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Stories Will Save Our Souls, Part 8: Talking Animals in An Utilitarian Age

October 19, 2018 by

There are few things in this world more sacred and life-preserving than books. I believe that stories can indeed save our souls, and in this series I will explain why it is important to share them with others, especially children. Countless people have told me that being read to by a parent or friend was one of their happiest childhood memories. Every child deserves happiness, so what are the details of making this work in reality? This blog post is part 8 in a series.

Woman and her kids with rabbitsNew Zealand Flemish Giant Cross rabbits from our family hutch

“You don’t mean talking animals, and all that nonsense?” a literary friend remarks. The others around the table laugh easily and the conversation moves in another direction. I don’t have a quick comeback anyway – nor a receptive audience. Clearly that type of literature hardly ranks at all in their view.

As clever comebacks tend to, mine comes days and weeks later. Not just one-liners either; whole essays spawn more essays. I feel as empowered as a fencer, fully dressed and ready for artful, but aggressive, battle. My salute always starts the same way, as a matter of fact I do mean talking animals – and before long I’m shouting in all caps. What did your parents read to you when you were young? Praise God for Wanda Gag and her millions of cats, Hallelujah for Beatrix Potter and her lovable menagerie. Thank goodness for Garth Williams and his black and white rabbits; Maurice Sendak and those amazing wild things.

My wordy reprise includes ghosts, animals, and dufflepuds. I wave art, calligraphy, and beauty. I linger on memory. Finally, as my energy wanes, I reach for the big emotions like empathy, understanding, and bravery. I imagine my literary friends hushed and chagrined, remembering their youth when truth was simple. Then before they can shrug and furrow brows to imply, “That was then, we’re older now,” I call a timeout.

While I catch my breath, and adjust my gear I acknowledge that, yes, we grow into adulthood and life gets messy, and no amount of children’s picture books can put a golden spin on reality. A warm bowl of soup (read Maurice Sendak) is often hard to locate in life’s jungle.

Still, there is always that foundation from childhood that keeps us steady. The illustrations and fairy tales are our very fiber; our first understandings of life are the rhymes we learn in the nursery. There remains that sparkle of imagination, the knowledge that sadness can be remedied and that good will win. There is, behind every grown-up person, a child who looked intently, a child who listened, a child who begged for one more bedtime story.

Woman holding a rabbit

I snap my helmet down and ready my saber. My last riposte loops in two literary greats. There will be no easy laughter over these:

“In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected,” says Charles Dickens. And from George MacDonald: “Attitudes are more important than facts.”

Finally, well ahead on points, I’m ready to wrap it all up with a final coupé.

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” —CS Lewis.

Someday can begin today, my comeback concludes. The times are grave, the facts daunting, and we have grown old. But, Once upon a time is always around the corner, even for grownups.

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About the author

Dori Moody holding a cat

Dori Moody

Dori Moody lives at the Danthonia Bruderhof in Australia. She and her husband, Henry, nurture four children, one cat, and...

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