Dear Ella of Frell,

dearella

You will always be my favorite Cinderella. I wish the movie they made had done you more justice, but unfortunately, it barely resembled your story at all.

I’ve been thinking lately about restraint, the kinds that are forced upon us. Yours were obvious. A curse of obedience, combined with an abusive family. For me… well, I worry sometimes I imagine mine. Everyone always says that if you set your mind to it, you can do anything. Or that the only thing holding you back is yourself. Anything is possible if you work hard and believe. All those fun little clichés, and I guess I’ve internalized a lot of them over the years.

Those things, that whole mindset, is part of why I hated the Cinderella archetype growing up, until I found your story. It’s so easy as an outsider with no experience in being trapped in a situation to say that Cinderella should have done more to free herself. She should stood up for herself, or found a way to fight back. She should have escaped. I liked your story because there was a concrete, justifiable reason why you didn’t do those things, or at least, why you couldn’t escape the situation. You were stubborn and passionate and kind, you had people you cared about and couldn’t bear to leave, and you fought like hell for your freedom. No one could say that you were weak or that didn’t try your best.

So now, I’m trying to find perspective. No one could say you didn’t fight and give it your all, but me… Am I really that sick? Do my health problems, both physical and mental, really limit me as much as I think they do? Or am I just weak and need to try harder? I guess it depends on who you ask.

Did you ever look back and feel like you were weak for not breaking the curse sooner?

I hope not. Because I don’t think, personally, that you could have. You needed to learn the things you did, you needed to face the challenges you faced, in order to become strong enough to break the curse. You endured. No amount of willpower can make up for time and experience. The person you were a year before, and month before, an hour before, could not have broken it. You were too young, as you told Char in your letters. You should be proud of yourself for fighting so hard, for so long, because that was what brought the person who could break the curse into existence. It’s so easy for me to look at you and say that, but applying those same things to myself? Ha.

Some days I know that I’m doing my best, and I should be proud of what I’ve accomplished. Other days I know that I’m the most pathetic person who’s ever lived. Self-awareness is hard when you feel like there is so much outside of your control affecting your life. It’s given me a new respect the Cinderellas of all types.

Maybe we’re all cursed, a little. Maybe the person I am tomorrow, a month from now, a year from now, will have a better answer. Maybe I shouldn’t rush her. Curses take time and experience to work through, and as frustrated as I am with my situation and myself, maybe just enduring the hardship for now is the best way to get to happily ever.

Ella, thanks for getting me hooked on fairy tales. Thanks for reminding me why they’ll always matter. Thanks for helping me look at Cinderella and myself differently.

Love always,

A friend

 

Ella is from the book Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

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Dear Harry Potter,

dearharrypotter

I think this is another long overdue letter. There’s a lot, I mean, a lot, that I want to thank you for, a lot that I want to talk about, but there’s one thing in particular on my mind lately. I’ve grown a lot since I first read your books- technically; I guess I grew with your books. My whole generation did. When J.K. Rowling wrote “There won’t be a child in our world who doesn’t know his name” in the first chapter of the first book, even she admits that it would have been crazy to have thought that would end up being true. Yet here we are.

Here we are… you know, I grew up admiring you, wishing I could take part in your stories. And it’s weird to me, now, to realize that even though I will always look up to you, I’m so much older, so much further along in life than you were then. I didn’t even notice it happening. There were little things along the way of course- turning 11 and not getting a Hogwarts letter will always be a bit of a disappointment.

Now I’m rereading your books. There’s a part of me that will always see you as a hero, someone out in front of me to be followed and admired and imitated. I grew up pretending I was a Gryffindor because you were, not because of any traits of the house itself. These days, I’ve grown up enough to realize that Hufflepuff fits me much better. And now there’s another part of me that’s able to see you as a child too, and that part of me wants to shield you from what you’ll have to deal with, instead of dreaming of fighting along side of you.

It’s strange, how perspectives change. Jarring, like the moment I was watching college football with my family and realized I was years older than all the players on the field. Growing up is like that I guess? Suddenly, one day, you’re so much older than the heroes of your childhood. You’re an adult, and it happened without even realizing it. Without… consenting to it. It just happens.

I still want to be a wizard though. I’d still love to be a part of your world. Even as adult, I keep wishing that one day an owl with a letter will show up for me. I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of that, and that’s okay. There are some things that I don’t think we’re supposed to grow out of, and magic and heroes are some of them. Like J.K. Rowling said, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.

Thanks, for everything.

A Friend

Dear Santa,

dearsanta

I never stopped believing in you, even though I think I’ve always known you weren’t real. I was a smart kid, who picked up on things a lot more than I let on. I remember sneaking out of bed at night, putting the pieces together, recognizing all the little signs. I still am that observant kid in a lot of ways, never letting on just how much I observe. But I also was (and still am) an emotional dreamer, who even when I was young understood the importance of believing in Santa Claus. I never told my sisters or any other younger children what I knew, and I never once stopped believing.

