You all know I’ve always loved books. To lose myself in those magical worlds created by my favorite authors. But I’ve found over the years that in reading those books I’ve developed an innate desire to want to visit places in those books.
It’s a subject dear to my heart, and one both of my theses focused upon.
What is it about a book that makes a person want to travel?
Over the years, and during my studies, I found people who’d travel across town, across a city, and indeed right across the world in pursuit of their literary hero/heroines or places in their books. From the historic Chawton House whose famous resident Jane Austen still draws literary fans, to Alnwick Castle and Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station, these places have become the focus of literary pilgrims over the years. Let’s face it, even the Bible motivates people to visit places discussed in the scriptures.
What is it about a book that achieves this? What is it that provides a degree of longevity – drawing people not just a year or two after, but decades, and even centuries later.
You’ve only got to look at the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in England to see the impact Shakespeare had and still has in the historic town. And centuries after his death this continues. The same with Robert Burns in Edinburgh. Wordsworth in the Lake District. Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, The Bronte sisters. The same could be said in the States with places associated with works such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Catcher in the Rye, Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Connecticut, Ernest Hemmingway’s birthplace in Illinois. Or Prince Edward Island, Canada home of Lucy Maud Montgomery. The lists are endless.
Here in New Zealand, we see the same on a smaller scale. Janet Frame’s home in Oamaru is a classic example and Katherine Mansfield’s in Wellington.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there is something. Something generated by the magic of a pen lifted and put to paper. Those words creating something that still reaches into the hearts and minds of readers today.
It’s not just the historic writers though. The popularisation of literature and ability to reach mass markets has meant that books, stories, authors are more accessible today than at any time in history. Not just in print, but in adaptations. Whether that be brail, large print, audio, comics, animated series, television dramas or even films.
Traditionally, certainly up until the eighteenth centuries books were elite, associated with wealth. If you could afford an education, you could afford to read. But today education is a fundamental part of human rights in the Western world. And as such, our children are exposed to books at a far younger age. There is the ability to open their minds to literature, in a range of ways. From the picture books associated with infancy to the animated films that seem to be released on a monthly basis, our kids love books. Our teenagers love books. And we love books.
You only have to look at the success of books like Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, the list is endless.
Is it nostalgia that creates a desire to visit? Is it some kind of fandom, a pilgrim type behavior that comes with the need to connect with our literary idols? Is it merely a desire to connect with something that has enabled us to escape the realities of our day to day lives? Or is it something entirely different? Are some trips purely serendipitous as part of a wider holiday experience?
Is there a literary destination you’d want to visit? Are there several on your bucket list? I’d love to hear about yours.