Prince Bertram

I Desired Dragons

The title for this entry comes from Tolkien, who wrote “I desired dragons with a profound desire,” and it is part of the latest Movable Feast which asks, What Brings Us to Myth & Fantasy?

What brought me to myth and fantasy was a need for words and images that explained the worlds in which I found myself. This holds true to this day.

My grandmother was a school teacher. She began teaching in a one-room school house at the age of 25. She was 66 when I was born, and still going strong. She taught me to read in her rocker by the hearth. Our first material was the Grimm’s fairy tales. So there was the very innocent start to a life-long passion. Many people read or had read to them fairy tales when they were young.

I had a lot of questions back then. (Still do, but that’s another story.) I spent a lot of time outdoors. Because I was not like other children — I had no mother or father at home — I mostly played on my own. In those days, in that town, “broken” homes such as mine were very rare. Other children didn’t understand, and I couldn’t answer their questions about where my mother was. Rather than deal with their sometimes scorn and sideways looks, I chose a solitary path.

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

My best friends were the trees in my grandmother’s back garden, the flowers my grandfather tended, and the patch of ivy that grew beside their shed. When you spend a lot of time outdoors, you begin to notice things. Mysterious things. You get a sense that something exists in that green world that is much bigger than you are, much bigger than missing parents — much bigger than anything you could ever imagine on your own. It was something far more dangerous than any children in a playground, and yet it was the safest thing I’d ever known.

Rackham

I wanted to know what that something was. The only answers I could find lived in fairy tales and fantasies, where trees are alive, and animals speak, and fairies lurk in the grasses. Like many children, I believed in these things. Unlike many grown-ups, I still do.

Fantasies and myths also helped me understand the “real” world. As a child, I learned more about how that world works from Prince Bertram the Bad than I ever did from any adult.

Prince Bertram the Bad

Adults couldn’t tell me why I should be kind to others. Why I shouldn’t slurp my soup. Why I should always say please and thank you. “It’s good manners” explains nothing to the young. But when the witch turned Prince Bertram into a dragon because he was such a naughty boy, I was able to see the bigger picture.

Prince Bertram

So did Prince Bertram.

This kind of learning was always secondary, however. What mattered was what I wrote about above, that mysterious thing I could feel in the air all around me, and especially in the trees. The more trees the better. Fantasy never explained it and it never will, but at its best it reveals the possibility of a connection to the All That Is and Ever Will Be. That connection is what matters.

Fantasy, fairy tales, myth — these things connect us (connect me) with what’s real. Good manners are helpful, to be sure. They make navigating one world easier. But there are many worlds to navigate, and fantasy opened a gateway to the one that matters most, and that gate has never closed.


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