The thing about Downton Abbey is that, in my family at least, it performed a minor miracle.
There are shows that only I watch, those that the husband watches and those cringe-worthy ones that the teenage daughter can’t live without. But one fateful day several years ago, the whole family gathered in front of the television to watch a new show and together became hooked on this series. It became the thing to look forward to on Sunday nights, the topic of discussion for several days after (not just amongst us but with colleagues, friends and Facebook contacts) and gave us a moment to share as a family, which is rare if you have teens. And for that I’m grateful.
We grew to love the whole lot that lived in this beautiful house set in Yorkshire in the early 1900’s. We suffered with Mary as she worked through the potential husbands, hoped with her as she learned to love Matthew and pined with her when she almost lost him to another. We cheered Sybil when she learned how to cook and made herself useful during the war, then ran off with the chauffeur. We applauded almost everything that came out of the mouth of the Dowager (gotta love Maggie Smith), and admired the stoic belief in work well done by the servants downstairs. We cried at every death – Lavinia’s, William’s, held our breath when Cora almost did and of course sobbed out hearts out this season. In that silly way a fictional family can become a part of a real one, these characters nudged their way into our hearts and brought us a moment of togetherness.
But this season, I realized something else. (All right, not just from Downton, but most recently so). As with any story, the unexpected has to happen to make it captivating, (even though I’d rather it didn’t come in such never-ending waves.) Who didn’t yell “No!” at the TV when Lady Sybil succumbed to eclampsia? And most of all, who didn’t think “how could they do this?” at the end of Season 3? (Sorry if this is a spoiler). I admit to staying up quite late afterwards feeling so sorry for the family, then wondering if it was done so that the actor could move on with his career or did the writer want us to conclude that the family was cursed – that every time a baby is born, an adult family member must be killed off? I am not ashamed to admit there were hair pulling moments.
Whatever the reason, I think Julian Fellowes, the creator of this series, has done what all writers long to do – get a reaction out of your audience and I applaud him. (He’s also the writer of two other films I love – Gosford Park and The Young Victoria.) In Downton, he’s made us care so much about his characters that when something wonderful happens to them, we cheer; when there’s an injustice, we yell at the TV; and when they die, we cry and wonder why.
Sigh. That’s my dream. I want to create characters that people care so much about they’ll get mad at me for making them take the wrong path or choosing the wrong boy/girl, consider sending me an email when I hurt a favorite character or worse. I want readers to love my “people” as much as I do, to have imaginary conversations with them as I do. (okay, maybe not that). That’s what I did as a child, a teen and (okay, I’ll admit it,) as an adult, with the characters I loved. They saved me in moments of loneliness, confusion or just simply boredom.
So, for me, the journey continues. I must hone my craft – read, take classes and most of all keep writing. I will learn to bring these characters to life, make them flawed but fulfilling that latent potential inside them, mostly for me but hopefully for readers out there somewhere, who at this moment, aren’t even aware that these characters exist. Maybe this is my hero’s journey, for now.