I had forgotten the magic of children’s stories when my sister came along. During those years, my choice of reading material had gravitated towards the serious-some even bordering on depressing-facets of literature. I hardly ever read feel-good stories anymore, the sort which offered the pleasure of escape and ignited that warm feeling of satisfaction inside. Instead, I read books like The God of Small Things, Half of a Yellow Sun, and The Purple Hibiscus, stories about people and life which stripped reality to the bare bone, looked it in the face and neither flinched from its vulgarities nor turned respectfully away.
I was well sunk into a quagmire of somber grownupness when my little sister suddenly discovered a love of books. As her self-appointed reading guide, I dusted off the cobwebs that had accumulated around my childhood self and went delving through dusty memory attics to search for books she could read. And I found them. Lots of them. In fact, I discovered a whole little kingdom of treasures I had long forgotten, just sitting there in a large, solemn, adult world and waiting to be rediscovered.
So we set out on a journey, my sister and I. A new one for her, an old one for me. At first we met Peter and the Wolf, The Magic Porridge Pot and Chicken Licken. We looked at pictures, noticed interesting little details, and made wise analyses. My sister came up with questions, and I answered most of them. Wasn’t Chicken Licken stupid? Yes, he was. If Jack took the giant’s gold and the hen and the harp, wasn’t that stealing? Hmm, yes it was, but the giant was bad so…I mean, Jack was a poor boy and they needed money and…aiyyo Nangi, let’s just read on, no? Why did the girls cry when Georgie Porgie kissed them? I have no idea. I would have punched him one. We would lie together on the bed with our heads on the same pillow and a stack of old ladybird classics beside us and I would realize with amazement, again and again, just how much I had forgotten, and just how distant my childhood had become.
My sister learned fast. By the age of four, she was well past Goldilocks and co. and had ventured into Toyland with Noddy and Big-ears, sailed the seven seas with Sinbad, rescued Wilbur the pig from an untimely death, and saved Hamelin from its plague of rats. Then along came Brer Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh and good old Mr Pink-whistle, and soon after that, mad Willy Wonka and his marvelous factory, the evil Twits, and all the glorious gobblefunk of the BFG. We climbed the Faraway tree, ate bars of Wonka chocolate and discovered white worlds in wardrobes.
We met giants and Borrowers and sea-monsters, rescued princesses from their towers, Kai from the Snow Queen and good fairies from evil wizards. How simple those stories were! How uncomplicated and free of the disillusionment of adulthood! In them I found friendship and courage, kindness and honesty, the freedom and beauty of an unfussy, undemanding child’s world, the ecstasy of stepping into the unexpected, and the magical.
I sometimes felt waves of nostalgia so strong that they seemed like physical tugs at my heart, as if a hundred tiny hands were pulling at my sleeves and trousers and whispering to me to come along in little voices. It was rediscovery, it was magic…it was a journey I am glad I took.
My sister has started school now. She’s a precocious little reader and she doesn’t want me to read to her anymore. Now and then, we’d take a little foray into the Enchanted Wood or go flying across the oceans in a giant peach, but mostly, she prefers to enter her fairy lands alone. I miss the old times, that sacred task of taking a little unsteady hand and leading a still unmolded mind on such incredible voyages of discovery, but I guess nothing is forever. However, on grey-skied, dismal days when I feel tired and grown-up, I now secretly raid my sister’s bookshelf. I pick a few of the much-loved books, curl up on my bed and let go.
Suddenly, I find am no longer a twenty-something year-old hoping no one was going to catch her on her furtive lapse in adulthood. I am no longer surrounded by the softness of my pillows and the walls of my room. Time stops and slows and speeds up in turn, and all the whirrs, and hums and ticks of the everyday world fall silent one by one. I hear only the wisha-wisha-wisha of the trees as they whisper secrets in the Enchanted Wood, or the growly hum of Pooh Bear as he sings his newest song. I tramp through the Hundred-Acre Wood, visit strange lands, and eat Google buns in Silky’s little house. It works every time.
So try it one day. The next time you feel weighed down or disenchanted by life, pack a picnic basket, lock yourself in your room and take a journey. Visit Toyland, or Narnia, or the Land of Do-As-You-Please. Fight a dragon or two, defeat an evil witch. Or just pick up Jo, Bessie and Fanny from their little cottage and go up the Faraway Tree for the day. It will do you good.