A small part of me has always believed in magic. Fairies, gnomes, warlocks, hobbits… What can I say? I like fantasy. Every time I walk through a small patch of woods or the grassy knoll at the bottom of a garden, I strain through the silence, trying to hear something, anything, that might acknowledge the presence of a wandering sprite or nymph. I’ll wait for a tiptoe or a giggle, some sound of friendship, and I never lose hope, never stop waiting or believing.
J. M. Barrie told us in Peter Pan that magic is all about belief, having faith in fantasy, in knowing that fairies can be real — real enough to pinch your cheek or fly around your bedroom. I might be too imaginative for my own good (a trait that has carried over since childhood), but I like it. Who doesn’t want to believe in fairies?
I’m always on the lookout for anything vaguely ethereal, which is probably why six-year-old me couldn’t spend too much time in the woods at the bottom of my grandmother’s old property. It was small, the wood, just clusters of thin trees with dark bark — their slim green leaves reaching for the dim grey sky, the grass damp and untrimmed, the dirt beneath it black and fertile. After ten minutes alone with the trees and grass and pond, I’d start to get jumpy, my heart rate picking up, as I waited, anticipating the arrival of some woodland creature or the appearance of the witch who supposedly haunted the fields around my grandmother’s house (but that’s a story of childhood trauma for another time — thanks, Dad).
When my mom arrived in England that one summer when I was six years old, she took my hand in hers and told me that we were going to do something fun, something adventurous. So we headed down to the little wood and started collecting piles of logs and sticks; we were going to replicate my dad’s childhood tradition of building a fort out of the perfect square of trees that squatted in the far corner of the wood. We tackled the project with breathless laughter, spending hours stacking logs between the trees, weaving the walls out of supple branches and the occasional vine or two, picking wild blackberries that stained our mouths purple. By mid-afternoon, the fort was finished, and my mother fashioned a bow and arrow set out of an especially bendy stick and some leftover twine. We played Knights-and-Enemies until sundown, traipsing back to the house caked with mud but grinning brightly through the twilight.
The time I spent in that English house after that summer was marked with visits to the fort. I remember always being unnerved by how quiet the fort was, like the trees and grass around it were holding their breath, on the edge of their seat, like they were going to send some woodland sprite spinning out of their branches, but nothing ever happened or appeared. I didn’t lose hope, but it began to unnerve me, the stillness, the silence, the tense anticipation. But before I could get tired of waiting, my grandmother moved. I haven’t seen the fort in over a decade.
A few weeks ago, I saw Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, and I have to say, I really liked it. I never understood why people hated on Cinderella so much; an abusive environment is delicate and layered, full of subtlety, which I think Lily James did an excellent job of portraying. People get mad at Cinderella for “waiting for a prince,” but that’s not what she did in the least, and it’s easier to see that if you really think about abuse and what it does to a person.
I’m a big fan of fairy tales because they take very ordinary situations and give them texture, gently nudging at the larger issues through fantasy. I’m not saying that my time with the fort or after the fort was a fairy tale, but why couldn’t it be? Magic is real enough if you believe in it, and that’s all you need to be your own Cinderella, Snow White, or Rapunzel. So keep believing in fairies, and you might get a fairy godmother out of the deal.