Enchanted by
(22 Stories)

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

In one of life’s ironies we moved to an even nicer part of town when my father fell ill. Our new house, set on a hill, had an enormous backyard and an adjoining wood lot wildly overgrown with flowering shrubs, abandoned rock gardens and a crumbling stone wall. One side was steeply graded and seemed to me a mountain’s slope. All was shaded by a thick canopy of towering maples that would dwarf Jack’s beanstalk, I was sure. It was here as a little girl I wrote myself into the fairy tales and legends that were the staples of my childhood reading.

In Summer I might climb up into one of the smaller trees and wait for Prince Charming to arrive with my glass slipper, at least until lunchtime. Again in a tree, I might be the dazzling, long-tressed Rapunzel in her tower, saved from the evil witch by a different prince and her/my own wits. There were so many trolls under the bridge, so many Grimm misadventures to survive to a happy ending. My brothers were off somewhere becoming older brothers, and that was O.K. They would not understand.

Some days I might switch sex, jump “ship” (the wall) and, brandishing a tablespoon grabbed from the kitchen drawer, become a pirate digging for gold doubloons in the fragrant dark earth. In yet another scenario I might be on the trail of an Indian brave, searching for arrowheads, my fantasy fulfilled when I found one.

In Fall’s waning light I waded rapturously through thigh-high mounds of crisp golden leaves in my own Enchanted Forest. It was a race against time until The Brothers dutifully raked up the gold and broke the spell.

In Winter I gazed out the window upon my frozen kingdom and wished for Spring. Until then I settled in with my storybook favorites and Aesop’s morality tales.

It was from a fairy tale, The Fisherman and His Wife, that I came to believe that wishes could come true, if they were noble ones. It was via fairy tales that I worked out my young feelings in dreams both romantic and dark. Hansel and Gretel and The Pied Piper of Hamlin terrified me, but I suspect these stories had their purpose.

This is in fact the premise of child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim’s book, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. In it he argues for the importance of fairy tales in a child’s journey from immaturity to maturity. The cruelties and cruel characters in these stories, he suggests, serve as a “reflection of a child’s necessary “killing off” of successive phases of development and initiation.”

Fascinating stuff to consider. But all I can say for certain is how very much I miss that backyard, and the magic it held for me.

Profile photo of Susan Bennet Susan Bennet
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a wonderful, inventive saga, Susan. Sorry that your father was ill. Perhaps having all these adventures was your way of coping with that disturbing fact. It is clear that you delighted in being the star in your own fairy tales and you tell your tale with beauty and compassion. I can understand how Hansel and Gretel or the Pied Piper of Hamlin could frighten you. And yes, Bruno Bettelheim did posit that working through these dark fantasies was useful for our inner selves. Those of us who read as children seemed have come through mostly unscathed.

  2. Thanx Susan for this beautifully written story about your childhood love of fairy tales – I can just see little Susan reading up in that tree – away from raucous big brothers and worldly cares.
    And thanx for the reminder of Bruno Bettelheim’s insightful work. And bravo to Retro for this evocative prompt!

  3. Marian says:

    What a lovely story, Susan, beautifully taking us with your childhood self through the season and lots of fairy tales. Despite, or maybe because of the psychology involved, they do help children process, but fantasy and imagination play a huge role.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    I can only second and third the previous comments about this beautiful snd beautifully written story, Susan. Writing yourself into the fairy tales is something I never did, but I can see its attraction and so glad you embraced it during this difficult time and shared this with us. I’m no psychologist, but I think Bettelheim has it right. Though some fairy tales, I submit, are just plain sadistic and could only have been intended to terrify children and remind them of their helplessness.

    And may you still find your backyard.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Thank you, John. Unfortunately the original backyard is now buried under Rte. 2. But I think you’re speaking metaphorically. I don’t want to overstate the effects of my dad’s health. It was the impetus for our move when I was only five. The household was sunny, the family was close. But even little children are aware that something’s up. There were no girls in the neighborhood, and that in itself made me a bit more of a loner at playtime. That said, thanks so much for the kind words.

  5. Suzy says:

    Susan, I love your take on this prompt! Wish I had had the enormous yard and neighboring lot that you describe, although I don’t know if I would have had the imagination to write myself into fairy tales as you did. Great story!

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    You wove a lovely story about being a child and the land of imagination. I loved the writing, and what a world you created in the back yard with your books as inspiration. I dove deep into fairy tales for a while, and now wonder what psychological issues I might have been working on.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a beautifully written reflection on the importance of fairy tales for children. I’m not sure I totally accept Bruno Bettelheim’s take on their importance to child development. These days, children are not exposed to the original source material, which frightened me as a child.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      I agree with the phasing-out of these tales, Laurie. From what I understand their sources were folk tales from earlier centuries. I expect they reflected the harsh realities of life in those times. I think children were comforted by fairy tales’ happy endings/resolutions. Perhaps this is why I was so horrified by the Pied Piper of Hamlin and his malicious abduction of the children. A child’s greatest fear. Shame!

  8. Since I have just been writing about my own teaching (specifically, teaching children’s literature), my first thought in reading your essay is jealousy: I’m jealous of all those professors (or high school teachers) who got to have you in their class, while I never did! What a rare pleasure it would have been to welcome into any classroom a young learner with your many hours of experience in exercising your imagination as you have described in this essay. Not to mention the wonderfully descriptive language you used to convey the setting in which your experiences took place. I have no doubt some of that wonderful wordcraft was already emerging when you were an adolescent or young adult.

  9. Susan Bennet says:

    I blush at your comments, Dale. Sorry to say, I would have disappointed you as I disappointed myself. Although I did make my living by my pen, I was never able to create a character from imagination. How I admire writers of children’s books, short stories and novels.

    As long as we’re sharing jealousies, let me say how much I wish I had pursued a career in teaching. You do the work of the angels. I know I would have enjoyed being a student in your class.

Leave a Reply