The Boy Who Ran is a narrative tale and a parable. Besides its main goal of telling a story in an interesting way—or so I hope—I also wanted it to inspire young readers with the principle of dedication and focus, but also to show how any virtue, when taken too far, can lead to a kind of inflexibility, even destructive behavior.
The original inspiration for The Boy Who Ran came from of a theme I remembered rather than a complete story. For some reason, I was thinking back to a book I’d read in 1976 called “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and its theme, a kind of seeking perfection trait. I recalled the single-minded determination of Jonathan, a rather unusual seagull, to fly ever faster. Seagulls are not especially constructed for fast flight, but Jonathan was an exception. While it was not exactly realistic, the story demonstrated this theme of a singular determination to be perfect at something. I wanted to imbue some of this characteristic into the boy, although I also wanted his needs and desires to be more complex than this.
The boy’s character was founded in the event that changed his life and the near unbreakable spell (of sorts) that his mother cast on him at the time. She hoped this would make him safe. The tragic event, and what followed over the next few days, forged a purpose in him in a way that is hard to duplicate artificially, but it also wounded him, much as his alter ego in the story (White Flank) had been wounded at some time in the past.
There was another character with a similar tone of dedication to perfection. Red Sky was initially inspired by Kyūzō, one of the seven samurai in Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film. This samurai had dedicated himself to swordsmanship, almost to the exclusion of all else, although it made him somewhat inflexible too. But The Boy Who Ran is as much about change as it is about anything else, not about inflexibility. Red Sky had already begun to change when we meet him at the beginning of the story and the softening of his attitude was intended as a harbinger of the changes to come for the boy, I hope in a subtle way.
Some of the other characters had initial inspirations as well, but these inspirations only serve as a starting point for me. The characters immediately evolve into his, or her, own unique selves rather quickly. The inspirations are a starting nap shot and no more.
There are other less-obvious themes in the book, although I hoped to show a constructive use of his determination to overcome adversity. He focuses on things he wants to happen, tirelessly, and with a dedication not found in many. In my experience as a physicist, principle investigator, and program manager, this focus is vital if you are to accomplish anything difficult. I’ve told this to young engineers and leaders before. Complex problems don’t solve themselves and the barriers to success are countless. There is always a reason, some excuse, for why we can’t get something done. There is only one reason things actually do get done. The happen when you, and everyone working with you, are determined that they will be done and you find a way to make things happen, even if it looks impossible.