Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Writing Boo Radley

Boo Radley brought my husband and I together. Well…sort of.

We were at a singles get-together many years ago (I will not elaborate on the number of years) and, according to Steve, he’d been trying to find an opening in the conversation to start chatting with me. Once he heard my roommate and I discussing her cat named “Boo,” he seized the opportunity.

“Boo Radley?” Steve finally interjected a comment.

That caught my attention, since the character from To Kill A Mockingbird was a favorite of mine. Rarely had I heard anyone speak the name. Between the impish grin on Steve Cooper’s face and the fact that he knew Boo, well, the rest is history.

What is it about Boo Radley that generates such feelings in a reader, I often wonder. Is it because he was so alone and different? People were afraid of him? He turned out to be a hero? I think there are many factors that place him in a permanent position of affection in my heart. Regardless of the reasons, I know one thing: I will always love the character of Boo.

I also know another thing. Harper Lee was not only a creative writer in her solo and successful novel of To Kill A Mockingbird, she was a brave and sensitive one. She chose an odd and unusual character on the fringes of society to play a major role in her story. I commend Miss Lee her courage. In doing so, she challenged not just racial prejudice in her brilliant book, but also the fears and insensitivities so prevalent in our hearts when someone is “different.”

Thinking of other memorable and vulnerable characters, one might venture to Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. How much did this crippled, sickly child influence the change of heart in the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge? In fact Charles Dickens’ novels are filled with unusual characters who are both entertaining and insightful.

The character of “Charley” in Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes shows the plight of a developmentally disabled adult who becomes the guinea pig for scientific research. A heartbreaking story of love and the essence of what makes us human.

It seems that often the “different” characters in our missives turn out to be somewhat dangerous ones. Perhaps it is more of a challenge to portray the wounded, the handicapped, the unusual people in our lives who so enrich our society, despite their seeming inadequacies.

I remember when I worked as a nurse with developmentally disabled children how my view of “normal” began to change. I quickly realized that it is the less than perfect bodies in this world that can teach us what it means to be ambassadors of God’s love.

When I think of Boo Radley, I think of the impact he had on the lead characters in the story. Besides revealing the obvious heroism of this lonely man, the story made all the other characters richer in their understanding of the world. That is a goal that I have in my novels. Because ultimately, I want to see my characters change for the better. And sometimes that metamorphosis occurs when the caterpillar is allowed out of the chrysalis.

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