Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a little girl called Emmie asked Santa for a magic wand with real magic. And when SolstiChristmaKwanzUkah came and brought only Care Bears, she was quite disappointed and looked under her bed for that wand every day for a year. Because Santa is very busy — especially during SolstiChristmaKwanzUkah — and she was understanding.
So sure was she that such a thing existed, that she waited and waited and waited, hoping that one day, she’d wake up, throw her little feet over the side of the bed, hop down, crouch low, and find something glowing and wondrous among the dust bunnies.
To this day I’ve never found anything under my bed more interesting than dust bunnies — and once a mouse that stared at me with shiny black eyes before flicking his tale and scurrying away.
But I did discover magic somewhere.
Over the weekend of my grandmother’s funeral, I asked my mother how it was I learned how to read and when exactly it happened. I asked because I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. I just remember always doing it.
What she did was rather fascinating. We had those refrigerator magnets in the shape of the alphabet, and my mother would spell something out, a simple word like C-A-T. Then she would read it phonetically to me.
And then she’d switch a letter. B-A-T. And she’d have me pronounce that. And then she’d switch a different letter. B-A-M. And then she’d switch a different letter. B-U-M.
It’s in that way that I started recognising words when we’d read. By the time I went to kindergarten, I was reading full books.
In books, I found real magic.
I think it was the only possible logical progression for me to find that writing them could be like having a magic wand. With words I could make anything happen. Anything at all. There could be a pissed off (or pissed on, rather) flower that growled at a dog. There could be space travel and time travel, and later druids and sorcery.
I blame PBS for a lot of my fascination with books. I grew up with Reading Rainbow and later Wishbone, and seeing books come to life was one of my favourite things. I never had trouble losing myself in books, and there were many times in school where I’d look up after my name was called four times to see the entire class standing up ready to do the pledge while I was still reading about Sister Bear and her tree house.
In books, the unexpected can happen. In books, you can find out what might ensue if a little girl finds that wand under her bed one morning with a note from Santa saying, “Sorry it’s so late!” You can find out what would happen if a boy put a plastic figurine in a cupboard and it came out a real, live Native American warrior — three inches tall.
In books, the downtrodden can rise up. They can become heroes, like Lewis in the Song of Albion. Unpopular, misunderstood girls can find a place of belonging — sometimes on a faraway planet — like Meg from A Wrinkle in Time.
No matter what happens with the publishing industry, I believe people will always want stories. We all want to hear words woven into magic, to get our turn living in a fantasy world.
What books shaped your views of the world when you were growing up? What showed you your first magic?