Do You Believe in Magic?

magician-hands-pulling-rabbit-out-of-top-hat“Daddy, is magic real?”

Oh man, how do you field this one? How do you maintain the delicate balance between preserving childish innocence and imagination and providing a realistic view of the world? I stall for time.

“Well, it depends on what you mean by magic. There are magicians who perform magic tricks, so in that sense it’s real.”

He’s not buying it. “No, I don’t mean illusions and tricks, I mean is it real?”

“Is what real?”


I really don’t know what to say here. That no, elephants can’t be made to vanish and beautiful assistants can’t really be sawed in half? But I know there’s something more at work here. He’s not really talking about sideshow smoke-and-mirrors magic, he’s grappling with the gulf between what his own experience and observation are telling him, and the world of fantasy and fabrication that stories and films and his own fancy present to him.

He’s been devouring Roald Dahl lately, and although I know that he knows that Oompa-Loompas and giant peaches are just bits of storytelling, he wants to know if such things are possible. If there’s a world beyond what we witness every day that holds out the opportunity for the wondrous, the miraculous. That holds, in short, magic.

I say again, “It depends on what you mean by magic. Give me a specific example.”

“Okay. Is the Easter Bunny real?”

Whew. I feel on fairly solid ground here. I can rat out the Easter Bunny. Never a huge fan anyway – the whole giant rabbit delivering sweets thing never made much sense to me. “Well,” I say, giving him a wry smile, “what do you think?”

“I think it’s you and Mommy.” I wink and nod, and he smiles knowingly. His next question would have logically involved Santa Claus, but I don’t think he was ready to relinquish that particular bit of holiday illusion. We leave it at that, but neither of us seems satisfied. There was some unspooled thread of thought hanging in the air, the unsettling feeling of something left unsaid.

What I wish I’d said is this:

Magic? Absolutely. There’s magic everywhere, all around us, all the time.

Seeds sheathed in brown blades helicopter from a maple tree, spin in the breeze until they hit a patch of soft bare soil, and that tiny nodule, no bigger than a pea, becomes a new tree. Magic.

A volcano blasts rock so hot it’s liquid into the sky, and the sky responds with bolts of blazing lightning. Magic on a monumental scale. volcanolightning

A family’s Christmas tree starts a fire and torches that year’s presents and a good portion of the house, and a whole community comes together to make sure those kids have gifts and Christmas dinner and a warm, safe place to stay. Magic that certainly outshines a fat guy circumnavigating the globe in a single night.

hummingbirdA caterpillar turns into a butterfly. A hummingbird flies backwards. A bat finds its own baby among thousands in an ink-black cave with its ears.

An amputee learns to run again on artificial legs. A woman shot in the head lives to lead a movement. A composer goes deaf, but plucks notes from the silence and turns them into a symphony. A  black seamstress on a bus who’s tired of sacrificing her dignity helps to spark a revolution. amputee

‘Esprit d’escalier’ the French call that perfect witty retort thought up too late (‘staircase wit,’ as in you thought of the perfect riposte as you – or your victim – are on the way home). But is there a term for the good advice or simply the wise response we should have given a child’s question but that comes too late?

Perhaps I can revisit this conversation with my son. Bring it up again and deliver what I’d wanted to say but failed to at the time. Is magic real?

Oh yes, my son, indeed it is – magic is very, very real.

28 thoughts on “Do You Believe in Magic?

  1. I think it’s fun to believe in magic so long as you know it’s not real. (I refer to wizards and invisibility and such.) Some of what we think of as magic is simply the natural world, explainable by science but wondrous all the same. I think it’s important for children to grow up to understand the difference and most of them do. However, magical thinking,as scientists call it, is alive and well. (


  2. Reblogueó esto en Eclécticoy comentado:
    Qué difícil es este tema. Me gusta la magia, la idea de la magia. Personalmente, me ha hecho disfrutar inconmesurablemente, especialmente cuando era niña. La idea de que tal vez, de repente, pudiera vislumbrar un hada en un jardín, o un bosque secreto detrás de un armario. Muy interesante post.


  3. I guess I have experienced the magic of a love that transcends understanding and that transforms any who are open to it. I call it grace and it exceeds the criteria for magic. It seems to me that you are open to it and able to communicate it, whether you have set intellectual limits to it or not. “A rose by any other name smells as sweet.” Thank you for sharing your magic, your grace, with us.


    • Thanks so much for your comments, Eileen. My mother has a great deal of the grace of which you speak. Personally that was never for me, but I find my own in the natural world. And in people like you reading the bits and bobs that I write.


