Do people still believe in magic?

Believing in magic and being cool are incompatible. I came to this conclusion a couple of months ago when I took my daughters to see the stage show of Mary Poppins. If you haven’t seen the show, Mary Poppins flies across the stage and over the audience several times – it’s quite spectacular.

The first time this happened, my six year old turned to me and asked, ‘How does she do that Mummy?’ And I said, ‘It’s magic, darling,’ which she took to be a perfectly reasonable explanation. She turned back to the stage with her eyes full of wonder.

I also heard the children sitting on the other side of my daughter. A ten year old boy said to his little sister, ‘She’s not flying, there’s a rope attached to her.’ Because of course, if you are looking for subterfuge and deception – or logic – you can just see the shadow of the rope that is attached to Mary Poppins and that is helping her to fly.

A short time later, Mary took to the sky again and the girl next to my daughter turned to her and said, ‘I know how she flies.’ When you are six, it is cool to be the one who knows things. My daughter started to say, ‘I do too. It’s magic.’

But before she could finish speaking the other girl said, ‘Look, you can see the rope.’ And my daughter looked and she saw the rope. The end of the magic. The other girl folded her arms across her chest and smiled in a satisfied way because she was the one who was cool because she knew how the cool stuff worked.

When I was young I was considered to be a bit of a nerd because I knew the answers to most things – scholarly things that is, not cool things. I had no idea how a woman could fly across a stage but I could give you a textbook summary of how the cultural revolution began in China. Now, I remember very little about the cultural revolution in China but I could tell you exactly how to find and identify a fairy ring. But that’s because fairy rings and magic are pretty cool and amazing when you are six years old. But for how much longer will they be cool and amazing?

Some of the kids in my daughter’s Year 1 class already have an iPod Touch of their own on which they can download and listen to One Direction and Justin Bieber and whoever else is the tween star of the moment. I know our children are growing up in a world that is fuelled by technology and that teaching them about technology and how to use it is critical in helping them thrive in this world.

But I wonder about an iPod Touch for a six year old. Is it just another case of coolness  winning out over magic? It makes me worry that magic is an idea under threat and that magic may not exist in fifty years – it’ll be another one of those things that people did in the ‘olden days’, like using typewriters. Yes, everyone still brings their kids up to believe in Santa but there’s a commercial imperative driving Christmas so that’s different. What about more ordinary magic, like flying nannies and the piece of bark in the nook of a tree that looks as if it might just be a fairy door?

So, I’ve set myself a challenge to seek out the magic in the ordinary things, to see the surprising shapes and secrets hidden in the garden, to believe in the possible rather than the probable. Because if my kids see me doing that, then maybe we can stave off the impending approach of the decidedly cool by unmagical state of development that marketers have labelled ‘tweendom’. What do you think? Is there a battle between the cool and the magical in your house? Which one wins? And what magic do your kids still love to wonder about?

4 comments

  1. marlish glorie

    I was delighted to see the image of the fairies accompanying your blog Natasha, as I’ve just bought a large book on fairies for my great-niece whose only one, but whom I fully intend telling about all the very special fairies in her life and all the wonderful things they do, as I did with my now twenty-seven year old daughter when she was a child..
    Creating a sense of magic for children, I believe, is a critical component of their upbringing. It’s wondrous, reassuring and lets them know that there’s more to life than meets the eye.
    I had an extremely religious upbringing. I quit religion when I was sixteen, yet curiously I think it was religion that fueled my imagination, because religion is about having faith or a belief in something that doesn’t exist.
    Religion is a kind of magic, and look at the billions of people around the globe who are devoutly religious.
    I align magic with imagination. Imagination is so important for creative thinking and for the development of empathy. Magic is worth protecting and promoting and I think it’ll survive, or I hope it’ll survive the onslaught of technology. Really it’s up to us as parents, or great aunts like me to allow magic into the lives of children either by telling stories, or reading to them, or taking them to shows like Mary Poppins.
    In answer to your question i.e. which rules in your house, magic or cool? In ours, magic is king, or queen….or a fairy princess.
    Now I best disappear as I’m off to buy a fairy statue for my great-niece…

    • I agree Marlish – magic and imagination are linked. I was quite worried recently when reading a report in the paper that teachers are observing that children are less likely nowadays to engage in imaginative play, preferring instead a more structured activity where they are told by the teacher what to do. As a fiction writer, it goes against everything I do – so much of my life involves imagination and even magic – those serendipitous moments where a piece of information you need for your book somehow finds you, rising to the top of all the other pieces of information we sift through in our day to day lives. I’m sure you’ve had the same thing happen. So, long live magic and imagination!

  2. Glen Hunting

    I bet you wanted to punch that other girl 🙂 I hope your daughter wasn’t too disillusioned.
    I seem to remember my mother being quite matter-of-fact about ‘magic’…something along the lines of “it’s fun, but not strictly true.” But that didn’t rob me of any ‘life force’, so to speak. In fact, now that I think of it, it was rather liberating, because one could invent one’s own magical phenomena without being restricted by observable phenomena. This allowed almost any sort of made-up magic to be plausible, even though it wasn’t ‘actual’. Just like fiction, no???

    • Hi Glen, I think the thing that bothered me about the Mary Poppins incident was that there was no interest on the part of the other girl in considering, even for a moment, that the magic she was witnessing could be plausible. Whereas it sounds as though, even if your mother was matter of fact about it, you were still open to the idea that magic could happen and that sometimes it’s more fun to try to believe in it. And yes, just like fiction.

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