yet she had already revealed something important of her reading process: these characters –Victoria, Jack and Kirtash- were important to her, their love triangle, their doubts, their fears were also hers and for a few hours she had left behind that which was troubling her in real life, loneliness, a unstable home and an aggressive environment.
In the rural secondary it was a great pleasure to talk about the book, those who had finished it got together in a smaller group so as not to reveal the ending to the others. I became one more passionate reader as we spoke of the weaknesses in Victoria’s character, of Jack’s strength, of Kirtash’s hidden humanity. The young people remembered important scenes, they revived the sensation of fear and anger that the interaction of the protagonists had provoked, as well discussing the tests that they went through throughout the narrative. They remembered dialogues, moments of crisis and they leant forward towards the centre of the circle to emphasize their words, so as not to speak too loudly and disturb the others, their eyes shining, reflecting their desire for the next volume, wanting to know what would happen. In this way, the author concretizes her most profound hope: to share that dream, to take new readers to Idhún who are avid to find out about its characters, its geography and history, its original language, thanks to the truth of art and the creative capacity of the artist.
Tolkien, J.R.R.”Sobre los cuentos de hadas”. Árbol y hoja, y el poema Mitopoeia. Intr. Christopher Tolkien. Barcelona: Minotauro, 1994. Pp 11-100.
Gallego García, Laura. Memorias de Idhún. La resistencia. Madrid: SM, 2005.