Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
-T. S. Eliot


G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy

 I have had children and myths on the brain lately. It's mostly because I've been reading a lot of Plato, and Plato was concerned with the huge effect stories have on how children grow up. So when I got to the part in Orthodoxy where G. K. Chesterton writes about how children perceive magic, I was all ears.

Chesterton begins by proving that many adults wrongly attribute magical phenomena to nonexistent laws. Strangely enough, my public school 10th grade trigonometry class covered this. In a particularly philosophical moment, our teacher told us that probability mandates that there is only a 50/50 chance that the sun will rise the next day after it has set in the evening. Although it has risen for millions of mornings in a row, each sunrise occurs independently of those that come before it-- every morning, it is just as likely that the sun will not appear as it is that it will. So while adults believe that the sun must rise, it is in fact magical when it happens each day because according to probability it was just as likely not to happen at all. 

This perspective allows those things which are often mistaken as"normal" to be properly understood as magical. Repetition in nature is no longer God creating things according to an arbitrary system: Chesterton points out that perhaps each daisy in a field looks the same not because it must, but because God delights in making each one to look the same. He has not yet gotten bored with the daisy's design, which apparently adults are prone to. The obvious example here is that young children will ask to hear the same story, watch the same movie, or play the same game over and over again until they are stopped by an adult who has grown irritated. This does not indicate a lack of imagination in children-- rather, it shows that normal happenings still retain their rightful magical quality for young ones, while adults can only see magic in things that feel extraordinary.

Chesterton, the master of metaphor, says it thus: "A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door." The consistency of average door-openings is what helps us understand that magical deviation from the norm is indeed magic. But a young child is mesmerized by normalcy itself and recognizes its rightful magical quality. This is why fairy tales are an excellent medium of storytelling for children. They are just as eager to hear a story about a perfectly normal boy doing perfectly normal things as they are to hear a story about the unusual, because both are magical.

What do I conclude from all of this? First, that Chesterton's Orthodoxy sets out to prove a great many things, but clearly this section on magic and children captivated me most. Second, that though it may require little effort to tell a story that a child would be eager to hear, it takes much thought and effort to craft one that is worth their attention. I have recently felt much more respect for children's authors who achieve this, since I think it requires an appreciation for the magical repetition of life and of what is best for children to hear-- a balance that only becomes more difficult to navigate as I grow older.

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