Some stories find you at just the right moment.
Morrissey of the Smith’s once sang “don’t forget the songs/That made you cry/And the songs that saved your life…” The same could be said for books. That’s the way it was for me with Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
I was 25-years-old and about to leave New York City for upstate New York to care for my grandmother in her battle against Alzheimer’s Disease. I was also going to write a novel. I was leaving everything I’d known up until then — a blossoming career in advertising, my friends, my girl — to do something I was clearly unprepared to do. Before leaving, I was at my girlfriend’s place where I came across her copy of The Fountainhead. I had never read a book that long. It was nearly 900 pages. I wondered how a book like that began. I opened it and read the first scene where we find the young protagonist, Howard Roark, standing at the edge of a quarry cliff. He can barely make out the water resting below. Rand describes the cliff, the marbled planes of the quarry walls, and Roark as he imagines himself as part of that place, his body one with its lines, its nature, trusting the motion of his body, the pull of the force that will drive him downward, and the force that will greet him when he meets the water’s brim.
And then he dove — into his own faith, and because he was meant to dive. I closed the book and held its weight in my hands. I thought I knew that man. And suddenly 900 pages didn’t seem as daunting anymore.
That book carried me through that year. After I finished it, I kept it in my room. I read its passages like a Bible. I don’t know how many times I opened and closed that book, but it was falling apart by the time my grandmother and I parted ways for the next step in our journeys. I could have kept the book as a token, but I let it go — and bought a new copy to replace it.
The universe of that story wasn’t just about that year. It was a place I would continue to revisit. I would eventually buy the rest of Rand’s books, and I would go deeper, opening as many doors as she would present me with. I would go as far and as wide as that universe would allow me to go, and yet it never seemed far or wide enough. This is the most important part of what transmedia storytelling offers an audience — it recognizes our emotional connection with a story. It understands that our minds have the ability to mold to whatever medium we come in contact with as long as it continues the thread.
In Michael Wolff’s article for Wired Magazine, “The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.” he reminds us that “the Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.” It’s just an application — like the app you have on your iPhone that is tasked with doing one specific thing. The real driver is what lives behind the scenes, that which the Web merely puts a face to—the great and all-connecting Net.
The way we think of the Web has a lot in common with the way we’ve always thought of a movie, a book, a video game — as pieces, as single things — forgetting that behind each of them is one common foundation — a story.
But the story, gratefully, doesn’t forget. It waits for us to build our bridges to it, to open its doors, and with every new pathway, we take one step closer to unlocking the infinite magic within.
Here’s to the stories that will save our lives.
“Rubber Ring” by The Smiths
Sparrow Hall will be speaking on Transmedia and Creative Rights Management at the 2011 StoryWorld Conference in San Francisco Oct 31 – Nov 2.