I believed in the idea of you, and I always will. Ideas are more powerful than reality anyway, and so I was always comfortable with that way of thinking. Ideas are what we create our reality with, and I like the idea of creating a reality where children were always rewarded for being good and for believing in hope and wonder. It’s a little impossible, of course, but that’s what is so powerful about Santa Claus and Christmas- it’s all about the impossible becoming reality. Whether it’s the idea of one man flying around the world in a single night using only reindeer and a sleigh, or something a little more Christian dealing with a god becoming a human, it’s all hoping for impossibilities to become realities.

This time of year, we’re allowed to hope for impossible things. We’re allowed to make a list and wish for peace on earth and goodwill towards men and toys and candy all in the same line. I like hoping for the impossibility of you, Santa, that I’ll wake up and find all of my hopes and dreams neatly wrapped under a tree in the morning. I love that Christmas allows us all to think that way. It’s a little simplistic and childish, but that’s why I love it.

I believe in Santa Claus. I will never stop believing. It’s snowing, it’s beautiful, there are lights on the tree and family at home, and I believe.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!

Love always,

A Believer

Dear Moana,

dearmoana

You might have just saved my life, a little… a lot. I’ve been lost lately, for a whole lot of different reasons. My life has never been what I expected, because of my physical and mental health, and recent events have really called that into focus lately. My youngest sister moved far away, got engaged, and just bought her wedding dress. My middle sister is going back to school, my younger relatives are talking about going off to school. It’s the holidays, and catching up with everyone means realizing how quickly everyone else’s lives are moving forward. And in contrast, how my own life is a stagnant pool, swirling in repetitive circles that simply trap in filth and keep me from advancing and growing. I couldn’t ever picture myself changing that. I thought this was just going to be the rest of my life. But that wasn’t the worst part.

The worst part was that even if I could move forward, I wouldn’t even know how to go about it to make myself any less miserable than I was standing still.hat I realized that I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. And that I haven’t known these things in a long, long time.

So I’ve seen your movie twice now. And listened to the soundtrack countless times. And addition to being stunning and beautiful and perfect, it was painful. I couldn’t figure out why, but it made me hate myself and my life. Because there is something incredibly painful about feeling something call to you, not knowing what or why, and feeling like you were completely unable to answer that unknown call.

I’ve been trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do, what I was passionate about. What this calling I was feeling was coming from. But I couldn’t because even though I knew the kind of things I liked and the kind of things I was good at, I didn’t know who I was anymore. There are a lot of things I’m good at. Things I enjoy, like art, animals, gardening, reading, writing, cooking… But the thing that makes me feel most alive is traveling. Exploring. Seeing new places and meeting new people. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing if I can do that.

Like you said, the call isn’t out there at all- it’s inside me. I am a girl who loves my family and my home, and I am a girl who loves freedom and travel. Those two aren’t mutually exclusive. We go out across the horizon, but home is always waiting for us. We can see worlds unknown. And we’re lucky to have family that we can always come back to.

That’s who I am. I lost sight of that, and you helped me find that again. Maybe you’re a wayfinder in more than just one way. You helped Maui and Te Fiti remember who they were too. You don’t just lead people across oceans- you lead them back to themselves.

I know who I am again. Or at least, I finally know how to get going in the right direction. Thank you.

 

Love always,

A Friend

 

 

 

Moana is from the film of the same name by Disney

Dear Frodo Baggins,

dearfrodo

Your story is confusing, something people debate all the time even today. Were you the hero? Did you succeed in your quest, or was your failure to destroy the ring part of a tragic allegory for human existence? Everyone who has read your story has an opinion on that.

I always wondered what your opinion was. I think most people tend to be overly hard on themselves. How did you see yourself, after the ring was destroyed and you returned to the Shire and realized you were never going to be okay again?

It’s okay to not be okay. It doesn’t make you less of a hero. At least, that’s what I tell myself, what I try and tell others who are suffering. Not being okay isn’t a weakness, it’s just a part of being human, or hobbit in your case. It’s just that, well, knowing that doesn’t make it hurt less. And after a while, you start to worry that you’ll never be okay again. And you weren’t, not in the Shire that you saved anyway.

Were you okay again after you arrived in the Grey Lands across the sea? Did you find peace there? Was it the peace of death and stillness, or of life and renewal? The elves were always sort of vague on that, but there are so many different kinds of peace. I think a rapturous or joyful afterlife that some religions describe would feel wrong, fake, forced. To be honest, I’m not sure what I would even hope for, if there is some sort of “going on” waiting for us in the end.

But back to my original point- did you ever see yourself as a hero? I think you should, because I think you succeeded on your quest. The choices you made- to spare Gollum, to lean on Sam, to continue on when all seemed lost- those choices are what destroyed the ring, even if it wasn’t your hand that threw the ring into the fire. Had you acted differently, even a little, the ring would not have been destroyed and Sauron would have been victorious.

Maybe that’s the kind of peace I hope for, on a smaller scale, after my life is finished. Knowing that the choices I made were important, that even if in the end I’m not okay and I didn’t succeed the way I thought I would.

