Josna Rege

65. Curb Your Enthusiasm: A Bedtime Story

In 1980s, Books, Childhood, reading, Stories, United States on August 1, 2010 at 9:26 pm

When Nikhil and Eric were little I would read to them before they went off to sleep; I loved introducing them to the books I had so enjoyed as a child, and I loved the cozy ritual of bedtime. For the most part they did, too. They shared my delight in the stories, and usually found ways of getting me to keep reading: “Just one more chapter,” Nikhil would say, and it wouldn’t take much for me to acquiesce. But one day I forgot myself—or rather, forgot them—in my enthusiasm, and it fell to them to rein me in.

One evening, when they were about four, I decided that it was time to start reading them C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, and so I began, with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The boys listened intently for a little while, and particularly liked the notion of a door to a magical world. But as little Lucy in the story stepped out into the bitter cold of Always-Winter-Never-Christmas, they started to get a little fidgety. Perhaps it was a bit too close to the bone, since Winchendon was rather like the old Narnia in that respect. Its winters seemed never-ending, too, with the near-certainty of a first frost in the third week of August and the high risk of a killing frost all the way up to Memorial Day. But I had gotten carried away by the story, and failed to notice that the boys were getting more and more uncomfortable. Her older siblings were making fun of Lucy now, who could not make them believe that she had really come upon another world; and her brother Edmund was being particularly nasty to her, reducing her to tears.

by Pauline Baynes, from briansibleysblog.blogspot.com

Then we came to the scene where Edmund himself enters the wardrobe and stumbles through into Narnia, and where, shivering with cold, he meets the White Witch. In his eagerness to get warm and his weakness for flattery, he falls under her spell, failing to notice how cruel she is, how evidently evil. And as I read on, enchanted by the sound of my own voice, I did not notice the children’s eyes growing wider and wider, as they inched closer to each other for comfort.

It was Eric who finally spoke up, his little voice firm and clear:

“Put that book away and don’t read it to us again until we are seven.”

Jolted into awareness, I obeyed immediately, and took up something lighter to shake off the pall that had been cast over the room.

It was to be a long time before we ventured into Narnia again. When this episode was followed, in short order, by an unfortunate encounter with Cruella De Vil on the big screen at the local public library and a nightmarish experience on the Snow White ride at Disneyland, Nikhil never quite got over a fear of witches. But I’m afraid I planted the seed of that fear on the evening when I failed to curb my enthusiasm.

*Inspired in the telling by Jay O’Callahan’s Crafting Personal Stories.

** see Brian Sibley’s blog on the late Pauline Baynes: Queen of Narnia and Middle-Earth.

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  1. Josna, I think Thanh finally got over my attempt to introduce him to Narnia before he was ready! He read all the books this summer. I love this post!

  2. Wow–what fun! Thanh has become quite a reader! Isn’t it exciting when you get so into a series that you devour them all, one after another?! It’s always a bit of a mystery as to what finally tips the scales from mild interest to avid reading. All the conditions have to be right. I remember it was like that with me and Nadine Gordimer as an adult. I kept making false starts with her novels and petering out after a few pages; until Stephen suggested I read one of her early novels, A World of Strangers. I whizzed through it and never looked back after that; suddenly all her work was accessible to me. I had a similar experience with Michael Ondaatje. I’m glad you liked the post. I had started to be afraid that I was forgetting all the wonderful little moments of Nikhil’s childhood–things I thought I would never forget. So I hope to tell more of those stories (as long as they remain mine and not his).

  3. Thanks for suggesting I read this post, Josna! I love that Eric was so definite about “don’t read it to us until we are seven.” I didn’t read Narnia until I was an adult — I think I would have been as spooked as the boys if I’d encountered it in my childhood! (I love the stories now.)

    • Yes, Beth, I can still hear his little voice speaking up on behalf of the two of them! I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was about eight, and the others a few years later. Four is definitely too young–what was I thinking?! (BTW, it was when I was looking for the Pauline Baynes illustration for this story that I first discovered Brian’s blog post about her and corresponded with him to ask permission.)

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