I have a list of art and media that I saw or read as a kid that made a lasting impression on me for one reason or another, some which are well known and the influence obvious (Labyrinth! Michael Whelan! Monet!) to the more obscure (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, aka the movie I thought I’d hallucinated because I couldn’t find it for years).
Earlier this week I had the realization that I owe a major part of why I’m drawn to paint what I do to a throw-away line in a fantasy novel I read when I was 11. I can’t remember exactly and couldn’t even swear to the book, but I know the type of book it’s from. It’s one of those 80s fantasy novels that take place in Quest City where the main professions are A) Thief B) Assassin C) Courtesan D) Mage E) Bard F) Mercenary G) miscellaneous people of commerce. I ate this stuff up when I was in middle school, and my gateway drug was Patricia C Wrede’s Lyra novels.
In the late 90s I was on a quest to acquire all of Wrede’s back catalog which was universally out of print at the time. It took me years of haunting Half Price Books, but I eventually managed it. Wrede’s books were all what I think of as classic Fantasy novels. Some were set in cities, some in a more bucolic environment, but they usually had a cast of adventuring rogues and mages of various flavors going on quests and fighting Evil with a capital E. In one of these books, and at this point I have no idea which, or heck it could have been in more than one, a thief character made a point that it was easy to go about Quest City rooftops because no one ever looked up, haha the muggles are so unobservant.
Well, Little Celia was having NONE of that, and for some reason took this as a personal challenge/insult. I would not be oblivious to what was going on above my head! And so I started making a point of surveying the rooflines around me, which eventually turned into a habit that I didn’t notice. Twenty years and I don’t even know how many photos and paintings of the tops of buildings later I finally realized that out of an effort to be aware of the goings on of the members of the Thieves guild in Quest City, I’d produced a body of artwork about looking up.
There is another line that stuck with me and was significantly more character forming than it had any reason to be. I can still quote to this day. Unlike the first example I know exactly what book it’s from: Caught In Crystal.
At this point I only vaguely remember the plot–something something quest something evil shadows. Early on there’s a scene where the protagonist is in some sort of school for future Questers and she’s being scouted as a possible recruit into the Best questing group and she asks why she was picked out.
“…first you pick out the people who are good. …Then you pick out the ones who work, even though they’re already good. And then you look for someone who really WANTS to be the best.”
This quote has haunted me since I was eleven. On one hand, it’s the main reason I had anything resembling a work ethic as a teenager! On other, it’s encouraged the occasional spat of existential angst that I am not and will never be a Michelangelo, a completely reasonable standard to hold myself to. Either way, this one line in an obscure novel that I haven’t read in over a decade has had a major influence in how I think about certain things, and while I’m not sure it’s been good for me (RE: Michelangelo) I can’t deny that it’s there.
Does anyone else have something like these examples, a quote or snippet of media that made an impression all out of proportion from the impact of the rest of the work?