Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Why I Will Always LOVE Dystopian by Melanie McFarlane
I’m thrilled to share a wonderful guest post today by Melanie McFarlane, author of THERE ONCE WERE STARS.
When I mention my love for dystopian began with Ray Bradbury, people say, He’s an obvious pick, who else do you like? Well there are many others, such as Orwell, Ellison, and Collins—my list can go on and on, adding both established and debut authors as this is one of my favorite genres. But no one will ever have the impact that Ray Bradbury had on my life, and it is because he was presented to me through the mind of one of the greatest English teacher’s I’ve ever had the pleasure to learn from: Gary Hyland.
A poet by trade, Mr. Hyland was a legend before I ever stepped foot in his classroom. There were stories that if you were caught talking he’d toss a chalk brush at your head to get your attention, and once he’d even heaved a desk across the room. Though the desk tossing was likely an exaggeration, whenever I saw an empty seat in the front row, my heart would race from the possibilities.
We lived in a small city in the middle of the prairies, where opportunities seemed few and far between, but inside that classroom he introduced us to the wonders of the world in the confines of our four cement walls. We were flanked to the south by a self-made library of Mr. Hyland’s creation, of which we were encouraged to borrow from and indulge in books we wouldn’t know were available until college, such as Dante’s Inferno and Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. To the west were posters of some of Canada’s great poets, like Lorna Crozier, and others who made personal sacrifices to become the masters of their craft. To the north was a wall of windows, revealing a grain elevator, an element of Saskatchewan’s landscape, keeping us rooted in reality.
But to the east Mr. Hyland stood, perched at the front of the class, ready to break through our clouded minds with treasures like CBC radio recordings, and props like unsmoked Turkish cigarettes hidden in the depths of his desk, offering us glimpses of the arts like sunrise on the horizon.
We waited at the edge of our seats, listening for some glimpse of an escape from the monotony of the norm. And when he held up a paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451, I fell in love with a genre I didn’t know existed. I devoured that story within days, allowing it to imprint my mind in ways like no other—for what was a world without books, without knowledge, without the arts—and its influence never left me in the decades that followed after opening that first page.
So yes, when I say my love for dystopian began with Ray Bradbury, it has roots much deeper than the popularity of this icon. My love for dystopian began in a tiny classroom in the middle of the Canadian prairies, where every year students were taught to see the world beyond the wall of windows, and learned why things like books, education, and the arts are worth fighting for.