I am sure you are dead and gone. But, I do love you nonetheless. Although I never met you, nor could I have met you due to time travel limitations, I love you because it was the books you wrote and/or edited about fairy tales that sparked the beginning of my writing life as if crushing clementine skins in front of a match for ten tiny bursts of blue flame per second.
Your stories led me to writing my stories, even if naysayers may scoff and talk of important writing and important issues vs. navel-gazing a la the likes of me. So, yes, here it is, I love you…and the golden field of moments in which I am lucky enough to find the inspiration, space and place to write them.
Recently, I wrote about Elif Şafak‘s words on the importance of stories. Say what you will of her, some say she is an opportunist, some say she’s not all that, but she speaks in a lovely and engaging way about the politics of fiction, and about breaking down walls, expanding circles and enjoying in the overlapping of those circles. Although you wouldn’t know it from my current profession, a professor of statistics, research methods and policy analysis, I do firmly feel that stories make the world go round. The telling of stories is very important to me as a teacher trying to engage students in a difficult topic (though I have not yet tried fairy tales) – but also as a human living life.
As a tiny child, my sister and I sat enthralled, in the bathtub, as my mother read us stories each night. She conned us into take our nightly bath for years – just so that we could hear the next chapter of…say, the entire Chronicles of Narnia series, all of the Little House on the Prairie books – the massive set of Oz books nobody knows beyond The Wizard of Oz – and so many more.
The stories even continued once we got out of the bath and into bed, snug as a bug in a rug, as she told us with supreme maternal certainty, tucking us in tightly between hospital corners. There will be no bugs, she said. After the bug games ended, our last story of the night was always some sort of fairy tale. Yes, we read through the horrific Brother’s Grimm (leading to the occasional nightmares after chopped off hands, bloody stumps and all other manner of horrors) – but also through the various tales of Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights and, volume by volume, your own series of fairy books, Mr. Lang, one per color (silver, gold, violet, etc.). And that is really when I fell in love with you.
It was these stories full of magic, horror and wonder – and their impossible opportunity – that captivated me the most of all the stories my mom read to us. Why can’t humans turn into birds and fly? Why can’t animals talk? Why can’t magic mirrors speak? Why can’t time freeze in place? Why can’t tree spirits plant flowers? Why can’t purple be a character all on her own? Etcetera.
These fairy stories set my imagination on a meandering course at breakneck pace – and as a child I became a writer myself as a way to get the images out of my head and into the world to revel in. I was able to publish poetry in a few journals around age 10 (terrible stuff, don’t know why anyone published it). I was in special writing classes – and writing camps as a fairly young person – but as an unpopular and old-fashioned sort of a kid – this was not really cool. In perhaps one of the most regrettable mistakes of my life, I turned down entry into the coveted “art band” cohort – a set of classes just for kids skilled in the arts and writing. Only the “weird” kids joined it. Alas, it was a long time before I embraced my inner weird – and by that time – the opportunity was all gone.
As life wound its way along, I lost my writing practice as Ann Lamott or Natalie Goldberg might call it – and moved on to other things…including a lot of reading in the magical realism vein (see About Liz Cameron, above, for more on that) but have returned to creative (vs. academic) writing over the past two years as an outlet of sorts. The Karagöz puppets over at slowly-by-slowly.com have been the means to this end – always inspiring me to set my pen to proverbial paper on this laptop – and to write about what is going on – to be more present than my breakneck-paced job and life afford me. I am writing in order to try to take more control of life. To actually, well, to actually live life a bit more and observe upon it and to learn – and to just plain have fun, let’s be honest.
As I am writing this, Esma the hippie puppet is enthralled in one story from the Silver Fairy Book. She just lifted her head to tell me – “so that’s where you got the idea of rose petals and jasmine blooms coming out of my mouth and ears when I am elated and happy – from this story of the curse of the princess who have frogs and toads come out of her mouth – and then rubies and diamonds- gosh – that couldn’t be very comfortable, could it?” Leaving Esma to her enjoyment of the story, I move back to you, dear Andrew Lang.
So, in closing, thank you for the fairy stories, for opening my eyes and unbinding my writing hands and crazy imaged-mind. And thank you for being open to letting those Karagöz puppets take me the rest of the way on the beginning of this new writing journey. (Karagöz snorts at this soft-hearted patter but I will pay no heed as this is a love letter, and many snort at love).
Yours in the dark and in the light of human imagination,
P.S. I hope you won’t mind, but Hacivad Bey nods his head approvingly, and suggests I send a love letter to my husband instead, quoting from the Mevlana himself: “Your eyelashes will write on my heart the poem that could never come from the pen of a poet.”
- On my writing about cross-cultural marriage (with the Karagöz puppets) (elizcameron.com)
- The Victorian Fairy Tale Book Review Part One (thereadingitch.wordpress.com)