There are so many big and important things to say, but I’ve been sick for the last three days, and don’t necessarily show that much sign of getting markedly better any time soon. Today I spent swaddled up to my ears in warm clothing and blankets, with my nose buried in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, of which I understand remarkably little, but am enjoying very much.
In cleaning out some bits of our third floor (what we consider the attic, but which is a fully furnished living space with a crawlspace above), we determined that it was finally time to send a paper model of a magic castle that I had “helped” my father construct at some young age on its final journey. I found myself confessing to my mother that I had found the castle underwhelming as a child because it was inert. Some part of me expected the paper magic castle to come to life and was wholly disappointed when it did not.
I have since come to understand that the pleasure to be found with models of any kind is in the building. I’m not sure that I will ever develop a taste for it, if that is the case, as I do not believe I have entirely lost the expectation of independent motion from my creations.
It’s tough to describe, because as a dyed in the wool atheist materialist, I am not a believer in the occult, the spiritual, or the fantastic. Yet nevertheless, a healthy diet of fantasy novels in my childhood meant that I have lived with the expectation that at any moment books will move about or rearrange their contents or their characters will leap fully formed from the page, or that the darkness in my closet hides some terrible lurking beast or secret which I can almost see when the lights are out, or in fact, that all houses have secret doors which open into new, magical, terrifying places.
As an only child, my best companions were the ones I couldn’t see: be they story book characters or colorful personas that would parade through my mind, given life through my flesh or the bodies of my dolls and toys. I remember terrifying myself with a demon slaying epic I composed to a early 2000s European trance song. I played it out with a friend, and to this day wonder if he felt the bite of anxious urgency and real danger that flooded through me.
I believe and don’t believe, or rather, in the words of the famous X-Files mantra: I want to believe. I have always wanted to believe, and have very nearly managed it by letting myself get completely carried away by the words that make up the stories that paint vivid, damn near tangible images in my head.
Reading Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart as a child was so desperately bittersweet: I always knew my father had the kind of voice that would be able to bring characters out of the pages of a book and into real life. He’d very nearly succeeded with The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland and the early Harry Potter books because I remembered those places, knew the faces of all those people, had walked with them and heard them, and gone on fantastic adventures with them. I could still remember what that was like. But never had any of the characters sat with me, or spoken with me, sitting on my bed, in my room, like Dustfinger did.
Her novels were the moment where I stepped back from fantasy, and distanced myself from reading, because it had started to hurt. I think I’ve only read The Thief Lord once, because the adventure was so good, and the characters so vibrant and engaging that I couldn’t bear the thought of visiting them again, only to have to part ways at the end of the book.
My mother and I have a long standing disagreement about the nature of books, and stories. She says the the end of any book is immaterial, because you can start over from the beginning, when no one as died, no adventures have been had, nothing is over, you can just do it all again, and again, and again. But I say that this isn’t true. Once the book is read all the way through, the ending is always the same. If you start over, the adventures have already been had, and the ending is written; those who will die, will die and have already died, and those who will live have already lived and already suffered.
I can’t remember, now, if my little fantasy worlds offered the chance of redemption. I know I spun narrative threads and kept them going as long as someone wanted to play, but I don’t remember if some endings were set in stone: if you could play through the European trance epic and slay all the demons, or if you, the hero, had to perish as the bass throbbed and the synthesizer faded out. My stories have always tended towards the cyclical and the fated. I have never been surprised that all roads lead to destiny, because prophesy is merely the art of reading the final chapter of the story before the hero has gotten there.