Comfort and Joy
Published December 29, 2013 | By Shawna
So, been under a lot of stress these days. Been turning a lot to some of my favorite Comfort Stories, and that lead me to start thinking about just what does make a good Comfort Story.
I think the first element is largely accidental. Most of the stories that I find myself turning to in times of trouble are the ones I fell in love with as a child or teenager. (And by ‘stories’, per my usual, I am lumping together all forms of story— books, movies, TV.) Not that I subscribe to the myth of idyllic childhood or high school as the ‘best years of our lives’— like most geeks, I never really found my footing until childhood. Yet for most of us (not all, I know) the pre-adult years are the ones most free of serious responsibility. No matter how much high school sucked, at least it was not my problem to pay bills, keep food on the table and the roof over my head. And anything seemed possible in the nebulous future. A Tom Baker/Peter Davison era Doctor Who marathon can take me back to that safer, simpler time, at least for a while, as can re-reading Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword.
It goes back to more than timing, though. I am not, after all, seeking out episodes of MacGyver online. (If I start, you have my permission to have me locked away for my own good.) And though I read Sherlock Holmes stories as a child (I always read far above my grade level) I didn’t discover the Granada TV/Jeremy Brett versions until well into adulthood. Why then, did watching an antisocial man tracking down murderers soothe me through a bout of insomnia a few years back?
I think it was because that antisocial man was nonetheless a tireless champion of justice, fiercely protective of the innocent, and chivalrous, even kind, when the moment demanded it. With Holmes out there, the world is a safer place, even if it’s just a fictional Holmes and a fictional world. In that, he parallels the Doctor, who is also kind when the occasion calls for it, although he can be flippant and even rude by turns, resourceful, unflinchingly brave and unable to walk past a wrong without righting it. Robin Hood, another of my comfort-read favorites in its various versions, follows the same pattern. Middle Earth offers Aragorn, Faramir and Gandalf. The Dark Is Rising series has Meriman Lyon.
Another element to the Comfort Story— the danger the characters face has to be worse than anything my own life is throwing at me. Murder and blackmail is good. A threat of destruction to the entire world, better. The end of all of time and space, better still. If the characters are able to stand up to that, well, how can I shrink back from my own lesser problems?
I think the Comfort Stories that helped me throughout my own life became part of the drive I have now to write— I want to give to others what I found myself.
I’m aware that what makes a story a Comfort Story varies greatly with the audience. I’m sure there are many disparate lists and sets of criteria. I’d be interested in hearing what some of you out there have found as your Comfort Stories, and why.