Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Imaginary and the Real

Of all the sights I saw in Mankato last weekend, during the Betsy-Tacy Convention, the one that touched and thrilled me most was this. In a display case in the Maud Hart Lovelace children’s reading room of the Blue Earth County Public Library sits a small glass pitcher. A sign tells us that it is the pitcher that real-life Betsy gave to real-life Tacy in the second chapter of Betsy-Tacy, the first book of the series, the chapter in which Betsy and Tacy begin their lifelong friendship at Betsy’s fifth birthday party. There it was. Here it is.

The whole weekend made me ponder our mania for finding out that something in a story isn’t made-up, but is real. Even as many of us prefer reading fiction to nonfiction, we want evidence that our fiction somehow is nonfiction, that it really did happen: hence, the craze for memoir, which straddles both domains. For some reason, it doesn’t diminish stories to find their kernel of reality; instead, it enlarges us, as their readers. For if all these narrated wonders – or at least some of them, or at least one of them – really did take place, well, then, maybe wonders can befall us in our ordinary, humdrum lives as well.

What if we could go on a literary pilgrimage and see, in a low case in a local library, the actual glass slipper Cinderella left behind her at the ball? The spindle on which Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger? A certain cloak with a familiar red hood? A few remaining bricks from the house of the third little pig?

You can see the real Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore; I saw them myself at the Donnell branch of the New York Public Library; they’ve now been moved to a new location in the Schwarzman Building at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. There they were. Here they are.

"And in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

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