Boyhood’s Dawn

Tuesday , 19, August 2014 Leave a comment

The White Mountains, adapted, courtesy of the former Boy Scouts of America

H.P. Lovecraft was fatherless, and his mother fell to madness. C.S. Lewis lost his mother before he turned 10. Ray Bradbury’s formative years were in a stable community and a large supportive family. Orson Scott Card–a direct descendant of Brigham Young–comes from a traditional Latter Day Saints background, complete with five siblings. Gene Wolfe is a childhood survivor of polio. Richard Matheson’s first story was published in The Brooklyn Eagle in 1934…when he was eight years old. Philip K. Dick’s twin sister died six weeks after being born, an event that affected him and his writing for his entire life.

Yet these men and many others — all with different childhood experience — ended up writing in the genre particularly suited for the minds of young boys and those who understand the value of childhood without elevating it to the status of lifelong template (or in some cases, trauma) for adulthood.

We ran faster and faster. The wind was first in our faces and then at our backs. We ran around the clearing on our sturdy young legs, the wind speaking through the pines and oaks that rimmed our playground. “Faster!” Johnny shouted, limping just a little on his clubfoot. “Gotta go faster!”

We kept going, fighting the wind and then flying before it. The dogs ran beside us, barking with the sheer happiness of movement. The sun sparkled on the Tecumseh River, the sky was clear azure, and summer’s heat bloomed in our lungs.

It was time. Everyone knew it was time.

“Ben’s goin’ up first!” I shouted. “he’s gettin’ ready! He’s gettin’–“

Ben gave a holler. Wings tore through the back of his shirt as they grew from his shoulder blades.

“His wings are gettin’ bigger!” I said. “They’re the same color as his hair, and thy’re lazy from not bein’ used for so long, but now they’re startin to beat! Look at ’em! Just look!”

Ben’s feet lifted off the earth, and his wings began to take him upward.

“Tumper’s goin’, too!” I said. “Wait for him, Ben!”

Tumper’s wings unfurled. Yapping nervously, the dog ascended beneath his master’s heels.

“Come on, Tumper!” Ben cried out. “Let’s go!”

 

Robert R. McCammon,

Boy’s Life – Part 2, Chapter 1, Last Day of School

I find it remarkable that any boy could read The Eyes of the Dragon and remain uncaptivated by the clever implementation and charming details of the prince’s toy castle. Boy’s Life (the magazine, not McCammon’s book) is very likely most well-known to a certain generation as the benevolent provider of the ongoing graphic adaptation of The Tripods trilogy of John Christopher.

The endless summer of boyhood really and truly is endless. I see it every day from the end of May until the slaughterhouse August. These kids still bike about, play ball in the road, wander off into the forests and culverts and dumpsters and anywhere else that other people are never meant to go.

Not at the individual level, of course. Almost all boys grow up and become something else. He who does not grow up also does not remain a boy: he becomes a shell – the ignorant, pitiable Frankenstein of boyhood fascination, complete with bolts, sad eyes, and depressed criminal brain, grasping for what he desires, but cannot have or even understand. He picks the flower, and throws it into the water. He picks a flower girl, and throws it into the water.

It has become popular to say that those quaint old boyhood books are about how boyhood doesn’t last, how it is just a temporary fantasy that must develop into more practical life skills, and isn’t it sad how that story always ends?

But it is not the end of the Tripods, or Boy’s Life, or the Eyes of the Dragon (or Perelandra, or The Long Walk or the House of Stairs or any other book that captures masculine or brotherly innocence in such a way) that make these books resonate in such special ways.

It is the fact that boyhood, and the books of boyhood, are really about birth and creation and hope and promise and how those things do not survive without a paladin, but–with fear and trembling–birth and creation and hope and promise are there to hold and to enjoy and to defend…and that’s why we need boys.

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