Monday 10 May 2010

Trailing clouds of glory

My small granddaughter is currently very upset because she is being teased for being the only child in her class who still believes in Father Christmas, and it set me thinking about the fine line in the lives of children between truth and fiction.

Obviously Father Christmas is a myth that we (or some of us) feed to our children; it comes from adults. But the imaginary world of children is far more complex. Most children seem to be born with fertile imaginations ("you be Robin. I'll be Batman"), just as they are born with the ability to pick up languages, and these gifts seem to be lost as time goes by. The small child often lives and plays within his imagination; but how real to him are the cars and dolls he plays with? How much does he really believe in them? One of my sons, in common with many children, had imginary friends; lots of them. They peopled his life, and woe betide anyone who ignored them. If you closed the door before they had time to get in behind him, he was distressed. If you sat on them, he was outraged. Yet how real were they to him? How much genuine substance did they have in his mind, and how far were they from (my) perceived reality? Occasionally he actually was the imaginary friend. I remember the following exchange when he was about three:
Me: 'Come on, Joe. It's time for your rest.'
Joe: I'm not Joe. I'm Bob.' (Bob was one of his favourites).
Me: 'Bob, it's time for your rest.'
Joe (indignant): 'I'm not sleeping Joe's bed!'
(I might add that the grown-up Joe appears to have little imagination, and probably couldn't write a story to save his life).

Which brings me to my point. I really believe that we all are born with imaginations and the ability to tell stories. Good, realistic stories. Some of us continue, while others fall by the wayside. It seems such a terrible shame. At what point is the childish imagination stamped out, and how does it happen? And why?


  1. Some people might say that a better question is why some of us don't grow up.

    Not that I plan to do so any time soon.

  2. Hi Frances

    That's a BIG question that requires a BIG answer. But as an aside I think peer pressure to grow up has a lot to do with it. For boys it's being interested in girls and thinking having a well formed imagination is a sign of immaturity. For girls... Well I don't think girls really cast aside their imagination as easily, or readily.
    And as David says, there's some of us who don't grow up at all :)

  3. Hi David - I'm not sure any of us really grow up do we?

    Matt - I think you have a good point. It's probably very uncool for kids to write stories or poems once they get to a certain age, and it's easy to lose the urge/habit. But having taught creative writing classes for adults I(and some of the students - mainly retired) have been amazed at some of the really great stuff they have produced, many of them for the first time in their lives. It seems it's all still there under the surface.

  4. Interesting, Frances. See, I was definitely the first in my year at school to stop believing in Father Christmas (I think I was five and refused the role of him in a small Christmas show out of principle). Yet back then I had already begun to write stories. What a weird child. Too much of a spoilsport to have been a Lost Boy. I dread to think of the amount of fairy deaths I must have been responsible for.

    Incidentally, my wife believed in FC way up until she was in Secondary School. Yet as an adult she's far more grounded than me. People are strange, huh?

  5. Hi Neil - my least imaginative child (now an aerodynamicist for a Formula 1 team, so you see what I mean) believed in FC for such a long time that I thought he'd still be hanging up his stocking when he was at university.

    As you say, people are strange.