Monday, May 31, 2010

The Path of Peter Pan

Now that we'd discovered the portal, we had to wait for it to open. We set up camp in Rachel's living room. Well, we set up fort in Rachel's living room. Observe:

It was awesome to say the least. And it was guarded by Erasmus the Unicorn.

We goofed around, read our favorite books (mostly Narnia in honor of the then-upcoming movie), and took lots of ridiculous pictures with our good friend, Cassie. Then, in the middle of the night, when we were all sleeping soundly in our sleeping bags, the portal opened. We awoke the next morning with newfound purpose. I had questions buzzing around my head: why is it so fun to relive childhood experiences? Why do make-believe and imagination have such a profound impact on children? Why do adults struggle to suspend their disbelief when they are the ones who can draw the deepest meaning out of the fanciful?

We thought about it long and hard.

After that summer, our schooling allowed us to study specific aspects of literature that most interested us. We both chose the Path of Peter Pan: neither of us wants to grow out of children's and young adult books. There is something fascinating about the layers of meaning in a fairy tale, something instructive about the adventures at Treasure Island, something hopeful about man's ability to influence magic. And it's not just the fantasy stories that stir up questions and engage the synthesizing part of my brain. Every good story makes connections! Tom Sawyer crafts himself a life of joy, Stanley Yelnats unravels several mysteries at once, Julie learns to survive with the wolves. There is something in this type of discover story, the bildungsroman, that speaks to us. It keeps us awake at night and often (in frightening ways) invades our dreams. It's what I think about in the shower when I don't need to be thinking at all.

Over the next few years, we continued our search for that wonderful world where children live forever. Some call it Neverland, others Wonderland, still others Narnia, and I have heard countless other names for it. The enchanted drawer in Rachel's apartment opened our minds, but we wanted to explore further. In the woods near campus, we found a gate that seemingly leads to nowhere, but we can't figure out how to get the other world to appear. We also found a wardrobe in my old apartment building, but it disappeared before we could test out its magical powers.

Magical portal? Maybe. Why else would someone put a wardrobe up against a glass wall on the second story?

So our search goes ever on and on, and that's how we came to be studying the craft and history of children's and young adult literature in graduate school.

Coming up next: the Adventure continues with another fort and a whole lot of books. Stay in tune! If you find a magical land in the meantime, let us know!

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