I may have told you this story before. Many years ago, my family bought an inn. It stood at the crest of the city, overlooking town on one side and misty valleys on the other : a hunch-backed, benevolent ogre of a building, athwart with windows that winked in the sun. A ceaseless wind came down from distant hills to fill its rooms with wild story. I walked the narrow, dusty halls with armsful of sheets and a heart soaked in dreaming.
When we first arrived, it was just my mother and I for a while. A great deal of cleaning needed to be done, along with caring for the visitors already there. Our first week, we were exhausted. I wandered the neighbourhood at twilight, gathering edgeflowers, letting the ache of overworked muscles ease away in the dusky peace. I slept in a tiny room full of superfluous beds. I was reading The Sorceress and the Cygnet by Patricia McKillip at the time; I was listening to Enya's Shepherd Moons on my stereo. That book and album will forever be entwined in my mind, along with wind-filled empty rooms; reveries of bog witches, lily-scented foxes; and being a housemaid.
I was an adult, but a very tired adult, living in what seemed like a magical house, and as a consequence my imagination at that time veered to something quite child-like, lyrical, joyful. I remembered it this morning when I came across the art of Jaqueline Wall. Her paintings (such as the one above) have that same enchanting spirit, and they made me realise how grown-up I've become in my imaginings. I've cast off unicorns, and sunlit woodland paths, and shy witches looking out with luminous loving eyes and handsful of mushrooms from old shadows. I don't dream about dryads, or maidens who wish for the ocean, or songbirds, or butterfly catchers who net something incomprehensible.
It's a shame. We equate mastery with maturity, and we extol those who write with a refined, adult sensibility - or even better, with cynicism or realism, even in fantasy. (Enya, for example, is often mocked for her seamless, magical style, in an age where grit is more valued.) But I think we lose a lot when we let go of our childlike dreaming. There's such beauty in it, and joyous spirit, and an instinctive understanding of how story works. As I work towards improving my writing craft, I do believe the time has come to go backward, into the dreaming song of the child.