January 5, 2021
While books are (obviously) entertaining, there’s a lot we can learn from reading them. Witnessing a character’s journey, and seeing how they evolve, is called “character development.” Through the things they may face in the story, a character’s outlook, personality, priorities, or motivations may change by the end of the book (and they may learn a lesson or moral along the way, too).
Through character development, the reader can also grow as a person. You may be inspired to turn over a new leaf yourself, or look at a situation in your own life from a different perspective.
Below are three examples of books where I found clarity or inspiration through the character development within.
A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin
*(Note: This focuses solely on the book, rather than the TV show Game of Thrones, because so many changes were made on the show that altered or stunted the characters’ growth and development.)
Jaime Lannister is one of the more complex characters in this book (and series.) He has a deep love for his family (a little too much, in the case of his twin sister). Carrying the label Kingslayer, many people see him as an oath breaker. But in reality, he saw the evil in the aptly named Mad King and did what he thought was right. He is selfish, and doesn’t bat an eye at the thought of pushing a child out of a window to keep a secret. His love for Cersei dictates most of the decisions in his life.
While people call him Kingslayer and Oath breaker, he never defends himself, he hides behind bravado and sarcasm. He doesn’t open up and share the truth until he’s with Brienne, and even then he seems reluctant. He’s using those labels, those insults as a shield because heaven forbid he be anything less than an unfeeling murderer who people should fear. Jaime eventually realizes Cersei isn’t loyal to him, and that she would not go to the lengths for their love that he has, and starts to distance himself from her. He identifies the imbalance in their relationship, and how unhinged Cersei becomes.
What I took from this is that sometimes toxic people steal your focus, and your devotion or commitment is not reciprocated. A friend might hold your attention and affection but never makes time for you or turns their focus to you. Setting up boundaries is important in relationships whether it be professional or personal. A great book that outlines what boundaries are and how to implement them is Empowered Boundaries by Cristien Storm.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Agnieszka is unremarkable, especially in the shadow of her best friend Kasia. Kasia, who will be chosen by the wizard they rely on for protection (known as The Dragon), the one who demands repayment every ten years in the form of young girls. When the day arrives for the Dragon to spirit her friend away, it is not Kasia he takes, but Agnieszka. That is the day Agnieszka becomes a wizard’s assistant. Feeling lost and confused she is let loose in his towered castle and told to cook and clean, but she is unprepared for this. She was not the one being trained to cook properly, she was out running in the fields. Throughout the story, Agnieszka learns about herself, the world, and magic, and with that knowledge her self-worth grows. She becomes confident in who she is, what she can do, and learns her past.
Bottom line: get to know yourself, what makes you unique, and what your talents are. Being confident in who you are isn’t always easy but it can make such a difference in your life. Know your worth and don’t let that be affected by the opinions of others.
“Knowing your own strengths and virtues is just a matter of seeing yourself accurately. Once you see yourself accurately, you can recognize the good in yourself.” This is from the book The Anxiety First Aid Kit by Rick Hanson PHD and other mental health professionals.
The Ash Family by Molly Dektar
19 year-old Berie feels lost and stagnant, having decided not to enroll in college but yearning for more out of life. She meets a mysterious stranger at a bus stop, Bay, who tells her about a place where you live off the land, are one with nature, and have a family who loves you. At the Ash Family Farm, Berie learns to be present, be one with nature, and how to care for and respect the animals on the farm. As the Ash Family strips away expectation and judgment, Berie feels free and safe amongst the structure. The next ‘step’ is oneness, selflessness, the idea that there is no definite self.
“Each person seems to have separate memories that make them think they have continuous separate selves. But what if you lost your memory? Would it still be you? What if someone else could have all your memories? Would it be you? Would it matter?”
The behaviors and rules become suffocating and extreme, Berie eventually leaves (quite dramatically) but continues on with her life feeling a sense of confidence and calm. She learned things about herself, what she needs, what helps her feel grounded. Seeing someone else’s extreme beliefs solidified her own.
Taking time for yourself, being out in nature, and using grounding techniques can help clear your mind and build your confidence and sense of self. Learning about ourselves from nature, books that explore this are Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Qing Li; and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
image credit: MCPL