Do You Believe in Magic?

Rabbit-hat

One of the nicest things about having small(-ish) children is my much-closer-than-the-years-previous
relationship to magic. Things like fairies, dragons, monsters, flying
etc etc. It's pleasant to go back there to the concerns I once had: how
do you summon a unicorn anyway? Are all dwarves bad? Are dragons
necessarily bad? My girls wrestle with these questions, particularly as
they often set one book against another. LeGuin's dragons or Rowling's?
Narnia's magic or fairies? Are fairies good, a la Disney, or tricky and
sometimes bad, per Peter Pan? And it was all well and good until one
day Chestnut came up to me with a hard look in her eye.

"I want you to tell me the truth. Is magic real?"
There are all sorts of tough questions one faces as a parent, far
beyond the "But how did the seed from Daddy end up inside your belly?"
variety. There's "Did they fly the planes into the twin towers on
purpose?" There's "Am I going to die someday?"
The magic one, though, felt significant to me.
Because the thing is, I don't know. I mean, I can weasel around with
the "Well, it depends on what you mean by magic. Some people would call
electric lights magic…" sort of line, or I could go for the "Well,
what do you think?" There's even, "What is real, really?" But none of
these felt like the answer I wanted to give. "Well," I said, and I
looked at her, and she looked at me like she was getting ready for bad
news. She elaborated, "A lot of the kids at school have been telling me
that magic isn't real."
I hate "a lot of the kids at school" sometimes.

But the thing is, I came up with something, and it's even something I
believe in, actually. So I am posting it here. And if you figure out
some way in which you think I'm totally wrong, I think I probably don't
want to hear (a terrible thing to say when putting something out there
in public, but true nonetheless).

What I said: "It's true that almost
everyone you ever meet, especially grownups, will tell you that magic
is not real. It is also true that I have never in my life seen a single
magical creature or thing: no fairies, unicorns, or anything like that.
But the thing is, it's a big, wide, amazing world, with millions of
amazing things in it, and the thing also is that no one really knows
what's in this world. And if they tell you they do, they're wrong. So
magic could exist, and I sort of think it does, even though I have never seen
it."

And even as I write this down it starts to seem sort of lame and
hedging and all, but I have to tell you, it was an answer that
satisfied me, and satisfied her.

This was a while ago, and even now,
when Diana is reading a book about how to raise a dragon, and is
feeling kind of down because adventures never come her way, I think
about the fact that anything could really be true, and I am comforted.

11 thoughts on “Do You Believe in Magic?

  1. You. Are. Brilliant. And, astonishingly, I am comforted too. I will be using this when the question is posed to me, which I am sure will happen eventually.

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  2. I remember feeling so depressed when I finished the last book of the Narnia series, and sitting in my closet for a long while, WILLING the back to open.
    Just last night, as my 3 year-old daughter jumped up and down on her broom, trying her darndest to fly, I looked at my husband and said “You know, after all these years I STILL wish I could fly.”
    This longing for magic never really fades, does it?

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  3. I think that was the best possible answer. My 6-year-old is very into superheroes and Ben 10 and aliens, which has led inevitably to the question, “Are aliens real?” And I ended up with the same answer, essentially. I don’t think that there are intelligent aliens invading the earth for good or evil. But when I think about the size of the universe and the tiny percentage of it about which we have any knowledge, I think it’s awfully arrogant to assume we’re the only life there is.
    What I like about this answer is that, above all, it’s honest. More than “some people think” or “what do you think?” it feels genuine to me. That in my heart of hearts, when asked about magic or aliens or anything else I can’t see, I don’t believe the answer is “no.” I believe it’s “I really hope so.”

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  4. I LOVE YOU. That is awesome. And, like Megsie, I like it in part because it’s a good answer for me, too. I guess that’s part of what makes a good response to a child: it honors their intelligence and treats them with respect, just like an adult.
    My children have a little ways to go before we reach this age, but I am totally storing this away for that day.

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  5. I think what you said is PERFECT. I remember when my now-eleven year old son asked me whether I believed in Santa Claus or not. I replied, “Well, I believe in magic.” I think that in that moment he knew but “chose” to believe as well — and he was so happy about it. I can’t wrap my brain around those who tell their kids “the truth” — I don’t think they’re wrong, necessarily, just different. I love what you said, truly.

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  6. I’ve been fielding similar questions – “Are there mermaids in the river?”, for instance.
    I’ve been going back and forth between “I don’t know” and “I hope so.”

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  7. I think you’re very right. When I answered this question for Brynna I told her about how every culture everywhere has some version of magic and so I have to believe that it’s real, even though we can’t see it. she liked that.

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  8. I love this. My 6 yr old asked me about Santa this summer, b/c of some things an older kid was saying, and I resorted to “what do you think?” which was successful in putting off the inevitable. But I foresee more of those questions in the near future…

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  9. I’m with you. I don’t recall ever (really, truly) believing in Narnia or mermaids, but for some reason Harry Potter’s version of magic seems quite real. As my daughter explained, she knows it probably isn’t true, but it could be, because if it were it would be completely hidden from us Muggles, so it is possible.
    She said the other night that the best thing about being 9 is that she has two more years to think that she might just get that letter on her 11th birthday. And I agree. I really think an owl might show up with a letter for her someday.

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  10. Have you read Lev Grossman’s recent (adult) novel The Magicians? It wrestles with this problem that a lot of us who fell in love with Narnia et al. have by writing out what it would be like for an adolescent to actually live in a world with real magic and magicians. (The main character goes to a college interview, finds the interviewer dead, and is whisked off the weirdest possible entrance exam, which gets him into a magical university called Brakebills.)
    It gets a little bit Bright Lights, Big City at times, but at its best it’s fascinating.
    I’m afraid I told my girls magic was not real. You did a lot better, there.

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  11. I did read it, and enjoyed it a lot. It feels a lot angrier about magic than I do, though.On Fri, Oct 9, 2009 at 3:57 PM, typepad@sixapart.com wrote:
    NEW! More options for replying to comments via email:
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    A new comment from “Marya” was received on the post “Do You Believe in Magic?” of the blog “The Diamond in the Window”.
    Comment:
    Have you read Lev Grossmans recent (adult) novel The Magicians? It wrestles with this problem that a lot of us who fell in love with Narnia et al. have by writing out what it would be like for an adolescent to actually live in a world with real magic and magicians. (The main character goes to a college interview, finds the interviewer dead, and is whisked off the weirdest possible entrance exam, which gets him into a magical university called Brakebills.)
    It gets a little bit Bright Lights, Big City at times, but at its best its fascinating.
    Im afraid I told my girls magic was not real. You did a lot better, there.
    Commenter name: Marya
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