I am astonished by the number of people who are suspicious of and even offended by books containing imaginative fables, fantasies, and allegories. My curiosity being what it is, I have asked some of the “no fantasy for me” proponents what books kept them company as kids. Some can’t remember what they read, but a few said that they were drawn to books about animals, family sagas, science, and history. All good choices but I don’t think I could have made it through childhood without the help of Narnia, Half Magic and The Hobbit.
Active imaginations and creative pursuits were an ever-present commodity in my home as I was growing up. My brothers and sisters and I almost always had a book or a pen and paper on our person. Music of some sort ran on a continuous soundtrack through the house – always in the background, but often the main event, too. We children admired and emulated the quick-witted and clever people around us, both those on the radio and TV and the gifted members of our family and community. For instance, Mom quoted long rhymes at the drop of a hat, and recited poems & silly songs to us during our bath times or in other mundane, potentially boring situations. Because Mom insisted, we listened to the opera every Saturday (“Texaco Presents… the Metropolitan Opera!”) as we youngsters cleaned our large, old, kid-filled home. During those live radio performances, we experienced great dramas and fantasies put to music.
And then there was the Mass — especially Sunday High Mass — a holy, ritual-filled hour that taught us the transcendence of God, the reality of miracles, and the glory of heaven. Truth, beauty, goodness, all around. Those wonder-filled hours of chanted prayer and fragrant incense stood in sharp contrast to the times in our home that featured alcohol abuse and tense, fearful situations Thankfully, the reading of an entertaining book or a trip to a movie theater could serve as a way to cope with the pain and confusion those events brought on. Good stories and music had the power to calm one’s fears and presented the possibility of a future happy ending. “Bookish tendencies” were good skills to have when it came to dealing with the harsh realities of life.
I think my childhood reading of myths and fables also helped to teach me to read between the lines in the real world, which is a great survival skill. I am thankful for the books of C.S. Lewis, Edward Eager, and J.R.R. Tolkien for the comfort their works provided and the resourcefulness their stories brought with them. My youthful reading experiences taught me that wonderful books of fantasy help to exercise one’s mind not to simply escape trying situations, but also to train one to learn to deal with unsolvable difficulties. It was in those early reading years that I learned to trust my imagination to lead me to a deeper, more inventive understanding of the world around me. And don’t despair! It’s never too late to read books of fantasy and fairytales and receive all the good they have to offer. Pick one up today. Your imagination will thank you.