I typically write speculative realism – real life that bumps into another sphere our secular humanist culture says isn’t ‘real’. That other realm may be understood as spiritual, metaphorical, the stuff of dreams or of nightmares.
I wonder what inspires me to write like this? In part it’s what I read as a child.
I always enjoyed novels with magic, fantasy, and strange spiritual occurrences. I lived a very ‘real’ life – our family was not involved in religious practice, superstition, or looking for luck. It was a very ‘modern’ life, all about here and now. But I wanted something beyond that.
One of my enduring favourite children’s novels is The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, an English writer who published many books from 1934 until 1970. I have a 1949 edition that first belonged to my mother. When writing this post I learned that this was the only novel Goudge won a significant award for (the1946 Carnegie Medal for best children’s book by a British author), that it was a favourite of hers, and that it was also a direct influence on JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
The Little White Horse is a fairy tale with fairies, a unicorn, God, and a passel of Norman invaders. The characters are charming, the setting evocative, and it has a happy ending after a suitable amount of drama on the large scale and in personal relationships. While it received due accolades, some of Goudge’s writing was considered sentimental (I agree) and shallow (I disagree). This was recognised as a critical bias when one of her ‘failed’ novels was plagiarised well after her death, reset in India by an Indian writer, and gained rave reviews in the US. A curious observation of how we perceive books and authors…
Here is what Goudge herself said about the modern tendency to depressing ‘realism’:
“As this world becomes increasingly ugly, callous and materialistic it needs to be reminded that the old fairy stories are rooted in truth, that imagination is of value, that happy endings do, in fact, occur, and that the blue spring mist that makes an ugly street look beautiful is just as real a thing as the street itself.”
In the twenty-first century, when fantasy has a huge following, affirming the value of the imagination may not be needed, but her comments regarding happy endings and reality being broader than the material world are still pertinent. I write speculative realism because in the fairy tale of The Little White Horse I found hope and faith in something more than I could see and measure. We need to believe that happy endings are possible, and we need charm, beauty and mystery even as we contemplate hard and ugly things in the world and ourselves. The sad and the happy, the magical and the measurable are all real. I hope my stories can help readers see reality beyond the material world as Elizabeth Goudge did so well.
Do you have a favourite book from your childhood? What kind of influence might it have had on your life?