My Letter to Cynthia Voigt (circa 2010)

Dear Mrs. Voigt,

                I am writing to you in the hopes of being able to express how much I cherish your Kingdom series, in particular the third book, The Wings of a Falcon.

                I first read Falcon when I was eleven, in a small and recently-established private school in Hong Kong. (We had only recently moved there, and I could not attend public school as I couldn’t speak Chinese). The book had been donated along with a small collection of other works, to contribute to our library’s rather limited catalogue. It was dog-eared and tattered, and parts of the cover were held on with laminate; clearly it had been well-used. And being a lover of any fantastical or adventurous stories, I immediately felt drawn to read it.

                I must confess that initially, I was rather confused by the story, but I hope you will forgive that reaction when I explain why. Being just eleven, the only fantasy stories I’d ever read were of that sword-and-sorcery sort, grand Tolkienesque imitators that were heavy with magic and operatic drama. So I determinedly read through Falcon, convinced that in the next page or chapter, magic would appear. None did so, but the characters themselves drew me in, and so I read on. It was my first experience with a more realistic fantasy genre. By the time I approached the end of the book, I was thoroughly riveted. There is, of course, a place for generic sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, and I still enjoy good ones of that sort immensely. But I wholeheartedly feel that there are not nearly enough books in the style of Falcon; that is to say, literature which explores the fantastical depths of the soul.

                 It’s difficult for me to pinpoint what it is about the book that so appeals to me, partly because it’s lots of little things, I suppose. The style of writing, for a one, is a style that I enjoy immensely, and isn’t often used (or very popular  amongst authors, it would seem). To say that I enjoyed the characters would be redundant, as the characters are, of course, the focal point of the story.

                 The last day of high school, I walked into the library, put that book in my bag, and walked back out. In exchange, the library received my entire fantasy/sci-fi collection, which I donated as compensation. I was going away to England for university, and due to severe luggage limitations, I could not afford to take my books with me. So I gave them away, and chose to take only The Wings of a Falcon instead. That battered copy was precious to me, more so than anything other book I owned.

                I’m twenty-three now, and married. I have yet to find another novel which holds such a place in my heart. That same library copy sits on my shelf, tattered and battered but still standing, alongside a newer and more durable hardback version. It has followed me across continents, through heartbreak and marriage, and kept me company through university. One day I hope to be able to read it to my own children, should I have any.

                As I have grown up, I felt that the book aged and grew with me; I have re-read it every year, and as I grew (I hope) a little wiser each time, I gained a little more from reading it each time. I’ve made my husband and father-in-law read Falcon, and needless to say both of them also enjoyed it immensely. I genuinely feel that it transcends the genre of “young adult” in the concepts and characters it explores; it is both an accessible read for children, and thought-provoking narrative for adults.

My initial intention in writing this letter to you was simply to ask a question, but when I actually sat down to do it I felt it would be a shame if I did not also take the opportunity to express how much I’d enjoyed them, and the kind of impact it had made on my life. I hope that I have not bored you too much in doing so!

I read in an interview (I think it was an interview) where you said that you began every book by first asking a question. I would be very interested to know what that question was – because I am very fond of the answer it created!

— Sunyi D.

_________________________________________________________________

Well Sunyi D –

I am honored — and, frankly, both delighted and moved, as well — by your love of Oriel’s story (or is it Griff’s, or Beryl’s?)  I thank you for writing to tell me how much it has meant to you.  Every book has a one-on-one relation with every reader, which is one of the wonderful things about books, and reading them — you are clearly a reader for whom Wings of a Falcon was meant.  (As I am myself, I admit it, insofar as the person who cooked up the story can also be a reader of it; which, to a large extent, she can, if she’s done a good enough job with her idea.)

Yes, there was a question in my head when I first thought of the plot.  I was standing on a path running up a steep Alpine ravine, when I imagined — for some reason; who knows why these things crop up in imaginations — I saw a young man hauling himself up over the edge, and thought of how easily he could fall down, onto the rocks, and how likely it was that that was what would happen.  So it was a question of the nature of the hero, and if it is necessary for the hero to survive to be effectively (and affectively) a hero.   In the stories, the hero tends to win through — but what if he doesn’t?  Because in reality (as in, say, the twin towers on 9/11) many heroic people didn’t survive.  So that, I thought, thinking about it, when a person is choosing to behave heroically, making those very risky choices, he/she has to remember that there is no guarantee that he/she will win through.  I thought that it was not entirely honest in books to have the hero always win through — and books should be, as much as possible, honest.
That is what I was thinking, as I wrote it.  That was the question I was addressing, in my own mind.

I cannot tell you how glad I am that you found it there, on the library shelves, all those years ago.

Cynthia Voigt

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