On Wednesday, I finally broke down and bought a copy of a book I remembered my grandmother reading to me on just about every visit to her house throughout my childhood. It was a little book, only a few pages, with vivid line drawing in only white, black, and teal. It took me until recently even to learn what it was called: I Can Read about Witches by Robyn Supraner. (In my defense, for the story that follows, that is not the most intuitive title ever.)
(Spoilers) (Not that it matters, really)
In the simplest terms, the story tells of a town which has lost all memory of joy and laughter. It is a town torn by cruelty, derision, and anger. There are no smiles. There is no forgiveness. There is no kindness. There is no love. There is no understanding. There is no peace. It has all been stolen by a witch.
But one girl, named Rowena, carries the memory of laughter in her heart. She vows to find the witch and retrieve the stolen joy, no matter the cost.
Rowena ventures into the deep forest alone. When she stops to rest, she dreams of a fairy who warns her that the witch knows she is coming and will try to stop her. The fairy tells Rowena that the only way to defeat the witch is to know her when she sees her and to catch her — to hold onto the witch no matter what happens.
The witch disguises herself as a bird and pretends that her baby is caught in a thorny bush. She cries for help and begs Rowena to crawl into the thorns and rescue the baby. But Rowena lures the bird close and grabs onto her. She tells the bird she will not let it go until the witch agrees to grant her wish.
The witch transforms herself into a series of monsters — giant snakes, dragons, threatening to eat Rowena, threatening to turn her to stone. But Rowena holds on and never lets go, no matter what the witch says or does.
The witch has no choice but to surrender. She agrees to grant Rowena’s wish and leads her to where she has locked up the hope and joy and love of Rowena’s town. Rowena sets free the light stolen from her people in a great rush of laughter.
The book stuck with me all the way to adulthood. And now I think I know why.
Now I have to be Rowena. I have to hold onto the memory of joy and peace and love. I have to venture out, bold and undaunted. I have to beat back the trickery of that which presents itself as bigger than me, or scarier. I have to hold on and never let go.
I know virtually nobody reads this site right now. That’s okay. I’m not putting this site here for the present. I’m putting it here for the future, for the day I’m a published author and need a “platform.” And I’m putting this particular story here for the day it matters, even if I can’t guess when or why that might be.
And I’m adding this promise, too:
I promise to hold the memory of all that is right in my heart, and to walk into whatever comes without losing it, without giving up, without backing down. I promise to resist cruelty and indifference and violence with all my strength.
I promise to hold on, and to never let go.