in a beautiful world, far, far away….
….words like that could take us all out of our own little worlds and carry us off to imaginary ones. The magic of imagination plus the suggestions of mysterious stories illustrated with colorful, fanciful figures…
…and you were no longer a small, powerless child.
You were whatever you became in that fantasy. Or in the fantasies you dreamed up yourself because of that one.
My favorite mentor, C.S. Lewis, thought that fairy tales should continue in our adult lives. He said something along the lines that being an adult meant that he could enjoy fairy tales again. I guess when you are growing up and proving yourself, fairy tales are considered beneath you; they might make you look inconsequential. *
You don’t have to go only to the scifi fantasies, either, just because you’re an adult. Try reading an old pirate story you liked. Imagination is very important. Takes us out of too much “what if but allows our minds to wander into what “might be,” “what could happen.”
And, while some “what if that really did happens?” may seem somewhat fearful in our present tilted world, they can be useful places to go.
Adulting is a complex thing which, if handled well, yields many rewards — not the least of which is old age!
If you’re young, you may not think that “old age” is anything to even look forward to, much less plan for. We’re living in a scifi movie, after all. You won’t live that long.
That’s what I thought, too. In 1968, when I graduated from high school. The world was nuts. And none of us would live past 30. Not nearly as nuts, nor as small nor as volatile as it is now, but still pretty shaky.
And yet, here I am.
And now we all seem to be living in those books I read during the 1960s ….Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and the philosophy guys, like Tolkien and CS and Huxley.
But we didn’t think we’d live to see even parts of them.
Which is why imagination and fantasy are good things. What if you do?!
You didn’t think you’d ever really have to deal with bigbrother and yet, “1984” and “Animal Farm” were on everyone’s mind last year. “Brave New World” is one that I read again this spring. It’s barely scifi at all any more. It’s chillingly prescient. And dark. Another discussion, another day.
I never stopped reading fairy tales. My son’s dad and I read The Chronicles of Narnia to each other in the days before recorded books. We were driving blue highways across America, in an old Dodge pickup with a camper on top, getting to know each other before we settled down and got married. It was the best thing we could have done. The discussions we got into about the nature of man, and God, because of that series of children’s books, kickstarted a grounded, solid partnership. We knew we could trust each other with our futures.
(We couldn’t trust the future, but that’s another story. And that wasn’t our choice or any failure on our parts to maintain that partnership. God’s always in charge.)
Last year, during the forced solitudes — I went to Venice every night, and solved mysteries with Commissario Guido Brunetti. I love Venice and always loved its atmosphere, so I went back and read most of those 28 books a second time, to visit with his wife Paola, in their kitchen, where they hashed things out cooking interesting food, drinking good wine (and get insights from their two teenagers. The wife and the daughter are uberliberal. The dad and son more pragmatic. The son, in fact, becomes more pragmatic after being a young idealist.) And enjoy some of the other characters, like Claudia Griffoni, and Elettra Zorzi. And of course, Lorenzo Vianello. Even though they are excellent police procedurals, the character of Venice itself offers up fog and mystery and almost an element of time travel.
This year, 2021, I have read The Chronicles of Narnia twice, but in a different way: each time I read a version of the seven books bound into one huge one, and organized in the sequence Lewis preferred them to be read — not the way the were released to the public starting in 1950. So, they start with The Magician’s Nephew, and then The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It makes so much more sense (even though the publisher was probably correct to publish “Lion…” first, because it really is a magical little book all by itself.)
I wasn’t planning to read them twice. I read the print only one first. It was fatter but lighter and easier to read in bed. But when I finished, I wondered if reading the illustrated version would affect it, how I pictured it. It made for great dreams, just in the stories alone. Would those little pen and ink and watercolor fauns and badgers help me see other aspects, maybe?
And they did.
I never had any real sense of a “map” of Narnia, for example. And the big illustrated book had one right on the cover. I looked at it many times. It made more sense of several of the stories to be able to consult it. And, The Horse and His Boy had never really grabbed me, until I saw it in the light of the middle eastern illustrations (which so alarm the pc crowd.) I’m not sure I really appreciated Reepicheep, my sister’s favorite, until I saw the brave little mouse illustrated, and in color.
I wouldn’t recommend either Narnia choice as better, unless you are a parent reading it to a younger child, like a five or six year old. Then I would recommend the illustrated version. Pauline Bayrnes did a very nice job, in spite of her lions, and though the characters always seem tiny, even in the big versions I got for our grandchildren, they have a nice way of conveying the scenes.
What would Middle Earth have been for us without those charming pen and ink maps? Mordor smoking. Ents. I still look at them every time I read those books, and often during the read.
All of us are pushed into our imaginations by illustrations, whether we realize it or not. Even as an artist myself, I adore the illustrations of others. I still aspire to Howard Pyle’s pirates and Maxfield Parrish’s light and shadow.
It is why media is such a powerful tool.
Much of what visuals do for us is subliminal. Which means that all we need is the suggestion of something to get the thought.
So, those tiny illustrations in Narnia books. Or, the fleeting glimpses of things in ads. But let’s save subliminals for another, darker day.
Let’s stick with how even as an old, salty person, your life can be enriched with fantasy and escape. Ferris Bueller knew it. The uncles in “Second Hand Lions” knew it. Tolkein and Lewis knew it. Make a little daydreaming part of your day. Read something lighthearted and magic before you go to sleep.
Your soul will thank you.
*Ole CS was always conscious of his standing among his peers, because I’m not sure he really thought they were his peers. He never got to be an actual Oxford “don,” but a Cambridge one, even though he taught at Oxford most of his adult life. On the plus side, he was widely known, more so than any of those he sought to equal academically. By the end of his life, he was a literary and philosophy superstar, if there was such a thing. Tolkien, one of his best friends, didn’t achieve immediate success with Lord of the Rings, and wasn’t a superstar until the late 60s. Lewis was more well known earlier on, for his radio talks during WWII, and “Screwtape,” which was serialized.