E wrote in to add to yesterday’s fairytale conversation:
I was obsessed with fairy tales and mythology as a child. Back in the 60s, that meant reading the “Blue Fairy Book” and the “Red Fairy Book” from the school library and other books my parents bought me. It was still safe in those days for an 8-year-old girl to go wandering around in the woods, and I did that, imagining that this hollow log might be a portal to fairy land, or that I might see a real troll under a bridge! I was not surprised when I didn’t see any real fairies, but at that age, I still kept an open mind—maybe they ARE real! That is the process of childhood, sorting out reality from fantasy. At some point, the deeper meanings of the fairy tales became apparent to me.
The other day, I was thinking about the first time I read Harry Potter. I was 11 years old when I picked up The Sorcerer’s Stone, the same age as the main characters, and so we were children together on the cusp of adolescence.
I remember falling into that book and knowing it was fantasy and knowing what fantasy meant and knowing that Hogwarts didn't really exist and yet—that summer—a part of me thought: But perhaps a letter will come by owl. The universe of Harry Potter fitted so neatly into the universe I inhabited that nothing ruled out its existence. Invisible edges separated the two worlds. Perhaps I would find such an edge and peel it back. Of course, I would never have said such things out loud. I knew those fantasies were ridiculous and yet—
In any case, I was terribly lonely then. My runaway imagination kept me company, nourished me. I clung to the possibility that fantasy could be more than fiction.
Natalia Ginsburg writes:
Probably every child has his own term for fantasy. I called it "night talk." Actually I didn't fantasize only at night but during the day as well. But the word 'night' must have evoked for me the secret and nocturnal quality of fantasy…
These fantasies “cultivated everything lacking, or in short supply, in our real life”:
Amazement is the opposite of indifference, and since in real life we were often pained to meet with—or think we were meeting with—indifference, we loved to have people regard us with amazement, and we strewed it all through our fantasies…
But we were unable to bring any of that force and grace into our real life. Indeed the memory of the fantasy life, in which we had appropriated real people for our personal use, capriciously moving them around and wrenching them in and out of place like objects, made us even sadder, gawkier, and more cowardly in real life, in the presence of real people.
In actual life, the memory of our fantasies weighed heavily on us. When we put them side by side, fantasy life and real life, their huge disparity sent chills down our spine.
For us the mind had a real existence, however hidden; it existed and partook of the truth, and its secret, invisible nature rendered it even more insolent and distressing vis-a-vis reality.
Our great dread in life was to appear comic rather than tragic; we dreaded that whatever fate had in store for us might fall under the mask of comedy and not tragedy. In our fantasies, therefore, we would offer our destiny the gift of great and somber disasters.
The creative life was the best thing we possessed, the fantasy life possibly the worst. But maybe they were blood relatives, inseparable from one another.
Looking back on these childhood fantasies from the safety of old age, Ginsburg wonders:
We suspect that if we hadn't known such happy events in fantasy, the sorrows of real life might not have been so desolate and profound. Our fantasy life, with its profusions of happiness, brought us bad luck. It colonized our actual life, plundering whole provinces and regions. It was as if someone had decreed that since we had already lived through such a happy story in fantasy, there was no need for us to relive it in reality. Looking back on those happy imaginings, we are surprised to discover how lifelike and attainable they were, full of words and incidents that felt real. The only unreal thing about them is that they never happened.
In old age, we think of everything we have had and will never have again, of everything we've done and will never do again, as well as everything we have not been and never will be. In this way, we come to know inexorability. In youth, we knew it only in times of calamity; our daily life was the opposite of inexorable. At the first glimpse of approaching calamity, we would offer our destiny the gift of possible change. When we were bruised by misfortune, our fantasy life would rush in to soothe us the minute we were alone. It thronged our solitary paths with friends; it filled our empty days with promise; voices and whispers rose up out of the silence; even though we alone were uttering the questions and answers, these imaginary dialogues were so comforting that they seemed to come from outside. In old age, inexorability has settled into our daily life. To know the inexorable in daily life means that our mind intimately embraces our death—real, not imaginary.
Take the 11-year-old girl I once was. What if my longings had taken some other shape? What if I had wanted to be not a witch but a boy? Could I—at that age when I couldn't quite separate fantasy and reality, no matter how cleanly I would have divided the two if asked—have consented to trade my open future for the circumscribed one transition offers? Even if adults had made the limits of transition clear to me—even if I said I understood—would I have understood what inexorability means? Wouldn't my fantasies of transformation have survived underground, out of sight, nurtured by the strength of feeling that made those fantasies necessary to me?
This statement: "It was still safe in those days for an 8-year-old girl to go wandering around in the woods..." may be in keeping with contemporary sentiments, but it's not in keeping with contemporary facts. It's much safer for children to roam about than it used to be, as violent crime is far lower than it once was. The US violent crime rate peaked in the early 90s.
Parents imagining that going outside is so terribly dangerous for their children is part of what has parked them all inside in front of the internet. Where, among other dangers, they encounter trans groomers and pedos.
Maybe if todays kids were allowed to go out and play in the woods more they'd be healthier, both physically and mentally.
It’s been said so many times, but it still amazes me that all knowledge is immediately discarded when this issue raises its head We KNOW humans don’t mature psychologically until they are 25, we know it from.experience, but it is also now part of established science (though how scientific psychology can ever be is another matter). Regardless, there is solid research backing this, while there is little when it comes to childhood transition - and what is there is pretty alarming already. All we know about childhood development - disregarded in service to middle-aged men.