in the Hurricane
night I read my five-year-old daughter to sleep with a book about a little girl
named Heart who discovers that there are real unicorns. At the end, it turns
out that Heart is herself a unicorn, changed by enchantment into a human girl,
condemned to a life of drudgery, and finally returned ecstatically to the
Jane asks me every few days whether I believe in fairies or whether there
really are flying horses. It strikes me that her real life and her real world -
her school, her parents, her swingset, her friends - must already seem, in
comparison to Barbie's Fairytopia, to be a place that has lost its magic.
One of course wants to affirm children's wonder; one wants to tell them that
anything is possible, that, as the trite phrase has it, dreams do come true. I
cannot bring myself to tell my daughter flatly that there are no pixies among
the flowers. But of course I can't even entertain, much less believe it. And I
can't help feeling that I am preparing her for a life of disappointment: not
with this or that unfortunate person or event, but with the fabric of the
universe as a whole. Believe in fairies long and hard enough and you will grow
to loathe the world.
Jane says of her seven-year-old friend Emma that she used to believe in
fairies, but that she doesn't anymore. She has asked me several times
whether she herself, when she grows up, will stop believing. I hope not. And I
hope so. I don't have a great deal of respect for adults who believe in
fairies. Sane adulthood is entrapment in a world without magic, in a real
world. When Jane's done watching Fairytopia, I turn on CNN.
In the most fulsome and predictable terms, we often extol the imaginations of
children, the universe of wonder they inhabit etc. But as I participate in the
delineation and preservation of the world of Janie's imagination, I can't help
feeling my own disenchantment. The stories I tell my children crystallize my
sense that this world is not good enough. And we, in this world, are not good
enough either: we are not princes and princesses; we do not have sparkly
When I was a teenager, I read The Lord of the Rings a dozen times. Sometimes it felt more real to me than
my life; certainly it was more satisfying. In reality, my quest was not clear
and the characters including myself were both good and evil, or neither. Day by
day my life seemed to me repetitive and typical to the point of idiocy: the
school, the peanut butter and jelly, the date on Friday night: routinized,
exhausting, pointless. I feel that still, and then some.
Perhaps we are all feeling
something like this at the moment. At least, Harry Potter and Narnia are our
movies, Harry Potter and the fantasy of George R.R. Martin our books.
And it will not surprise you that I cannot merely abandon myself and consign my
daughter to perfect disillusionment.
Between sessions with The Unicorn's Secret and A Feast for Crows I am reading the journals of Henry David Thoreau.
Thoreau is an extraordinary person and an extraordinary writer because the
world of his imagination - as full of wonders as Narnia - is this very world we
inhabit. His observations of a seed, or of a fox, are as surprising as ours
might be, if we met a goblin or climbed a beanstalk.
Sometimes Jane asks me things like this: "Is there really such a thing as
hot lava?" "Are whales real?" These questions surprise me and
give me hope.
Before Jane was born, I lived in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse. One summer
night I was laying in bed with Jane's mother. The night was moonless and the
room was dark. At the edge of my vision I saw a tiny flash of light. I thought
it must be a firefly. But the light started flashing and flitting around the
room, much faster than any firefly could move. I watched the thing for a good
I woke Marion up. She saw it too. I finally got up and turned on the light, but
there was nothing there. A few days ago I finally, reluctantly, told that story