I read an altogether fascinating
book entitled Mockingbird by Charles J. Shields—a
book about the life of novelist Harper Lee. Though, it’s frustrating
that Shields has no first-hand interaction with his subject, I am
learning a lot about what went on behind the scenes of my favorite
novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Here’s what surprised me. Nelle
Harper Lee wrote a novel based very closely on her life growing up in
Monroeville, Alabama. I knew, of course, that Dill was Truman Capote,
that Atticus was a prototype of her father, A. C. Lee. But many other
details of her life correspond to the story as well: a character who
looked and acted like Nelle’s distant, most-likely manic-depressive
mother; a poor recluse boy-turned-to-man who was essentially held
hostage by his obsessive father (Boo, anyone?); a trial about two black
men accused of murder. The similarities are staggering.
And all these years, I felt it
wrong to base things so closely on a novelist’s life. I don’t know why
I thought that. Perhaps I believed that to truly create a fictional
world, one must make it up. I suppose that’s why I am in awe of sci-fi
and fantasy writers. They completely make worlds up! Tolkien created
his own languages! Now, that’s creativity.
All my life I’ve had a deep
longing to create things that no one else had. I couldn’t bear writing
a story someone else had written. I’ve been suspicious of all the
Joseph Campbell mythic structures. I wanted to do something new.
Something never done before. I know now that nothing new is under the
sun. But I also know that what a novelist does is bring herself/himself
into the story in a vulnerable, naked way.
It all makes sense now, thanks
to Nelle Harper Lee. When Building the Christian Family You
Never Had (a nonfiction book released in 2006) came out, I
felt naked. Frightened. In that
book, I shared the story of my
upbringing. Two months later Watching the Tree Limbs
came out, and oddly enough I felt even more naked. More afraid.
Although I had exposed myself through the words of the pioneer
parenting book, I felt my soul and heart lived on the pages of my
I used to feel a little annoyed
when folks would ask me if I’m Maranatha. I’d say no, of course.
Because I want to create something utterly new. But the truth is
Maranatha is a part of me, as I am a part of her. Maranatha is my
mockingbird. I’ve made her breathe and sing and dance. My soul has
It comforts me that Miss Lee
spilled herself onto the pages of her book; that in a very real sense,
she was Scout telling the story of mockingbirds in the South. What a
deep encouragement it is to me that Harper Lee wrote what was familiar
to her. Her pen ignited the familiar, bringing words to mythic truths
on the pages of one of the most influential books of the twentieth