      • You misunderstand me. You have that same grace, you simply call it by another name. Your writing is grace for me, as is nature, the scriptures, the kindness of others, struggles that change me for the better, children’s laughter, laughing at ourselves, loving the unlovely. You don’t have to find it or express it the way your mother did. It’s still grace because it lifts us beyond our tiny selves. Nobody has a monopoly on it. And to me you have a great deal of it and are a source for others. What more could anyone want?


    • Thanks so much! I do believe that is one of the kindest, most supportive comments I’ve ever received. And all in six syllables! Seriously, I so deeply, deeply appreciate support like this. It makes the whole process of blogging worthwhile. Thank you, Keladelaide. Thank you.


  4. Whenever I only have just a few minutes to myself (uhhh, most days?) I scan the blogs I follow and choose one or two that are most reliable at entertaining me, making me smile or give me that feeling of recognition that all us parents (qualified or not) are doing the exact same things each day. Always smart writing that doesn’t bore me. Well done. And as for magic, if you don’t believe then you’re either sleeping or not paying attention to anything that goes on around you. (Although, sleep itself is pretty darn magical.)


    • Thanks, Mama. Truly high praise coming from you. And yes, at times there’s nothing more magical than sleep. My wife and I occasionally fight for it. I usually lose.


  5. This was definitely worth the read. I have a little one who is also exploring the world around him. It’s amazing what’s out there, and to be able to see it with fresh eyes? Well, he’s got some great experiences ahead of him!


    • Oh, we can’t even imagine the experiences ahead of him. Remember when your emotions were so strong as to be almost unbearable? When the mere glance of a a boy or girl we pined for was unspeakable pleasure or pain, depending on the nature of the glance. When everything we saw or experienced was magical because it was for the first time? If you haven’t read it, here’s another post along the same theme that you might enjoy. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment!


  6. Pingback: Do You Believe in Magic? | The Darks Side

  7. This was so beautifully written. Coming from a “Christian” background, we talked a lot about the idea of miraculous things being possible. Now in my adult life, I’m come to understand that the broccoli plants I started from seed waaaaaaay back in February that are forming heads and will soon nourish our bodies – well, they ARE the miracle. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks, Johanna! I too came from a Christian background – my father was a Methodist minister – but ours was a deeply Humanist upbringing, and my dad showed us the ‘miraculous’ in the apparently mundane. I’ve never been a Christian myself (it just didn’t seem to take in my case), but if I were to choose a spiritual center it would be in the animistic traditions of Shintoism or Buddhism or even Transcendentalism. There are miracles out there, all right, we just need to open our eyes (and the eyes of our children) to not only recognize them but seek them out. Thanks for visiting, and for sharing your comments.


  8. A few years ago my friend’s then eleven year old confronted her about whether or not Father Christmas was real. Does he exist, he asked her very seriously, or is it you and dad? Twice she evaded the question. Twice he pushed her for an answer. When she finally admitted the truth he was inconsolable and wouldn’t talk to her for a week.


    • Yeah, that’s one of the reasons we’ve never pushed the Santa Claus thing too hard. We say some gifts are from family and friends, and some come from Santa, but we’ve kind of played down the whole thing in order to avoid your friend’s predicament. Hopefully we haven’t set the kids up for a major disappointment. I think they’ll take it in stride when the time comes.


    • Thanks, Fiona. I’ve actually considered consolidating some of my more ‘parenty’ posts and sending them off to an agent for possible representation. In other words, the lazy man’s approach to publication. “Fifty Shades of Dirty Diaper” it might be called. (“Fifty Shades of Noxious Nappy” for the UK market.) Seriously, though, I appreciate your comments and your confidence in my scribblings.


  9. I absolutely love this. 🙂

    When I was a kid, I never had the guts to ask my parents about magic. I guess I started growing up believing that no matter how much I want it to be real, it won’t be. Now that I have a daughter, it’s the other way around. She would always ask me about every single thing. Even magic. I always tell her with no question that no, they’re not true.

    However, you are right. There is magic everywhere if we only know where to look and if we only know how to perceive it to be as such. 🙂

    Besides, I’m grown up yet I still want to believe magic exists. And as you said so yourself, it does. It really does.

    Thanks for sharing this post. 🙂 I love it.


    • Thanks, msjfreckles, (if that is indeed your real name, and I have my doubts)! I think how you define something is important, and we crush our kids’ creativity and imagination too early with our jaded perceptions of what is real and what is possible.
      To kids almost anything is real, and almost anything possible. And in many ways, in ways we’ve forgotten or learned to ignore, they’re right. If it occurred in a story the metamorphosis of disgusting grub into beautiful beetle would be a metaphor, but that metaphor is reality.
      Anyway, thanks for visiting, and I really appreciate your comments. Cheers!


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