Lately, I have been finding myself with the urge to…revisit. I am sure there is a more elegant way of saying this. Probably in French, which has also given us such fantastic idioms as “l’esprit de escalier” – which means literally “the spirit of the staircase, I believe. What does it mean? “That thing that happens when you’ve been having an impassioned discussion with someone and you leave and then, just as you’re on your way out, the perfect thing to say occurs to you.”
So perhaps if any language has a pithy phrase for “the powerful urge to revisit things you have known and loved” it is probably French. I would call it nostalgia, but it is a little more than that: it isn’t so much that I want to get back to some lost age as that I want to revisit these things with new eyes, get to know them afresh – or perhaps “reintroduce myself to them” is a better way of putting it.
This feeling has manifested in my life in several ways lately. I find myself craving to pick old favorite films from the video store instead of new ones; I think of things I haven’t eaten or read or done in years and years and suddenly feel I want to experience them all over again.
The other day I was telling someone about a passage from one of the Oz books that really creeped me out as a child. In Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, the titular characters, along with a talking horse, a talking cat, and a farm boy, are drawn deep into the bowels of the earth in an earthquake and have all sorts of bizarre adventures while trying to find their way back to the surface world. One of the places they visit is the kingdom of the Mangaboos, beautiful but cruel people who are vegetable through and through: there they meet a sorcerous party who essentially challenges the Wizard to a magic duel.
The Wizard, of course, is a humbug magician – all of his magic is tricks and show (at least at that time – he does get significantly more legitimately magic-capable later in the series). So it is him and a pair of kerosene lamps and a theatrical trick sword against a real magician, who is slowly trying to kill him by stopping him from breathing. As a little kid this was thrilling to me in a very nasty sort of way, and it clearly left an impression.
The series continues, of course, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Dorothy and the Wizard and their companions get out alive. But as I was recounting this episode, I thought:
- Damn, that series was weird, when I think about it.
- I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to get away with some of those things in books for kids these days – at least not kids who were the age I was when I was reading the Oz books. (I started with The Wizard of Oz when I was four.)
- …You know what? I really want to read that series again.
And, being the big nerd that I am, I then went on to think to myself: Wouldn’t it be cool if while I was reading it I did some research on the time and place the books were from?
I mean, I remember how saturated the Oz books seemed to be with what I think of as that turn-of-the-century “Oh, my goodness. The future is so expansive! Progress will make everyone’s lives better!” optimism. (Perhaps that is just my memory playing tricks.) And I wonder how much the world of the early 1900s had to do with the land of living paper dolls, for example. Were they popular then?
My inner child wants to revisit the series because it’s been such a long time, and because my memories of it are fond. My inner adult has suddenly realized that it’s probably a lot stranger than I thought it was at the time, and is keen to go back and have a look. Maybe both of us will learn something, whether about ourselves or about the early 1900s or something else entirely unexpected.
So, it is decided. We will go back, and have a look. I have gone to the library’s website and placed some books on hold, and retrieved the first four of the books from storage.
I feel rather like an archaeologist preparing for a dig. Do I have all the permits? A suitable Local Guide? It is exciting and slightly daunting at the same time.
Anyway. More on this as it develops. Probably slowly. After all, there will be a lot of reading to do.