Books Are Magic, or, a Fannish Fairytale
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who didn’t believe in magic. She didn’t even like to read about magic.
The little girl read books so quickly that her mother brought her the biggest book she could find in the library. The book had magic in it, and the little girl thought that was a little stupid. But the book also had a princess in disguise and a troll with a very long name and a lost city in the forest and creepy midnight meetings, and the girl fell in love with the book, even though it had magic in it, and even though she was too little to really understand all of it.
The book went back to the library, and the little girl read many other books and fell in love with some of them, and learned that books with magic in them didn’t have to be stupid.
The girl grew older and grew lonelier, because she was often afraid of the world and the people in it, and friends of flesh and blood are harder to find and less faithful than those made of paper and ink.
The girl’s mother still brought her books from the library, and one day she brought a very big book again. The girl – no longer so little now – read it and found that she had read about these people before: the princess in disguise, the troll with the very long name, the kitchen boy, the prince, the evil priest…
And this time, the girl finally read all the books about these people, and she read them forwards and backwards and all over again, and then decided she wanted to have them for herself.
She read them again, in a language that wasn’t her own. She’d learned it in school and from simple books, which had taught her most everyday words. But these books taught her strange and beautiful words, like scullion and acolyte, like obsequious and moribund.
She read the books many times, but never talked about them. Because there were many more people in the world who believed – as she had done – that books with magic in them were stupid, and who would have only unkind things to say.
The girl grew up and grew lonelier still, by herself in a city full of strangers, far from all she held dear, and still so afraid of all that was unknown and new.
At her lowest and loneliest, she turned to books again, to ink-and-paper friends old and new. And one book was a magic one, with words that took her gently by the hand and led her to an online fairyland. A kingdom ruled by a writer-king who had brought into being that world and those characters who had so enchanted her, the kitchen boy and the princess, the troll and his wolf…
She was cautious at first, having heard many warnings about the dangers of the fairy world. She hid her name and face and all things that could give anyone power over her.
But before long, she signed her soul away to the king of this strange realm, and found friends among its denizens, truer and more faithful than most she’d found in the human world, and freedom in choosing a new name and being her true self without fear of judgement or mockery.
For those were the rules of that land that she learned to live by: to be silly and mischievous and a little mad, but also respectful of each other, and above all, to be kind.
The girl grew into a woman in the years she spent in fairyland’s taverns and teashops, its greenhouses, factories, bouncy castles and libraries, growing older and less lonely and less afraid.
And soon, the friendships she’d found existed not just in that fairyland built with the magic of fingers on keyboards and words on screens, but spilled over in the human world, luring her onto trains and planes by the promise of meeting faraway friends, and the magic was just as real in homes and hotels, in shared meals and games and laughter and hugs.
For some years, fairyland grew sad and quiet, with the king in exile and many of his subjects moving on to other lands, and still she stayed, tending the gardens and sitting by the fire in the tavern, waiting to share a drink and a hug with the few others who remained.
She also stayed to study the king’s books and discuss them with other scholars, and took up the cloak of the protectors of the realm and the mighty smiting hammer, to fight off the spam demons and keep order in the jumble of derelict taverns.
The first time she met the king in the human world, she was alone, just one of many waiting for an audience, with nervous stumbling words and a book to be signed – that book, that first book she had fallen in love with as a little girl.
But the second time she met the king, she was side by side with friends, and the magic of fairyland was strong that day, sharing drinks with the King in the warm summer air. Her life changed that day, as much as it had when she found fairyland. Alongside her friends, she swore an oath and became a councillor of the king, entrusted with the kingdom’s biggest secret.
There were more meetings with the king after that, shared meals and drinks and laughter and hugs, until she could believe it when the king called her “friend”. She travelled and saw more of the world than she had ever thought she would. She put aside her fears to cross an ocean, and met high members of the king’s court, whose names she had long known from the pages of books, and learned more secrets. She travelled further, across that faraway land and to the shores of another ocean, to visit the king in his own home.
There were some years when the woman herself grew sad and quiet, when dark demons stole much of her strength, and she could do little more than sit quietly in the tavern. But with what strength she had left, she still did her work as protector of fairyland, as a scholar and councillor. She studied the king’s books new and old, and wrote messages to the king and queen to make the books the best they could be.
And one day, there came a courier from the king’s faraway land, to bring her a reward.
The familiar words of that first book she had fallen in love with, that had taught her so much of the language, and in which she had helped find the few words that were wrong – those old and beloved words, now polished and perfected with her own help, and bound in a new book. And at the end of that book, there was her own name, among those of her friends, all those raised to councillors to the king, for all the world to see.
And some months later, the king’s new book was revealed to the world, and there was her name again: at the front this time, like the names of the members of the king’s court she had read of so many times, standing alone among words of thanks.
She knows the truth now: magic is real. Books are magic, in so many ways.