Books are magical. I think we can all agree on that. You open up the cover of a book, and you can almost see the fairy dust floating up from its pages. The shiver down your spine when you finger a new tome or reach the climax or discover some startling revelation is much akin, I’m sure, to what you might feel if you watched Gandalf show off his dazzling fireworks. When you get sucked into another world, when you make friends with people who don’t exist (except that, of course, they do), when you are made to laugh and weep by sorcerers who weave words—what else is it but magic?
As with other things in this world, like love and friendships and sandwiches, there are different kinds of magic. One is the magic of reading alone. You know what I’m talking about: You’re lying on your bed, the door closed, book in your hands. You’ve decorated your room with posters and quotes from your favorite characters, but you don’t see those now, don’t register anything except the words flowing through you in an anthem of adventure. The world around you fades away (see? magic), and you are absorbed into the book. You are no longer reading the story, you are living it. You don’t notice it, but your face changes in reaction to the emotions the characters are feeling. The characters—what am I talking about? They are your friends now, your enemies, your acquaintances, populating your world. Your heart races during seemingly hopeless battles, and your skin prickles in mist-cloaked dungeons. You laugh out loud when that witty fellow makes a joke, and you positively beam when your sister (even though you don’t have a sister in “real” life) is happy. You throw you arms around her in joy even though you’re still lying on your bed. And you weep. You weep when your beloved friend dies, when your sister is hurt, when the little boy on the street is mistreated.
And then the magic wears off. The potency of the potion fades. You close the book. Slowly, reluctantly, you return to your room, to the world you were born into. You notice the crick in your neck from sitting in the same position too long. You hear your stomach rumbling or the screams of the kids outside your window. You’re back. But part of you isn’t. Part of you is still in the story world, and part of you will always stay there. You will always relive that adventure, always enjoy reuniting with those characters—those friends. They call this world the real world, but somehow the so-called story world has bled into reality and transformed it.
That is one kind of magic. It is a special treasure that you carry close to your heart, a haven you run to when the world seems set against you. Though others have had similar experiences, they have not shared that exact one with you. You walk among people with a glow in your heart, the secret of your adventure singing in your mind for hours, days, years after it finishes.
But there is another kind of magic. I have been exposed to it since I was little, since before I can remember, and only recently have I begun to realize what a blessing it is. Only recently have I begun to realize that it is magic, probably because it embedded itself into my veins early, and I have come to unconsciously depend on its power.
It began, as I said, before I can remember, but I’ll start with what memories I do have. One of the first is The Lupine Lady, the lady who traveled the world and lived by the sea and made the world more beautiful by planting fields of lupines—lush, stunning, every shade of purple you can imagine. I don’t know how many times my parents read that one to me. But now, whenever we see it in a store or on the shelf, we look at each other and smile.
Doesn’t sound like magic, you say. Wait. There’s more.
Skip forward a few years, and I can read now. I can read! Not very much or very well, maybe, but I can do it. But even so, my mom does a strange thing. Well, not strange to me, because I am used to it. The magic is already a part of my life. You see, though I can read, she keeps reading to me. I read to her out of my beginner book, and then we set it down and settle into the couch cushions, the stress of school forgotten. This is the best part of the day for both of us. She picks up Little House on the Prairie and picks up where we, reluctantly, let off yesterday. I am swept away to a small house under a vast sky in an age so very different from my own—much like the first magic. But this time, my mom is swept away too. With me. The minute she opens the book, it as if we grab hands and stand on the edge of a portal, prairie wind reaching through and rustling our hair. Then she reads the first words, and we are through, together, still holding hands as we watch Laura and Ma make cheese. We marvel at their ingenuity and brace ourselves against the fierce, cold winters. We discuss Laura’s jealousy of Mary and how we both have brown hair too and how we’ve felt like Laura but how she should have responded differently.
As we read and as we talk, look at us. Maybe you can see the gold threads starting to form between us, growing stronger and thicker and brighter with each word read. The letters on the page seem to float up and join the dazzling bonds that link us together forever. This magic is less of a secret and more of a celebration. It is not a glow inside one soul but a path of light between two.
When I grew older, the magic just grew and deepened. Look back on your childhood: What were its most magical hours? For me, they were with my dad, lying on my bed at night, as he read me The Chronicles of Narnia. Through two moves and many years, we journeyed with the Pevensies, with Digory and Polly, through that enchanted world I will never forget. I would beg him not to stop, and he would usually give in, finishing the chapter or starting just a little bit of the next one. Or he would say, “Well, this is the end of the chapter, so if Mr. Lewis thought it was a good place to stop, it probably is.”
Now we grin at each other when Narnia references come up and say, “Do you remember when we found out such-and-such? or when that scene happened?” I felt safe, listening to his low, strong voice, wrapped up in my blanket and in the wonder of the worlds we were walking through together. I felt loved, that he would come read to me every night that he could for years. Years. Imagine how strong those gold cords were between us after that. Together, we rejoiced when the White Witch was defeated, mourned as Reepicheep left, and laughed at Lewis’ dry humor and colorful characters (how we loved Puddleglum!). We unravelled his allegories and decided in which order we thought the books should be read.
The magic grew to include our whole family. When my dad was deployed, we kids would grab blankets and cuddle up on the floor of my mom’s room while she introduced to All of a Kind Family. The hours walking through New York City behind this bustling family of girls, learning about Jewish customs, made a fortress around us to protect us from the cold, empty place where Daddy should have been. When he came back, we continued the tradition. We debated—rather fiercely at times—whether the Little Scout was a boy or a girl in The Bee-Keeper and urged Heather and Pickett on in The Green Ember. Now we’re in Germany, but the magic has followed us, because the memories of all the adventures we’ve gone on together will never leave us. The magic will forever run from heart to heart on its gleaming path. We like to predict what will happen and stop and marvel at revelations when they occur. References to the books we’ve read together come up at dinner or during everyday conversation. When someone else mentions a family read-aloud, we look at each and grin, and the gold between us shines like the sun.
This magic is warm and strong and dazzling like the happiest smile, and as cozy and comforting and familiar as a fire on the hearth. It builds together and binds together, it strengthens and heals. You may not notice it as much as you do the first magic, but you know, painfully, when it is lacking. It runs through your days in a subtle undercurrent of peace and trickles into real life through laughter and inside jokes.
So: books are magic. Whether a treasure or a fortress, a secret or a family song, they will add beauty to your days and strength to your soul as surely as any wizard’s fireworks or concoctions.
Hey! Just a little house-keeping note: I won’t have wifi next week, so there won’t be a Fireside Fridays. However, I am scheduling one or two posts, so this place won’t be totally silent. I (obviously) won’t be able to respond to comments then, but please do leave them, and I’ll get to them when I get back! Keep on dreaming, friends.