People make inferences all the time, sometimes tinged with past experiences they miss something major, others times things give off a set of wordless vibes, tucked at the back of your mind until later. For instance, I knew my grade 7 Language Arts class, now called English Language Arts (ELA), had a different makeup of students and a different vibe. The other kids were rowdier, and one guy everyone knew was repeating grade 7, he even had the beginnings of a moustache. My teacher, Mr. Peachey, tried his best to teach the class, even having us do the romantic poem Michael by Williams Wordsworth. My middle-grade mind wondering where’s the love in this Romantic poem. (I learned about Romance poetry much later on, like first-year university later on.)
I couldn’t shake this feeling and it remained nameless until, looking back, age and experience finally gave me the words to name it. I felt bored, the rowdy classmates irritated me, and I noticed the other class got to read The Hobbit while we read Paul Zindel’s The Pigman. Now there’s nothing wrong with The Pigman, but I started reading Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings, a book given to me as a twelfth birthday present by a friend. Why do they get to read that and we read this book? I thought.
At the end of the unit, the teachers gathered their respected novels and I still thought about the fantasy novel with the yellow cover. Is it like Pawn of Prophecy? Perhaps it’s like another book given to me by the same person Time of the Dark? Why are we reading this book and the other class reads that book? Don’t the teachers know I like fantasy? Can’t we read what we like? Did I mention I was twelve at the time asking these questions?
With a middle-school logic, one day after returning from, naturally, the library to my locker, I passed by the other teacher’s classroom. Copies of The Hobbit piled in a neat, almost pyramid-like pile near the desk. Driven by want, I went it, snatched a copy, hustling out in case an adult caught me. Did I know one can obtain a copy from a library? At the time, the Valley Gardens Junior High Library was my main library with the rare trip downtown. It’s 1983. Fantasy section? What fantasy section? Our classics section had a copy of Gone with the Wind, a book I tried reading and found boring. (Not missing out on reading that ‘classic.’)
It’s a funny memory to recall. Perhaps hearing Richard Armitage talk about the teacher inspiring his imagination by reading the novel out loud, and he’s around my age. In English schools, the kids wear uniforms, and I kept imagining this blue-eyed kid, blending in with all the other boys in their white shirts, dark pants, and little ties, if they wore ties. I attended schools trying out the open-area classrooms and streaming students into lower/higher level reading groups. Catholic schools had uniforms and my parents decided to not send me to one with schools close to our home.
I had the vague feeling of being in a ‘lower’ group. In elementary school, I did find myself in a ‘higher’ reading group. The open-concept classroom, in theory, fostered teacher collaboration. We went to the other side or back and forth for Math/Reading and gathered in the middle for read alouds. My teacher for Reading (keep in mind it’s a 70’s term) was a teacher I sensed didn’t like me, and I certainly didn’t like her. I sabotaged myself to get out, a survival tactic, even though the kind of work we did was easy. I had a classmate who copied my work, easy to do with work-sheet based work.
Libraries allowed me to learn whatever I went, whenever I want, my curiosity leading the way. Sometimes I wondered if I was born at the wrong time, educated at the wrong time, most likely educated at the wrong place or the education received gave me lessons my teachers didn’t intend to teach. Things like teachers will not impart everything, sometimes you have to seize it without, you know, resorting to petty theft.
The memory didn’t surface until I shared the story commenting on a blog post. My snatched copy went with the rest of the donations while downsizing for my move. I recall the feeling of wanting to badly read the book and groaning at the page after page of dwarf singing. Groan more dwarf singing, I thought as opposed feeling disappointed not enough dwarf singing happened while watching the movie. In the end, the novel did add kindling to my imagination, one fed by fantasy. In my quest to learn, sometimes you have to burgle moments or gain skills to deal with Gollums or Smaugs in life.
That’s another story for another time. After all, after The Hobbit comes Lord of the Rings.