A few days ago, I began reading The Magician’s Nephew to my youngest daughter. It is the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Re-reading this wonderful story, reminded me of being curled up next to my older daughters reading it to them, nearly twenty years ago.
We read the stories in chronological order and by the time we were ready to begin Prince Caspian, Chicken Pox had arrived in our London household. So, Prince Caspian was read in just over a day, whilst my eldest daughter desperately tried not to scratch and dreamt of fire-breathing dinosaurs, her temperature was so high.
But before Prince Caspian, probably about halfway through The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I had become so engrossed in the stories, that I was the one sitting on the bed saying, ‘Just one more page.’ Instead of poking my daughters to stay awake, I sat down and read the books through. I was completely transfixed. The stories are fabulous adventures told in the most beautiful language and although the Christian allegory is obvious, it never feels didactic or forced.
The Narnia books have been stored in a box, with other assorted children’s books. Some of them my elder daughters’ and some of them were mine. Saved first by mother and then by me. They have moved countries and house with us and I’ve never been able to part with them. But until last week, they were confined to the cellar, alongside the boxes of other childhood treasures that I can’t part with.
As I pulled the books out of the box, each one was infused with a special memory, an emotion, taking me back to barely remembered childhood bedtimes. And yet, the stories have stayed with me my whole life. The books that were mine as a child are yellowing and have the fusty smell of a secondhand bookshop. their covers are tattered, the spines barely hanging together, but we still read them.
The books are filled with tales of fairies, enchanted woods, pixies and elves. Enid Blyton’s tales of naughty boys and good little girls, Brer Rabbit, Milly Molly Mandy and Pookie, the story of a flying rabbit. I adored Pookie. Of course we had the Australian classics Blinky Bill and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, but I think my appreciation for them grew as I did. I clearly remember turning the pages of Disney’s Heidi and Cinderella when Tinkerbell rang her little bell as the scratchy 45 turned on the record player.
Winnie-the-Pooh and Beatrix Potter featured in my childhood too, but not as much as they did for my own daughters. Books for children in the 1960’s were a luxury, even in the house of book-loving parents. Most of my books were won at Sunday School and School Prize days. Books that were read to me by mum or dad, as I nestled into the crook of an arm.
As my elder daughters moved away from childhood books and discovered The Harry Potter series and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights Trilogy, I packed up the books, just as my mother had done, thinking I would be storing them for my grandchildren. But my youngest arrived, 17 years after my second daughter, and so the books are once again being opened by little hands, eager for a story.
I still talk about books with my older daughters, lend them books I’ve enjoyed, give them as gifts. But, it isn’t the same as the intimate sharing of reading a long-loved book to your child, curled up beside you.