Most of us can remember the strangely moving power of passages in certain poems read when we were young, irrational doorways as they were through which the mystery of fact, the wildness and the pang of life, stole into our hearts and thrilled them.
I have just finished re-reading “The Land of the Wee-Uns,” one of the six stories in The Listen to Me Stories, and if I remember correctly, my favorite. I could almost recapture the feeling I had when I first read it: delight in that hidden world of tiny people living in a mountain under the sea. Why had the story so enthralled me? Was it because I was experiencing another world for the first time and thus could look at my own world with new eyes? The story is about a boy who sets out from the coast of Scotland and is marooned there. He was heartbroken to be separated from his mother and father, and yet he eventually became happy and content. James goes on to write about experiencing in arts the “vague vistas of a life continuous with our own, beckoning and inviting, yet ever eluding our pursuit. We are alive or dead to the eternal inner message of the arts according as we have kept or lost this mystical susceptibility.” One of the great joys I have in writing novels is constructing other worlds. The Wee-Uns are sweeter than we giants are. My constructed worlds are peopled with sweet characters, a flaw perhaps.
In my novel Wise-Ears, the main character writes stories. For one of these stories, to get the right voice and style, I read Granny’s Wonderful Chair out loud. Years ago, on one of his visits my father brought me a chair that looks like the one in the book’s illustration. The chair is of no earthly use, uncomfortable and awkward, but I love it nonetheless.