As a child, I craved magic. There was a hunger in me for wonder, for awe and for something to take me beyond what I saw as the ordinariness of everyday life. Fantasy fiction featured a lot, alongside fairytales, folklore and mythology. I wanted actual talking animals, walking trees, women of flowers who turned into owls. Her especially.
I thought that maybe there was an age at which the magic would just turn up. A lot of fiction aimed at children suggests this, and as an adult I don’t think it’s a very helpful idea. There was no door in the back of the wardrobe – I checked, repeatedly. The Goblin King did not come and take me away, despite repeated requests. It felt like the magic was always somewhere else, somewhere out of my reach, promised but never given.
All too often, the ‘magic’ aimed at children is just a marketing strategy. There’s a lot of money tied up in buying the magic for the young humans, and not just around Christmas. And for every adult trying to sell you fake-magic there’s another one ready to crush the breath out of the magic you found for yourself. Trapped between the two, so many people grow up jaded, and disenchanted.
When I was a child, I had a cat who always knew when I was in trouble. She was a little black cat called Holly, and she would invariably turn up to comfort me when I was distressed. Now, cats are often sensitive creatures and will move towards people to comfort them in times of distress. Purr therapy is most assuredly a thing. Holly would do that for anyone who came into the house who needed cheering, and was reliably kind to angst-ridden teens.
It went far beyond that, however. There were times when I stood at the window, looking out at my parent’s garden and crying, only to watch that little black cat appear. She spent a lot of her time out in the field, or the wood beyond it, far away so that she could not have heard me. But she’d known, somehow. She’d known when I needed her most, and came running to me, repeatedly. Her affectionate headbuts and purring comforted me more times than I can count. She might not have been able to talk out loud, but she spoke with her whole being.
It’s funny looking back at my childhood perceptions of things. I grew up with ghosts, but it bothered me that I could not shoot sparks out of my hands – although what I’d have done with that, I do not know. I wanted to see things other people could not see, and know things other people did not know. I think in essence I needed some justification for why I felt so at odds with the world, and with most of the people around me. Magical powers would have been a good explanation for why I never felt like I fitted or belonged.
There was one book which particularly helped me, though, and that was Paul Gallico’s The Man Who Was Magic. What stuck with me most from that book was a comment about how the cows were magicians, making grass into milk, and that the world is full of magic and transformation. It really is. Magic is everywhere, life itself is a wonder and a miracle, and you don’t need to be able to shoot sparks out of your fingers for it to be true.
I didn’t get to the sparks bit until I was a teen – it turns out I’m good at building static charges and in the right circumstances I can give people little electric shocks.