Magical books of childhood

I have fond memories of various books that seemed magical when I was a child. But a few hold pride of place, and several have shaped the person I am today.

Alexander Key’s The Forgotten Door is the first science fiction book that took me away to a magical place. Its anti-establishment, pro-alien, longing-for-home message has stuck with me and no doubt led to many of my liberal attitudes today.

A wonderful third-grade teacher read Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden to our class, and I reread both for myself soon after. Those two books called forth deep emotions, teaching me about death and disability and the solace of gardens and friends. Today, I’m an avid gardener, I try not to kill spiders, I deal with disability in my family, and I value my friends.

I sucked down one after the other of Andrew Lang’s fairytale books in various colors (The Pink Fairy Book, The Orange Fairy Book, and so on), fascinated that people around the world have so many different ways of telling the same basic stories. That comparativist reading experience surely marked me, because when I grew up I wrote a dissertation on Lang’s fellow comparative anthropologist James Frazer. When I was young, the beauty-and-the-beast variants were my favorite, and I still deeply love that romantic motif in all its guises.

In kindergarten and first grade, my father read to me the Jungle Books and a talking-animal book whose name I can’t recall. It may have been part of a series of books: lots of forest creatures, owls that hunted mice, no humans. Rabbits featured prominently. (Not Watership Down—something earlier, aimed at a younger audience. Perhaps one of Thornton Burgess’s books, but certainly not Peter Rabbit.) These books seemed magical because he read them to me.

There are more books, many more, but these are the most special: magical doors, not forgotten, between the secrets of childhood and the webs I weave today.

What do you think?