It Began with a Bedtime Story
Many of you know by now, dear readers, that a few years ago, during a stretch of anxious days, I began to tell the girls bedtime stories every night. As those first words hung in the still evening air — weaving visions of little girls meeting elves, friending fairies, and saving the world because it was the right thing to do — it became a labor of love that soon turned into a children’s novel, and soon after, a children’s series. At the time they were five and seven (they are now nine and eleven!), and thus began a shared love of storytelling and word savoring that has lasted until…I hope, forever.
“Why can’t grownups see fairies?” one daughter asked. “Because it is so,” I replied mysteriously. “And why is it called ‘crowded kingdom’?” they asked further. “Because I love the sound of those two words together,” I replied simply.
This highlighted two important axioms in our world:
1. Good Words –> Cool Ideas
My daughters and I love stories that have both “good words, and a good yarn.” We love the sound of words by themselves or put together — we have loved good words in any context they have come. When they started learning about clouds in school, we savored words like “cirrus” or the fact that some cloud shapes were “lenticular” (the shape of a lens!). We love spelling games and silly puns; when my younger daughter was five, she ran into our room with a blue stuffed animal under her arm, proclaiming, “I have a Stitch in my side!”
And good yarns: my older daughter and I share the love of immersive fiction — a story that takes you out of here, far away, where there can be an odyssey, a challenge, retribution, validation. Our heroes and she-roes live in classic stories like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess; Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series; Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth; E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Trumpet of the Swan; and the fanciful worlds of Roald Dahl.
Now we are at the age where good words lead us to cool new ideas.
“Frequency” was a vocabulary word on one of my daughter’s lists, and then we discovered:
- how cool it was to test your ability to hear sounds at different frequencies*, and
- how interesting it was that animals can hear other frequencies, and
- how this ability to hear different frequencies changes as you get older.
*Try the hearing test above. I started at the higher frequencies and my daughters were complaining about “that horrible noise.” At my age, it wasn’t until about 16mz that I could hear a high-pitched tone. And of course, the cat’s ears were rotating quizzically in all directions at all the frequencies.
“This is why,” my daughters and I finally reasoned, “children might be able to hear elves call to each other, but most grownups cannot!”
Which leads me to our second axiom:
2. Science can be Magic and Magic can be Science
The girls and I are endlessly fascinated by the natural world around us — our amazing planet Earth — and a universe of forces that hold their own logic.
If our modern marvels, both benign and terrifying, would have seemed like magic only a few hundred years ago and yet be something teachable and explainable with enough study and comprehension, why couldn’t the magic of fairies in fact be principles and concepts that they have been studying for a long, long time?
“Surely” my daughters and I reasoned, “fairies must study to be good at magic.”
And if we, as humans, are discovering — I hope not too late — how intertwined and dependent we are to the climate; the forests; the seas; the animals — what if the fairies have known this all along?
There are those who dismiss things like this last what-if — what ifs about magic, spirits, spirituality, dark shadows, an eternal light. And there are scientists and artists and great literary minds who fall on either side of that divide. But what I find quite remarkable is mankind’s perpetual search to explain why something is and what makes it tick and what put it there. Do we see it because we will it, or do we see it because it is there?
And what if it is the same thing — does our will to see something make it real after all?
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
— SIR ARTHUR C. CLARKE