There are moments you treasure as a parent. First steps, first days of school, music programs, sports games — all the precious moments that make you proud of your offspring.
What I like best about children is the sense of wonder they have. Children believe in magic. On some primal level, they believe the extraordinary is possible.
Seeing that faith in things unseen but understood always takes me back to my own childhood in the most pleasant way. It reminds me of being a kid and how much fun I had. It reminds me I too used to believe in magic.
This is an especially potent feeling for an author of fantasy literature. In a sense, the purpose of fantasy is to inspire that sense of wonder. In a fantasy novel, whether is it is set in a faraway land from long ago or on the mean streets of a modern, real-world city, there is an element of magic. Something inexplicable and wondrous occurs. My short story, “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale,” has the least amount of magic of any of my published works. It’s very much a modern piece. But there is a witch with a magic potion that causes the titular character to fall into a deep sleep from which only True Love’s First Kiss can wake her.
Monday night, I began reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s immortal classic, The Hobbit, to my stepchildren. They are just about the perfect age for it. They are old enough that they grasp most of the fancier language. Tolkien was, after all, a linguistics professor from another country living in a very different age. But my kids are educated enough that they get most of it.
They are also, though. young enough that the fairytale-style of the narrative appeals to them. Reading The Hobbit aloud has all the feel of cracking open a leather-bound tome and starting, “Once upon a time . . . ”
Indeed, my edition of The Hobbit is leather-bound and fancy-looking. I found this green-leather covered version (in a slipcase!) first when I was in high school. My tiny little school of only 360 students had an awesome edition of The Hobbit, and, after reading it, I swore I would not own that book in any other edition. It took me years to find one — I was well into my 30’s when I did.
That book, with its leather cover and gold embossing, makes the feel of reading it that much more magical. I read this same copy of The Hobbit to my daughter years ago.
And so, as I cracked open the fairytale-looking book and read, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” two children sat on a bed enthralled. The youngest held her blanket to her chest. Like the grandfather in the film version of The Princess Bride, I wove a spell more potent than anything Gandalf could imagine.
Watching those children as I occasionally looked over the top of The Hobbit while I read reminded me why I write fantasy literature. I don’t write the kind of fiction that appeals much to children. My books are for adults. But that sense of wonder — that belief in magic — is real and palpable.
I write fantasy literature to remember how it felt to be young and reading it. I first encountered The Hobbit in the Ralph Bakshi animated version. That inspired me to want to read it. Finding a magical, leather-bound edition in my high school library burned it into my imagination forever.
My children have no inkling yet of ferocious trolls that turn to stone in the sunlight, of giant spiders that come down from the trees to capture sleeping dwarves, of riddle contests with horrid creatures that live under the mountains, and of greedy dragons lying on mounds of treasure. But just reading them the first chapter over the course of two nights invoked all those memories in me. And seeing the excited looks of rapt attention on their faces tells me they will thrill to Bilbo’s adventures and perhaps — just perhaps — the spell I weave on them will leave them with the same passion for magic I have.
Magic is real. I write fantasy literature so I can keep creating it.