- A Child's Psyche:Recollections of Fairy Tales, Myths and Romances
My readings as a child appealed to many aspects of my consciousness, which I imagine as an ocean, constantly moving, shallow in places, unplumbably deep in others. Like the ocean, consciousness has levels, each with its own distinct life forms, treasures and upheavals. My reading, at the shallowest level, entertained me and occupied my time; it also provided an immediate escape from my problems. But most significant, and the reason for my writing this essay, is that reading helped to keep alive precious levels of my psyche that were basic to me: a sense of wonder at everything and anything, everybody and anybody, including myself; a sense of limitlessness, of being protean and all-capable; a belief in the infinite possibilities and fulfillments of life. Life was open to me, and I was open to it. But these feelings and beliefs, I came to recognize, were unacceptable to adults, who did not seem to have them and who unfailingly discouraged my expression of them as narcissistic, unreasonable or inconvenient. Because these feelings and beliefs were among my profoundest, most cherished, most pleasurable, and most satisfying, I was reluctant to give them up. I could find neither a way to adapt them to make their expression acceptable to adults and satisfying to me, nor a way to resist the disapproval of adults at the way I was expressing them. Because I could not resolve this dilemma, I repressed my feelings, and a major dynamic in my childhood was my gradually losing touch with them. A recurring dream that terrified me when I was eight and nine years old involved a huge skating rink filled with skaters cutting designs of varying complexity while a voice droned irresistible instructions over the PA system; when a design was completed, the skater was buried under the ice. I, the child, knew I was burying my feelings; feeling powerless to withstand the forces outside myself, I imposed on myself an apparent conformity. So reading became [End Page 14] one of the few ways I could nourish the aspects of myself which to adults seemed unacceptable but which were too precious for me to give up. Tales of buried treasure were for me merely a symbol of my own inner life. A discussion of my early reading is necessarily, therefore, a discussion of the development of my psyche. And though I have restricted this discussion to my own experiences and perceptions, I do not mean to imply that they were unique; some are certainly common and may well be universal.
A basic and profound feeling that informed my early childhood was an overwhelming sense of awe or wonder: at the splendor of a flower, the glory in a blue summer sky, the beauty of my mother. Life was literally wondrous and a part of me gazed on worshipfully. Like Miranda, I could have exclaimed, "O brave new world,/That hath such people in't." In wonder, I could apprehend experience whole, be at peace within myself and in harmony with the outside world. Wonder unified the multiplicity of the world and gave to even the strangest phenomenon an aspect of the familiar and desirable. But as a result of my perception that I should suppress these feelings, my sense of wonder gradually changed to bewilderment and confusion. Though I wanted intensely, even desperately to apprehend myself and the world whole, as I had in the past, I found myself looking at life more and more uncomprehendingly. At school I came to rely on comprehending through intellect. I became a bookish child, laying the foundation for my intellectualism as an adolescent and adult. And past a certain point in my life, I seldom experienced wonder at the common objects or happenings in my life; rather, wonder became the appropriate response only to an out-of-the-ordinary person, object or happening. Finally I came to disregard or depreciate the burst of wonder that I would now and again feel for an ordinary object or event.
Not surprisingly, my favorite reading, aside from comic books, consisted of fairy tales, myths and tales about knights. Much...