Musings on life, death, and the immortality of words

We interrupt this regularly scheduled “Taran Wanderer” chapter recap to reflect on the news events of this week – specifically, the deaths of Carrie Fisher (and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, a day later) and Richard Adams, author of my favorite book of all time.

Full-color photographs!

My love for Carrie Fisher began and ended with books – you might say it was bookended by books. In first grade, before I ever saw the movie “Star Wars,” I acquired “The Star Wars Storybook,” which contained a number of stunning photos of Fisher as Princess Leia. I quickly decided she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, right up there with my mother and Joy from “The Bugaloos.” Every day at recess, I would twist my pigtails into bun shapes in order to portray Leia, and my boyfriend Sean and I would run around the playground shooting imaginary stormtroopers with blasters fashioned out of notebook paper. Later on, I saw the original movie trilogy, and I loved how strong and brave Leia was – not to mention all those rockin’ hairstyles!

But despite my having discovered her as Leia, Fisher came to mean more to me as an author than an actress. In high school, I read her novels “Postcards from the Edge” and “Surrender the Pink,” and fell in love with her brash, confessional writing style. Reading her books was like having a late-night, no-holds-barred conversation with a close girlfriend – sometimes veering into uncomfortable too-much-information territory, sometimes trying my patience with repetition and circular narration, but on the whole touching a deep and satisfying emotional chord that sounded something like: “She’s just as messed up as I am, and her life is brilliant!” As a teenager, I looked up to Fisher, along with Stevie Nicks and Pamela Des Barres, as extraordinary examples of bold, beautiful women – flawed but fabulous – and I hoped (still do!) to one day have adventures as marvelous as theirs. And as a motherless daughter, I enjoyed/envied Fisher’s portrayal of her loving, if at times smotheringly codependent, relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds (whom I knew best as the voice of Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web,” but who obviously had a long and illustrious movie career and was generally considered Hollywood royalty).

Fisher, the youngest of my trio of idols, was only 60 when she passed away, and my heart hurts as if I knew her personally – because I felt like I did. I had just started reading her latest memoir, “The Princess Diarist,” when I learned of her passing, so her incomparable voice was fresh in my mind, as if we’d just been having one of those late-night chats. If you’re a fan, I definitely recommend reading (or listening to) all three of her memoirs. After I finish “The Princess Diarist,” I also plan to re-read all four of her novels – the first two were my favorites, but it’s been a while since I read “Delusions of Grandma” or “The Best Awful,” so I’ll give them another whirl.

I agree with this cover blurb.

Books are a form of immortality – even though Fisher died so young, since we have her words, she’ll never truly be gone. The same can be said of Richard Adams, who didn’t start writing until he was 52(!) years old. He enjoyed a 40-year career (he was still writing at 90!) that included the amazing books “Traveller” and “The Plague Dogs” along with his personal favorite, “Shardik,” and mine, “Watership Down.” It’s hard to be too torn up about his death, since he passed away peacefully at 96, which is the way most of us would probably like to go, given that we have to go at some point. I’m just so grateful that he gave us the literary gifts that he did before he left us.

It’s the time of year when many people make New Year’s resolutions, and for me, the passing of these monumental figures has strengthened my resolve to get my novel, “The Freedom Dreamers,” out into the world, to achieve a tiny bit of immortality for myself. None of us knows how long we have on this planet. I just hope that before my time comes, I’m able to touch one or two people with my writing the way that Fisher and Adams touched me.

I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year. I’ll be back with more “Taran Wanderer” in 2017!