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How Books Can Save Us

As we have now seen for millennia, literature can be the sane voice of reason at times when anxiety, fear, and panic threaten to lead us into actions we might someday regret.

I have great amounts of love for also known as middle grade fiction. This genre has a special knack for stating an idea both succinctly and clearly. 

The recent tragedy in France made me think of a specific middle grade book series: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. For those unfamiliar, it's semi-gothic, has a very particular and excellent prose style, and consists of 13 books, all about the three Baudelaire orphans.

The thing I remembered from the series is that in one of the later books, the Baudelaire siblings are met with a difficult decision: they can use underhanded tactics to capture one of the many villains out to get them, or...they can choose to not. Every. Other. Children's book I've read would have had no problem with them capturing a villain and using them as leverage to achieve their own ends, because obviously the protagonists' motives are purer than the dastardly villains', so we support what helps them win.

But the Baudelaires think this through. 

"We're not in a pleasant situation," Violet said, and the eldest Baudelaire was right. It was not pleasant... But the least pleasant part of the situation wasn't the cold dirt, or the freezing winds, or even their own exhaustion as it grew later and the children dug deeper and deeper. The least pleasant part was the idea, shared by the two Baudelaires and their new friend, that they might be doing a villainous thing. The siblings were not sure if digging a deep pit to trap someone, in order to trade prisoners with a villain, was something that their parents would do.... As they looked at the villainous thing they had made, the three volunteers could not help wondering if they were villains, too, and this was the least pleasant feeling in the world.

If we act like villains, then we are villains. I'm not saying these people should not be stopped. But if we respond by determining to wipe them out and declare war and essentially meet unspeakable violence with unspeakable violence, we're not heroes. We become what they are.

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