As a kid I loved science. I used to carry a Dorling Kindersley encyclopaedia everywhere I went and read it obsessively. It showed me how the world worked. What is a shadow? Where does rain come from? Why is the sky blue, and not, like, red or green?
I loved reading other books too. I followed with interest the adventures of Billy Blue-hat and Roger Red-hat. I had a fondness for Roald Dahl, Paddington Bear, and the Jolly Postman. And tales that featured dragons were always appreciated. But these were just for fun. They were silly stories, whereas my encyclopaedia… that contained the secrets of the universe.
I knew when I grew up I’d be a scientist. I’d wear a lab coat. I’d have glasses too, because they’re cool and sciencey. I’d probably invent the hover-car, just so I wouldn’t get stuck in traffic and could get to the lab to science sooner.
This plan was definitely, definitely, definitely what I’d end up doing.
Until I discovered a guy called C.S. Lewis, and he ruined everything. The bastard.
I would have been about 9 when my teacher decided to read us The Magician’s Nephew, and I found it wonderful. I was completely enthralled by it. So much so that I went to the library to get out The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, because twenty minutes a day of reading time wasn’t enough. And I put the full collection at the top of my Christmas list. After all there was an entire chronicle to get through.
For the first time in my life, I realised that these books contained information. Lessons I could draw. Not in the overt way of a science book, but they explained other ideas. What is courage? How do we act if we want to be a good person? What is the real difference between right and wrong?
And from there it grew. And I read more. And more. And the older I got, the more science lessons I got under my belt, the more I started to realise something. You know the stuff in my science book? That’s all already been discovered! I might not know how a car’s engine works, but someone does, so I don’t get any points for working it out. If I became a scientist, my days wouldn’t be me in a lab throwing chemicals together like George’s Marvellous Medicine to see what comes out. It would be repetition. Testing. And, well… mathsy.
And the less I learnt from science, the more I seemed to learn from fiction. Harry Potter would teach me to always question authority to determine whose interests they really cared about. His Dark Materials would put form to my beliefs. The Wheel of Time would show me the burden of leadership.
Even now as a “grown up” I learn more from make-believe than I ever could from reality. I read The Man in the High Castle and get a glimpse into a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God world. I read Terry Pratchett and see language and ideas broken down, twisted and played with for comedy, or I read Neil Gaiman for a glimpse into magical worlds which let us truly see ourselves. These aren’t made up stories. These are the truth told differently.
That science book formed a huge part of what I know. But the stories I’ve read form an integral part of who I am.
So Happy World Book Day everyone! And no matter how old you get, may you never be too grown up to have a silly story change your outlook entirely.