“A book begins with falling in love. You lose your heart to a place, a house, an avenue of trees, or with a character who walks in and takes sudden and complete possession of you. Imagination glows, and there is the seed of your book.” -Elizabeth Goudge, The Joy of the Snow, 1974
Squeezed into the wooden container on my desk is a well-worn yellow file folder labeled simply, ‘Books.’ Inside are sticky notes on old journal paper, torn pieces from the corner of a calendar, typed out comments from my computer and the other jigsaw pieces of my writer’s random brain. This is the folder where I stash my “find this book!” titles. (Maybe you have notes like that?)
In 2007 I discovered a writer whose name continued to pop up in the work I was reading. After awhile, when one hears a particular person mentioned over and over again, when their writing is cited with glowing praise each time in those mentions, one considers, “well, perhaps I should look her up.”
That is how I found Elizabeth Goudge. Goudge was a British writer in the early 1900’s (1900-1984) whose astonishing descriptions and magical phrasing carries a strong message of faith throughout each and every one of her rich stories. I recently added to my Goudge collection with the arrival of eight (8!) paperback copies from a publisher in Great Britain–titles I’d been looking for high and low here in the States. I’m very grateful for online used book dealers.
In the recent delivery is a copy of Goudge’s autobiography, The Joy of the Snow mentioned above, I have relished learning more about her life but find particularly encouraging her notes for writers. In the first chapter, ‘Storytelling’, she has this to say about inspiration:
…the great flood of light which poets and mystics pour into the world
has nothing in common with the glowworm sparks of the small fry;
except for the fact that something, or some being, must have lit it in the first place. (emphasis mine) p. 18
What I find most remarkable and deeply likable about Goudge’s storytelling is the way she embodies the Christian life without ever talking about Jesus. It is far easier, I think, to make surface declarations about faith and a relationship with Christ, spelling out for readers exactly what you mean. A truly great writer leaves a bit of illumination on the page, lighting the way for us to find the Truth buried like a treasure in between the lines.
Sacrifice, kindness, faithfulness and selflessness are just a few of the many biblical themes woven through the characters and story in Goudge’s work.
Her reactions to critics who questioned the ‘value’ of her work due to its religious (albeit often hidden) nature, she has this to say:
We all hold our faith with a certain amount of fear and trembling (even Blake wrote,
My hand trembles exceedingly upon the Rock of Ages”), and to find that others share our faith has a steadying influence, especially in these days when the Rock of Ages himself is for ever being prodded and sound to see if he is still there.
To those of us who think the tapping hammers would not sound so loudly if he was not there, the likemindedness is a very special joy. (p. 21)
If our faith in God were not based on truth, all those ‘tapping hammers’ on the Rock of Ages would indeed sound quite loudly as the echoes ring out because of the hollowness inside.
But ours is not a hollow faith. And for those of us who write, that likemindedness with our readers, the gift of connection when we find a kindred spirit responding to our words–well, there’s nothing richer.
I imagine that is why I love my treasure trove of books by this inimitable author–her writing resounds like a glorious, pealing bell deep in my soul, with language like honey on my lips, deeply satisfying and soul-filling. Looking into the pages of each of Goudge’s stories brings a reflection of the face of my Jesus in all His many incarnations–child, vagabond, lost soul or king. Vicar, actress, schoolboy or penchant, mischievous little girls.
I take particular courage from her thoughts about writing, especially as someone beginning later in life to channel this gift of co-creating. She had this to say about those who pick up their pen as more “mature” writers.
Words to a writer are the same as bricks to a builder. It is necessary to learn about their size and shape and how to put them in place. The imagination and vivid life of someone young, poured into a first book, or even a second or third, can sometimes shape the bricks into place by sheer instinct and good luck, but when the fire dies down a little, the building is not so easy. The process of creation, however humble it may be, is always mysterious. (p. 21)
Encouragement in our calling or craft is a gift whenever it comes, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. Surrounding oneself with people who can speak into our lives, whether in person or in the pages of a book, is a wise investment of our time. Soul-deep connections and the confirmation that we’re on the right path are irreplaceable gifts.
Whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, my prayer is you, too, will find this gift at the right time. It may very likely be in the pages of a good book, where the author’s story is intertwined with your own.
For isn’t the Author of our lives always writing our story?
To list all of Elizabeth Goudge’s work would take up far too much space; here’s a link instead to quotes from her books on Goodreads. Enjoy!