They moved quietly around the room, touching things. Fastidious half fluttered, half climbed to a tabletop and methodically touched framed photographs. Littlest watched in the moonlight and saw how the fingers chose and touched and felt the faces gazing out from the photographs: a man in uniform; a baby, grinning; an elderly woman with a stern look.
Forgetting her promise of no questions, Littlest suddenly asked, "Might we be human?" But Fastidious did not reply.
Where do dreams come from? What stealthy nighttime messengers are the guardians of our most deeply hidden hopes and our half-forgotten fears? In Gossamer, the two-time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry confronts these questions and explores the conflicts between the gentle bits and pieces of the past that come to life in dream and the darker horrors that find their form in nightmare.
In a haunting and ethereal story that tiptoes between reality and imagination, two people a lonely, sensitive woman and a damaged, angry boy face their own histories and discover what they can be to each other, renewed by the strength that comes from a tiny, caring creature they will never see.
"In writing Gossamer, I created a number of different characters, but the one that interested me the most was the one who is called Littlest. She reminds me of my own small grandchildren, and of all the little ones whose heads are so full of thoughts, and who are so curious and intent on figuring out their place in the world." Lois Lowry
As a child, and later as an adult, Lois Lowry moved with her family all over the world. Strong family ties and the leaving behind of people and places she came to love play a central theme in much of her work. Lois Lowry's rich life story is best told in her own words:
I've always felt that I was fortunate to have been born the child of three. My older sister, Helen, was very much like our mother: gentle, family-oriented, eager to please. Little brother Jon was the only boy and had interests that he shared with our father; together they were always working on electric trains and erector sets, and later they always seemed to have their heads under the raised hood of a car. That left me in between, exactly where I wanted to be: on my own. I was a solitary child who lived in the world of books and my own imagination.
Because my father was a career military officer an army dentist I lived all over the world. I was born in Hawaii, moved from there to New York, spent the years of World War II in my mother's Pennsylvania hometown, and from there went to Tokyo when I was eleven. High school was back in New York City, but by the time I went to college (Brown University in Rhode Island) my family was living in Washington, D.C.
I married young. Women often did so in those days. I had just had my nineteenth birthday finished my sophomore year in college when I married a naval officer and continued the odyssey that military life frequently is. California. Connecticut. Florida. South Carolina. Finally, Cambridge, Massachusetts, when my husband left the service and entered Harvard Law School; and then to Maine by this time with four children under the age of five in tow.
My children grew up in Maine. So did I. I returned to college at the University of Southern Maine, got my degree, went to graduate school, and finally began to write professionally, the thing I had dreamed of doing since those childhood years when I endlessly scribbled stories and poems in notebooks.
After my marriage ended in 1977, when I was forty, I settled into the life I have led ever since. Today I live and write in Cambridge, in a house dominated by a very shaggy Tibetan terrier named Bandit. Weekends find me in Maine, where we have an early-nineteenth-century farmhouse surrounded by flower gardens, woods, and wildlife.
My books have varied in content and style. Yet it seems to me that all of them deal, essentially, with the same general theme: the importance of human connections. A Summer to Die, my first book, was a highly fictionalized retelling of the early death of my sister, and of the effect of such a loss on a family.
Number the Stars, set in a different culture and era, tells the same story: that of the role that we humans play in the lives of our fellow beings.
The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger take place against the background of very different cultures and times. Though all three are broader in scope than my earlier books, they nonetheless speak to the same concern: the vital need of people to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other but also with the world and its environment.
My older son was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. His death in the cockpit of a warplane tore away a piece of my world. But it left me, too, with a wish to honor him by joining the many others trying to find a way to end conflict on this very fragile earth.
I am a grandmother now. For my own grandchildren and for all those of their generation I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends on our caring more, and doing more, for one another.
A Conversation with Lois Lowry
What were your inspirations for Gossamer?
I'm so interested, always, in how the bits and pieces of our lives go together, how they form a narrative, and how important they are to us. My son died when his little girl was not yet two.
She's twelve now, and she asks me often, "Tell me stories about my dad when he was little." She giggles at the when-your-dad-was-naughty stories. But she knows intuitively that the narrative of his life is also a valuable part of her own.
Of course, I dealt with that, the importance of our memories, in a book called The Giver, and in the personal memoir called Looking Back, as well.
But thoughts about memory were haunting me, still, when I sat down to write the book that would be called Gossamer.
Do you remember your dreams?
Some. Especially those that recur. I even have a favorite, in fact: so much so that when it recurs I actually think while deep asleep "Oh, great, this dream again! I love it!"
But at the same time, I suppose that, like most people, most of what I dream disappears on waking. If that weren't true, the whole concept of dreams would not be so endlessly fascinating and mysterious.
I'd tell you what that favorite dream is, but actually it intrigues me enough that it might find its way into a book. So I don't want to talk about it!
Names are significant in many of your books: The Giver, Messenger, Gathering Blue. In Gossamer, you choose descriptive words (Littlest, Thin Elderly, Fastidious) instead of traditional names. Can you talk a little about why you did this?
In the first draft of Gossamer, Littlest actually had a "real" name. Along the way, it disappeared: it no longer felt right, it felt too human.
I began to perceive that the creatures (for lack of a better term) the dream-givers would be more ethereal, would lack some of the more prosaic human elements: names, houses, pets, and hobbies.
Clothing, too, I suppose! They are really unencumbered except for spirit. I suppose they could be described as pure spirit.
Is there a particular character from Gossamer that you identify with the most?
Well, in writing Gossamer, I created a number of different characters, and being a woman about the same age and one who lives with a dog! I suppose I identify most closely with the character called, simply, the woman.
But although I like "the woman" and although I rooted for the boy, John, to become whole and happy the character who most interested me was the one called Littlest.
I've always been fascinated by the concept of the very young child's perception of self. I remember a time eight years ago when my granddaughter, then four, explained to me very politely and solemnly, because she suspected I had forgotten, "I'm only little."
More recently, a younger grandson, also four, said to me with a sense of wonder, "My head is just so full of thoughts."
Littlest, in Gossamer, reminds me of my own small grandchildren, and of all little ones whose heads are so full of thoughts, and who are so curious and intent on figuring out their place in the world.
Do you think you'll write more books featuring Littlest?
Every time I finish a book I feel as if I have said goodbye to it, to its characters and their lives. Right now I feel that way about Gossamer, and about Littlest.
I left her content, increasing in wisdom and maturity. Why revisit her? But even as I say that and believe it to be true I recall that I said that of earlier books, earlier characters, and then after time passed, began to yearn to be with them again.
So I've learned not to be overly certain. About anything!
What are you working on now?
Well, right now I'm working on some more Gooney Bird. She has become quite popular in the early grades: younger readers than my usual. And it's such fun, moving back into her classroom with its merriment and confusion.