Thursday 14 December 2017

Adults, escape to the land of fantasy

The beginning of the end of the Harry Potter films put me in mind of just how many adults enjoyed these books too. When JK Rowling's stories came out, I was dismayed as my friends raved about them. Wasn't it a bit unseemly, grown men and women reading children's books? Shouldn't we let children enjoy their own canon of fiction without us adults wading in to the pre-pubescent party?

But adults were obviously reading and enjoying these books in their masses.

The publishers even released a version of the book with an 'adult' cover so they needn't be embarrassed about reading them on the daily commute. It all seemed to reflect a certain juvenile mentality to me, the Peter Pan syndrome that pervaded our culture.

Then I picked up Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. It had sat by my bedside for several months until one evening, bored, I picked it up.

Hours later I was still awake and reading, absorbed by the 12-year-old heroine Lyra and the extraordinarily rich back story of parallel worlds, quantum physics and all the big themes of death, love, religion, greed, power, the possibility of an afterlife, along with more mundane things like fairies and talking bears.

I had not been this absorbed by a book, well, since I was a child.

It felt magical to slip back inside that bubble of complete absorption.

Reading such a captivating children's book as an adult, I felt my mind open up and breathe. It was like flexing a long-forgotten muscle. The surprise of finding it still there, just a bit stiff, was delightful.

I realised that part of our minds can get folded away to make room for the hustle and bustle of the daily commute, the morning routine and the evening chores, the long list that never gets checked and the pinball machine that bats weighty balls named 'bills', 'work', 'love life' and 'family' around in ever-rotating orbit.

Reading a good book can go some way to quieting the racing mind, but reading a magical story like His Dark Materials has a double resonance as it brings you back to the wonderfully nostalgic experience of bedtime childhood reading.

I remembered my night-time reading habits as a child, the stories of the Tuatha De Dannan, the international folklore in the Golden Treasury of Children's Literature by Byrna and Louis Untermeyer.

These are still some of my favourite stories from The Boy Who Drew Cats to the chilling Count Beet, whose ending set off an existential time bomb in my child's mind.

Most of all, reading children's stories as an adult reignites the concept of possibility, the ability to dream and work out how to achieve these dreams.

The American author Signe Pike recently wrote, 'the loss of our ability to believe in magical things is the worst sort of emotional deforestation'. She has written about her search for something to believe in again in Faery Tale: In Search Of Enchantment In The Modern World.

Needless to say, I have changed my opinion on adults reading children's stories. It can help us tap into the dusty corners of our minds and clear the pathways to our imaginations.

Reading children's books is like taking a holiday, a way of rebooting the jaded mind. Believing in magic again, even if it is just for an hour before bedtime, is good for the soul and the imagination. And with the week we've had, a little bit of magic can't do us any harm.

Irish Independent

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