I make no secret of the fact that Zilpha Keatley Snyder has been one of my all-time favorite writers since I was in third grade. She’s such an inspiration to me that I’ve named the protagonist of my work-in-progress after her. In the years since elementary school, I’ve returned often to my favorite ZKS books, but this month I decided to do something different and read a book of Snyder’s I’ve never read before. Because I love to write, the selection jumped out at me, and so I picked up The Bronze Pen.
Audrey Abbott is the protagonist of The Bronze Pen, an imaginative girl who writes novels in secret yet dreams of becoming a famous novelist. Sometimes I think that every book is somehow about writing, that writers somehow—consciously or unconsciously—encodes the secrets of their art in every sentence. The Bronze Pen makes no secret that it’s about writing. It’s a story marked by Snyder’s subtle magic and filled with advice for writers young and old, including the phrase Audrey first hears when a mysterious creature—perhaps an old woman, perhaps something else—gives her a bronze pen. The creature tells Audrey to use the pen “Wisely..and to good purpose.” Sound advice.
Snyder recognizes the doubt that accompanies so much of the writing life when she describes Audrey’s furtive scribblings. I know I can relate to Audrey’s worries when she tries to explain to her friend why she doesn’t tell people that she’s a writer. She says, “most people think it’s kind of a stupid thing to plan on. You know. Like planning to be Miss America or a famous movie star, or like that.” Yet Snyder also reminds us of why we write in the response of Audrey’s friend Lizzie (a young artist who’s unafraid to share her talents with the world). Lizzie tells Audrey, “It’s not like that. At least it’s not if you do it because—because it’s just what you do.” And she goes on to explain that it doesn’t matter what other people think, so long as Audrey likes doing it, she should write. Reading this made me want to put The Bronze Pen in the hands of every young writer. Lizzie tells a truth that holds meaning for artists of any age.
The Bronze Pen reminded me of why I love Snyder’s work. It resonates with me in a way I can’t fully explain, but in a way that taps into the person I was when I was ten, when I was a little girl who loved to read and write, who chased after adventures whenever she could, who built tiny houses in tree roots and believed that perhaps some tiny forest creature might use those canopy beds of leaves and chairs cut from pine cones. Near the beginning of The Bronze Pen, Audrey Abbott meets a white duck and thinks that it is “A barnyard fowl” for certain, “but on the other hand, perhaps something much more” (14). It’s that “perhaps” that made me fall in love with Snyder’s novels as a child, for they made me believe in the perhapses of life at a time when some people might have thought that chasing ghosts—or even, perhaps, chasing stories—were foolhardy endeavors. And it’s why I love her novels still.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder once said that “Anything a writer cares or feels deeply about will inevitably find its way into what he or she writes.” It’s clear that Snyder cares and feels deeply about “perhaps.” And I believe that one of the reasons I still care about the same thing—the possibilities, the impossibilities, all that is wild and whimsical and unknown and unknowable—is because I read her novels as a child. And why I turn to them again, now, as an adult, to be reminded of the possibilities in “perhaps.”
[Snyder, Zilpha Keatley. The Bronze Pen. New York: Atheneum, 2009.]