Thursday, June 25, 2009

Seuss, Batman and the Power of Words


“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”

Dr. Seuss was a very wise man. And probably one of the most influential of the 20th century--I mean, if you're a Baby Boomer or a Baby Boomer child, you were probably raised on him.

When I started thinking about reading and writing and why I became a writer--with every question spurring on another, i.e., does one really *become* a writer? Or are you born with the compulsion? But (typically) I digress ... anyway, as I was pondering over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore (aka my TBR pile), I suddenly realized Seuss was more godlike than Zeus in teaching me the power of words.

Reading The Cat in the Hat and the rest of the oeuvre instilled the idea of rhetoric, of rhythm, of poetry and most importantly, the potency behind how we put words together. And the more I read--graduating from Dr. Seuss to other books--the more I learned. The more people I met, the more places I went ...

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself" ...
"We shall never surrender" ...
"I have a dream ..."

Words. But words in the mouth of great leaders or great artists resonate across time, triumph over unimaginable hardship and inspire generations. Words, in short, can LAST.

But it didn't take too long for me to realize that WHAT we communicated held this intrinsic power to hurt, to please, to motivate or to anger as much as HOW it was communicated.

"You love me, don't you?" As said by a ...

Teenage girl to the boyfriend she suspects is cheating on her ...

Five year old boy, tugging on his mother's sweatshirt and pointing at a stuffed tiger ...

Fortyish wife, laughing, and explaining to her husband why she bought a new dress ...

Fifty-something serial killer, crooning over his latest victim.

Same words, different stories. So the power of language isn't inherent in language alone, the magic combination of syllabification, sound and rhythm that makes prose into poetry. You need emotion.

You need story.

You need a writer.

That's power.



And as a kid, power is something you want and know you can't have. But you can always write ...

I'm an only child, so I read a lot. And I moved into writing when I was seven. Third grade, which was more noirish that you'd guess--and my first story, about a gangster who dies at the end, despite a heroic side, and a love interest named Madeline.

It was a play. I wrote, directed and starred. Haven't sold the rights yet ... so far.


I found Batman in fourth grade--my life irrevocably changed by the story "Night of the Stalker," graphic story-telling at its finest. I'd read all the Nancy Drews, had moved on to Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. But Batman remained the dark savior of my dreams, the fantasy of wish-fulfillment that somehow connected back to all those lessons from Dr. Seuss.

If there is such a thing as a noir gene, I guess I was born with it. But maybe I've always had one foot in my grandparents' generation and one here, straddling at least two different eras like a time-travelling episode on Star Trek (original show, of course).

Like Batman and Robin Hood and the heroes of old, I wanted to right wrongs, fight injustice. I recognized very early that the world was not a just place--kids do, even those who don't carry the noir gene. I knew there was a price you paid for living. And I wanted to write about it.

So when it came time to write a novel ... after many years of many other things, after trying acting, which is another form of story-telling, and screenplays, and living in Europe, and degrees and all the things you do in life, things that happen to you, things that you seek out, and things that you don't ... I wrote a thriller. A mystery. And will keep writing them for the rest of my life, if I'm lucky.

Because of the power of words, and Dr. Seuss and Batman. And because inside, there's still a child who wants to fix things that go wrong, and make it all right. And because I want something to last, something to give the world, something that will transcend myself.


“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

Seuss knew.

14 comments:

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

That issue of Detective also had a great Manhunter story. Super art by Walter Simonson. i still have that issue...

Kelli Stanley said...

Hey, my dear, thanks for stopping by!! :) I LOVE that issue ... my favorite Batman story of all time, and the Manhunter series was just superb. Plus all the Golden Age stuff.

I've got a run of Detective solid from about 1956 to 1989--it's my favorite title to collect--but #439 is the creme de la creme. :)

Ah, comics!! I've always dreamed of uncovering a hoard of 1939-1940 DCs ... ;)

Vivian Zabel said...

*sigh* If I had kept my comics from way back, way back, I'd be rich enough to do nothing but write. Who knew?

I also enjoyed Batman and Dr. Suess, which I read to my children until they could read for themselves.

Criminal minds work into my writing quite often.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks for writing, Vivian!! :) And don't feel too badly about the comics ... you'd be surprised how few are worth a lot of money--really, only ones that weren't read and enjoyed! ;)

And so glad to find another Batman/Seuss fan!! Your children are lucky to have such a cool mom. :)

Thanks again for stopping by to CM!

Kelli

mysti.berry said...

thanks for the great post Kelli! I've always thought that noir wasn't really the province of the cyncial (I find Transformers 2 FAR MORE cynical than Out o the Past!), rather the province of those who could see things as they really are, and have opinions about how they should be instead!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks so much, Mysti!! And I totally agree--in my experience, noir heads tend to be the quintessential idealists of the world ... we see the ugly, and try to make some sense, some order out of it.

And if it's the ugly of fifty or sixty years ago, we can find some beauty in there, too. :)

Thanks for dropping by, sweetie!! :)

xoxo

Kelli

Rebecca Cantrell said...

"For they were just as scared of him, as he was scared of them." --Spooky Empty Pants

Reading and writing can be scary business, but sometimes you just need to sit next to those spooky empty pants and make friends with them. You can't hide in the Sneed Field forever, after all.

Thanks, Kelli, for reminding us of our Seussian roots!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Becks! :) I'm feeling like some green eggs and ham!! ;)

xoxo

Kelli

P.A.Brown said...

Great article. The power of words always amazes me and keeps me reading and writing.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, P.A.! :) Word power is amazing, isn't it? It's saved nations and changed lives. I guess Jung would say that language is so potent because it is actually a series of symbols ... something else we writers try to store in our arsenal, along with the much-beloved metaphor. ;)

Thanks again for dropping in!

Kelli

CJ Lyons said...

Who could resist a combo like Suess and Batman?!?!

Loved it, Kelli!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, CJ! Am feeling stunned and bereft of words right now ... my childhood has disappeared before my eyes, with the double loss of Farrah and Michael Jackson ...

xoxo

Jen said...

Wonderful post, Kelli. What you described was similar to why I went into teaching. I wanted to share the words with the kids and help them to appreciate their power and significance to. I was grateful for the writers who created them. If only the blasted politics wouldn't have destroyed that joy....

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Jen!! And writing is a lot like teaching! I taught Latin and Greek as a grad student. It's wonderful when you get the "aha!" moment, akin to when people "get" your book. :)

I'm sorry the ugliness of politics interfered. And I hope you eventually pick teaching back up --the world is in desperate need of more wonderful teachers. :)

Thanks again!!

Kelli