Friday, May 30, 2014

Imaginary Realms of Childhood

I am reading yet another biography of C.S Lewis, The Authentic Voice by WIlliam Griffin. (I got it from the book exchange outside the library, which is a wonderful facility. Free books! I do put books and DVDs on it myself, but apparently that's not even necessary-- so I was told by one of the head librarians.) The distinctive feature of The Authentic Voice is that it sticks as close as possible to Lewis's own words, diaries, letters etc. (I've always felt that a person's best biographer is themselves.)

It begins at the commencement of Lewis's Oxford career, but I've reached a part where he revisits his childhood home and comes across the stories and pictures he created with his brother in childhood. The land they created together was called Boxen. It was a kind of merger of his brother's imaginary world, which was full of trains and steam-ships, and Lewis's imaginary world of 'dressed animals' and knights in armour.

This amuses me, because myself and my younger brother did almost exactly the same thing. We both had imaginary countries, though they never merged. My brother (whose name is Turlough) called his Turlogia. Mine was called The Kingdom of Hoc (pronounced Hock), after a nickname I was given by local kids.

My brother was always more radical than me (he is now a Marxist) and our countries reflected this. His was a republic, as far as I can remember. Mine was a monarchy and an aristocracy, though it also had a parliament. His philosophical materialism and my bent towards the supernatural were also manifested in our respective lands, for his was strictly realistic while mine was full of all kind of wonders, such as lakes of bathwater.

My flag was halved turquoise and purple. I forget whether his country had a flag. Our countries played each other at computer soccer games, and so forth. At one point I created a national parliament, fully populated with different parties. I even had an election and parliamentary reports. In truth, I was closer to being a young adult at this time than I was to being a child.

The computer soccer game I mentioned was a game called Striker! We played this together, but my brother would play whole tournaments of it by himself, against the computer, and keeping precise records of the results. (I imagine they are lost, sadly.) I remember how much it used to bother me that these were in real time, and that he wouldn't, despite my advice, simply have an entire season played out in, say, a month.

But they influenced a dream I had not so many years ago, a dream that might well be the most extraordinarily vivid dream I've ever dreamed. My brother, in this dream, had become utterly obsessed by a stash of records he found in a little hollow in the ground, a kind of muddy cave that was no bigger than a very poky attic. (One could not stand upright in it.) The papers were a record of a vanished civilization-- terrestrial or extra-terrestrial, I can't remember, but the essential part of the dream's atmosphere was that they were the only record and my brother was the only custodian of this entire civilization's history. The notion that this entire chronicle was only real insofar as it existed on fragile and long-lost pieces of paper was so powerful that I don't know how to express it adequately. Nor can I really justify why I am recording it here. I must confess to an urge to get everything that strikes me as significant into written form.

Only later did I learn we were in distinguished company in inventing our imaginary countries, since-- as well as the Lewises-- the Bronte children had their own fictional land, Gondal.

I shared a bedroom (and bunk beds) with my younger brother for years and years and years. It often intrigues me that many of the debates I have in the 'big' world, or on this blog, or in other forums, are in many ways replays of the long-running debates (sometimes flaring into rows) that we had for so many years, on almost every subject. Now we seldom get into debates, by unspoken common consent (I think). He is a film-maker and a docu-drama he made on the 1913 Lock-Out was shown as part of the Dublin Film Festival this year.

I often find myself asking him, 'Do you remember this?', or 'Do you remember that?'. Somehow, the more one sees of the big world, and of the gallery of characters that populates the big world, the more and not less significant that private world of childhood experience, whose thousands upon thousands of hours can never be shared with anyone who didn't experience them, comes to mean.

(I actually saw Lewis's Boxen chronicles being sold as a book in a bookshop once. I can't imagine being such a Lewis fanatic that I would buy or even read such a book.)

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had thought of something like this when I was younger. This is the sort of thing I would have loved as a child.