Last week, there were floods of tears in my house. In a burst of rage during an argument with her sister, my eldest daughter had blurted out the truth that she had made up the regular stories she had been telling about her trips to Fairyland. Her sister, seven, was devastated. These stories had glued them together in a magical adventure for years. She had really, truly believed every one of them and would ask countless questions, hanging on every word of every answer.
My eldest was also devastated that in an unthinking moment of anger she had managed to break something that had taken years and years to build: a story on one level; a sisterly bond of trust on another. They sobbed together, sorrowful and heartbroken.
Of course, as such dramas generally are, this was three minutes before they needed to leave for school. First-Aid hugs were dispensed, tears dried and faces splashed with cool water.
In the house on my own later, as I metaphorically swept up the pieces of broken fairy and magic dust from the floor, I wept too. I wept for the disappointment that comes with the loss of innocence, I wept for the damage to the relationship that was held in those stories, and I wept for the disappearance of the magic.
Yet what I realised, and what I talked about with my girls later, is that just because the fairies don’t exist, it doesn’t mean that the magic doesn’t. Maybe it doesn’t in the glittery wand and fluttering wings kind of way, but in the very creation of stories themselves a powerful magic is being woven.
During the conversation, my eldest said she felt awful about lying. But was Tolkein lying about the Hobbit? Would we reject the Harry Potter series out of hand the moment we realised that JK Rowling had made it all up? Of course not, because the magic is in the story itself, not just what it is about.
The inevitable question came up about Father Christmas as a result of our discussion (never a dull day in the Bradford house!) and we spoke about everything he stands for and how he is a totem for all the good feelings and memories of the Christmas season. We realise that, say, a wedding ring doesn’t embody a marriage, but is a symbol which we infuse with meaning. If the ring is lost or broken, it doesn’t mean that the marriage is over. Likewise, the discovery that fairies don’t exist – however crushing – doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as magic.
We weave magic every day in the way that we think our thoughts, use our words and live our lives. We can lift someone with a kind act or a bright smile faster as quickly as any cauldron potion and, by being really clear about what we want and need, we can attract the right tools to get it as surely as any summoning spell you could learn at Hogwarts. There’s magic in friendship, magic in love, magic in our surroundings, in art, in music, in stories. It’s everywhere. But without the fairies to point it out, it’s easy to miss in our everyday adult lives.
Maybe it’s time to go hunting.