My Childhood Reading
Looking into the Wardrobe
‘This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!’ thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet.’
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobeby C. S. Lewiswas published in 1950, the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia (although not the first chronologically). I would have been given a Puffin paperback when I was about nine, I suppose. By that time, I would have read The Princess and the Goblin and have started on E. Nesbit. I had very old copies of both Alices (Wonderland and Looking Glass) which I found unsettling.
But The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was, and still is, the rule by which I measure almost all of my childhood reading because it became a paradigm of the story in which children go beyond, behind, through. It was, still is, the best example of children being transported to another world where perils are overcome, before being returned to this world, smarter, wiser, more able to deal with the challenges (and banalities) of the merely every day.
Of course, the mechanics of enchantment were always important:
The back of the wardrobe. The station platform (Prince Caspian). The picture in the bedroom (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). The back staircase (George MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin). A looking glass. A sandpit (Five Children and It). A soon-to-be demolished church (Alan Garner’s Elidor.). And of course, Andre Maurois’ escalator in Fattypuffs and Thinnifers.
Andre Maurois’ Fattypuffs and Thinnifers.
All of these portals were in themselves, nothing special... Sometimes the characters in a story only had to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the wood in William Croft Dickinson’s Borrobil when the fires of Beltane were lit. Even from an early age, the accidental nature of deep enchantment had been suggested to me in the story of Childe Roland. Burd Helen chased the ball, but rang the wrong way, ‘widdershins’ round the Church and was carried off by the Elf King. The very ordinariness and accidental nature of these enchantments was what made them, for me, even more exquisite.
But it was the moment of enchantment that really excited me. Because, of course, the mechanics were, just, well, mechanics. It didn’t matter what the door looked like, it was just there to be stepped through. I longed to know how it felt... but even more... how the writer used language to make me feel a certain way...
The joy of reading how Lucy stepped into the wardrobe... the second row of fur coats, her extremely sensible attitude about not closing the wardrobe door... In these two paragraphs or so, it was like experiencing the quiet hum of an engine as the narrative, which had been going along and going along, suddenly switched gear.
The story began to change around me, and if felt as if I, too, was being enchanted... stepping through and beyond into a wood at midnight.
Of course, being dragged into another world, sometimes against one’s will, but certainly being taken by surprise, is what good fiction does at any time. But somehow these tales, and they were my very favourite sort of reading, gave me a sense from a very young age, that this world, wonderful though it might be, was not the only world we inhabit. There is always more. There is always beyond.
About the book:
The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable
October 4th 2012 by Chicken House
Alone in the world, Sophie dreams of being someone special, but she could never have imagined this.
On a school trip to Russia, Sophie and her two friends find themselves on the wrong train. They are rescued by the beautiful Princess Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them to her winter palace and mesmerises them with stories of lost diamonds and a tragic past. But as night falls and wolves prowl, Sophie discovers more than dreams in the crumbling palace of secrets.
This is one of the most beautiful guest post I've ever had in Amaterasu Reads, and didn't that just made you wonder just how much the books we've read while growing up influenced us?
My review for The Wolf Princess will be posted tomorrow, so if you're curious to know what I thought of the book (hint: I LOVED IT!) then you have to wait!
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