Friday, January 15, 2021

Oliver Twists!

I’ve written about how, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, before the first Enterprise took flight, before the TARDIS was stolen, there lived a sickly child. And, as it turns out, this sickly child read a lot.

Way back then, I lived in the wild, wild west on the front range of Colorado. Colorado Springs was small then, full of open spaces. The public library was way, way on the other side of town. There were no bookstores. The only library available to me was my school library. I checked out every book I could read. By fourth grade, my favorite authors were Anne McCaffery (dragons are my patronus!) Jack London, and Charles Dickens. 


                         Frontispiece and title page, first edition 1838. Illustration and design by George Cruikshank

One of the first and favorite books was Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. You may remember, Charles Dickens wrote the story in part to expose the hypocrisy and cruel treatment of orphans in mid-19th century London. Dickens blended a grim realism with satire to describe the effects of industrialization, creating a story of an innocent child trapped in a life with no hope. What better story to entertain a sickly child!

One of my favorite characters in Oliver Twist was Jack Dawkins, otherwise known as the Artful Dodger. The snub-nosed, flat-browed, common faced pickpocket and leader of the gang of child criminals. He was not without heart, however.


         George Cruikshank original engraving of the Artful Dodger (centre), here introducing Oliver (right) to Fagin (left)


It is the nature of reading that every story we’ve read stays with us, and its characters become a part of our lives. We are the product of all the stories read and lived. Even as we become characters in each other’s story. These stories settle within us, blend with our experiences – for why else could we become so attached to these characters, unless we see them as friends– and work their magic on us. They engage, and encourage, and guide.


And, when we least expect it, especially as one becomes a writer, such persistent characters ooze to the surface in some form found in our own works. Many light years down the road, when I read about the history of San Francisco, about the plight of the poor and that gallery of characters that walked those cobbled streets along the Barbary Coast, it was no accident that I envisioned Oliver Twist meets the wild, wild west.

My character became Jack London, in honor of my old friends, and not by coincidence:

“Jack of all trades, Lady Jane had called her. Pickpocket, escape artist, and a bold little rascal. A kid after her own heart, said Lady Jane. 

“Despite being so common, she carried herself with the dash of one standing six feet tall. She wore a man’s coat over her tattered dress, one that nearly touched her boot heels. She had turned the cuffs back so she could use her hands, and stuff them comfortably into the large pockets.”

 As she skips away, down the road, tipping her bowler, she sings out to me, “ Once a villain, you’re a villain to the end!”

And I call out: “And you, Jack London, you’re my friend! To the end!”

What favorite reads did you have as a child? How did they influence your life?


Thank you for spending time with me!

--Bobbi Miller






2 comments:

  1. I love this idea that previous reads become soundtracks to our current WIPs!

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  2. Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Grimm's Fairy Tales were among my favorite books as a kid. I've recently reread Grimm's and am appalled by the violence in this tales. Didn't seem that way when they were part of childhood reading. Then I am reminded of nursery rhymes which are often violent as well. (3 blind mice a case in point).Did these stories influence me and make me want to write books that are NOT violent? Who knows. It is interesting to contemplate.

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