silencing the beautiful songs of the childish heart

I may have told you this story before. Many years ago, my family bought an inn. It stood at the crest of the city, overlooking town on one side and misty valleys on the other : a hunch-backed, benevolent ogre of a building, athwart with windows that winked in the sun. A ceaseless wind came down from distant hills to fill its rooms with wild story. I walked the narrow, dusty halls with armsful of sheets and a heart soaked in dreaming.

When we first arrived, it was just my mother and I for a while. A great deal of cleaning needed to be done, along with caring for the visitors already there. Our first week, we were exhausted. I wandered the neighbourhood at twilight, gathering edgeflowers, letting the ache of overworked muscles ease away in the dusky peace. I slept in a tiny room full of superfluous beds. I was reading The Sorceress and the Cygnet by Patricia McKillip at the time; I was listening to Enya's Shepherd Moons on my stereo. That book and album will forever be entwined in my mind, along with wind-filled empty rooms; reveries of bog witches, lily-scented foxes; and being a housemaid.

I was an adult, but a very tired adult, living in what seemed like a magical house, and as a consequence my imagination at that time veered to something quite child-like, lyrical, joyful. I remembered it this morning when I came across the art of Jaqueline Wall. Her paintings (such as the one above) have that same enchanting spirit, and they made me realise how grown-up I've become in my imaginings. I've cast off unicorns, and sunlit woodland paths, and shy witches looking out with luminous loving eyes and handsful of mushrooms from old shadows. I don't dream about dryads, or maidens who wish for the ocean, or songbirds, or butterfly catchers who net something incomprehensible.

It's a shame. We equate mastery with maturity, and we extol those who write with a refined, adult sensibility - or even better, with cynicism or realism, even in fantasy. (Enya, for example, is often mocked for her seamless, magical style, in an age where grit is more valued.) But I think we lose a lot when we let go of our childlike dreaming. There's such beauty in it, and joyous spirit, and an instinctive understanding of how story works. As I work towards improving my writing craft, I do believe the time has come to go backward, into the dreaming song of the child.


  1. Murder and sociopaths seems to be the only "wothwhile" thing to write these days. Not cozy and quirky little mysteries like Agatha Christie, but brutal, highlighting not an intricate plot, but the ghastly, gory details. And they say we haven't been affected by tv...

    If that's being adult I'll definitely go live in my blanket fort with my crayons and Tove Jansson.

  2. I loved your story. It is funny that you should mention this. I was struggling with writing the adult fairy story that I mentioned in my last post. I just couldn't seem to get a handle on what it would entail. Then last night, in that moment between sleeping and waking, an idea came to me of what the story should be about. I knew I had to forget all that I had thought of previously and go back to the fairy tales of old that had enchanted me as a child. Luckily the story that came into my head like in a dream, is with me still, and I must make notes before it is forgotten.

  3. Thank you, this is beautiful. I wonder too if I could write about unicorns and such creatures, white magic and beauty.

  4. My thought, when seeing your post title, was; "Why??????"

    Must search out more lovely art, by this woman... Thank you for sharing her, with me.


  5. oh, we need them both! the grit AND the magic...i will never give up my "childish" love of magic and beauty and fantastical things. human life is so complex; we need writers and artists and film-makers who can show us what is not right in our world, that we may fix it/turn away from those paths. and we need our artists who can show us all the beauty of life and inspire us to be the best we can, or refresh our souls after work or sorrow. but in truth, i know which i prefer to read and view...give me the beautiful and magical any day...

  6. What a magical and beautifully written piece. I definitely still dream of unicorns and fairy woods!