There’s one last thing I wanted to say to you- they say martyrs die alone. Regardless of whether or not you were a hero, in my opinion there is no argument against you being a martyr. And even though you felt that the Shire could never be home for you again… I hope you found home, in the end, even if it turns out you weren’t a hero. I hope you didn’t die feeling alone, if dying is something that happens in the Grey Lands or if going there is in itself dying. If an afterlife is something that exists… well, I think it should feel like the sort of peace that comes from being truly home.

Like I said, it’s okay to not be okay. But I hope you were. I hope we all are, heroes or not, at the end of all things.

 

Love always,

A Friend

 

 

Frodo Baggins is from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Dear Ellie,

dearellieTry and forgive Joel. I know that you know the truth, or at least suspect it. But he loves you so much, and the world is hard enough without refusing to forgive the people who really truly love you. Especially your world. Hate him, if you need to, so long as you also forgive him- the two aren’t nearly as mutually exclusive as everyone seems to think.

Did Joel do the right thing? Probably not, to be honest. He didn’t respect your wishes. He chose to put the life of one person over the entire human race, and he killed a whole bunch of people to make that happen. And he did it for purely selfish reasons. For love. For fear of being alone. For fear of losing another person he cared about. Selfish reasons, but pure reasons too. Joel cares about you, more than he cares about humanity. Is that really wrong?

I don’t know. The older I get, the more I’m starting to realize that the right thing means something completely different than I thought it did when I was a child. Morality is a crapshoot, especially in a crapsack world like yours. And even though, objectively, Joel probably made the wrong choice… a vaccine wasn’t going to save humanity, because the infected weren’t what was destroying the world. People were doing that all on their own, just like we have been since the dawn of time. I’m not saying all people or awful, or that humanity as a whole is unsaveable. To quote Anne Frank, who I hope you learned about and who knows much more about these things than I do-

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

And it’s just that… well, when I started writing this letter, the world was in a different place. And I didn’t know how to finish it. But then our country elected someone who might be a fascist dictator, and I’m afraid of how humanity will change because of it. You’ve seen first hand how easily humans become monsters, and trust me, they don’t need the excuse of an apocalypse to do truly evil things. But that doesn’t make them truly evil people. Because make no mistake, what Joel did could be seen as truly evil.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… Maybe there are no right choices in the grand scope of human existence. Maybe the best we can hope for is to cling to the things and the people we love in the here and now. Maybe that’s a selfish and short-sighted way of thinking. Maybe its just naïve. Maybe it’s unfair to the people who have it much worse than I do. I don’t know.

I do know that forgiveness and love are the only things that make not knowing bearable.

Joel is just as lost as you are, but loving you is all he has to make sense of it. So if you can forgive him… just try. Hate him if you must, but trust me when I say you’ll need that as much as he does.

 

Love always,

A Friend

 

Ellie is from the video game The Last of Us created by Naughty Dog

Dear Meg Murray,

dearmegmurray

It’s a dark and stormy night, and since yours in the only book I’ve ever read that actually starts that way, I thought of you.

You were never my favorite heroine growing up, but over the years I’ve really come to appreciate and love you more. I think you feel the same way about yourself though? Don’t we all? Sometimes loving ourselves takes age and time. Being a teenager is awkward and painful, but if we’re lucky, we get to grow out of that into something… not better, necessarily, because it’s not an awful thing to be a teenager… but more comfortable. Those years are all about trying to find yourself, and it’s nice to eventually start to settle in on a bit of an identity that feels like it fits.

Identity is what I’m trying to talk about here now. A Wrinkle in Time… a fairy tale and science fiction story. They always felt so separate, except in your world. Unicorns and mitochondria and angels and tesseracts. It’s not supposed to all fit together, but eventually, it all does, beautifully. In a way, that’s kind of what growing up is like. When you’re a kid, things are black and white, kept in separate, neat groups with clearly defined labels. Only we grow up, and we realize that things rarely fit into one neat box. Being a teenager is all about awkwardly trying to figure out what that means, and how to sort things in a world that suddenly doesn’t fit into any of your childhood expectations. It feels awkward and uncomfortable, and of course it’s all of that magnified times a thousand when you’re trying to apply these new things not to the world around you, but to yourself. Everyone is too hard on themselves, especially as teenagers.

I like who I am now, mostly, and I know you can relate. It’s complicated. But sometimes, complicated can be it’s own sort of comfortable. After all, lots of wonderful things are complicated. Dark and stormy nights. Hot chocolate with strangers. Unexpected travel. Family. Science. Magic. Belief. Love.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because dark and stormy nights, especially in the fall, make me wistful and sentimental, but I think I’m going to pick up your book again. I hear they’re going to try and make a movie again- I hope this one turns out well. Some of the past ones, well… maybe it’s like you and me? The story needed to reach a certain age before it could really find the right portrayal? We’ll see. It’ll be an adventure either way, and there’s no better way to start an adventure then in weather like this.

 

Love always,

A Friend

 

 

Meg Murray is from the novel A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels by Madeleine L’Engle