He’s right… by the time you reach an age with double figures, fairy stories are for babies… and you are no longer a babe. In just the same way that we cease admitting to the guilty affection for the music our parents liked as we grew, so do the books of early childhood get left upon the shelf… at least when anyone is looking.
We ‘progress’ to more complicated reading. Quite often the books we read as teenagers say more about how we would like to be percieved by the world, or reflect the adventures or romance that we long for at that age. Most of those stories, too, are as wildly fantastical as the fairy tales… but being set in ‘reality’, they are more acceptable to our fledgling egos.
Those who loved fairy tales may be lucky, making the early discovery of fantasy and science fiction… which may simply be fantasy dressed in a titanium shell or clothed in alien forms. Eventually we may come to realise that good fantasy is a spur for the imagination, a portal through which the reader may explore the archetypes of personality and the very nature of story telling as a means of teaching. Michael Straight put it beautifully when writing about Tolkien, saying “Fantasy does not obscure, but illuminates the inner nature of reality.”
By this time, you are wondering about those childhood fantasies we call fairytales… what were they teaching… and what had you missed? So you dust off the dog-eared tomes and start revisiting old friends, delighting once again in their company and unafraid to admit that you are re-reading Narnia for the umpteenth time, or keeping an eye out for Stig and Borrobil… and Merlin, of course. And who among us minds being seen with a copy of Tolkien these days?
A book is perhaps the easiest time machine back to childhood.
In magic there is possibility… anything can happen, and in a good book, usually does. This time around, though, you see the other layers… the subtle analogies and symbolism, the gentle lessons of morality and the interplay of characters that teach, all unbeknownst, elements of life to the young reader. I think that is what Lewis was referring to when he wrote, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
You may recognise the sources of some of the stories in the great tales and sagas of the ancient past. You may even delve into mythologies and legends, tracing them back to their origins and seeing how, within those age-old tales, a deep understanding of human nature and the workings of the universe was concealed in a form that could be memorised and carried across the land by the bards, for a story is easy to recall; if we forget the words, the images and the essence of the tale remain with us.
In that, for me, there is magic, for the tales we write and read today are the same stories told by our forefathers, dressed in different clothes, set in different worlds, yet still they all speak of the inner nature of humanity and our quest for understanding of the universe in which we move.