I grew up in a smallish town in the northeast of the USA that exists, more or less, in a forest. It’s the sort of place riddled with big red barns and three-hundred-year-old farmhouses. It had, and I’ve no reason to believe this has changed, an ancient, still-working apple cider mill and a field where everyone gathered for fairs, the sort where the fruit is dressed up in caramel. New England. Connecticut. Think Salem, and you’re on the right track. I lived partly in this place, but I mostly inhabited what my imagination made of it, a semi-formed dreamscape where the real and the not-so-real were indistinguishable to me. Overactive imagination, my mother called it, but I simply believed. Monsters. Ghosts. Every story my older brother told me. The hook-handed madman escapee. The demonic clown. The girl in the mirror. All of it real.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
What has any of this have to do with books? Well, I believe that books carry more weight than the sum of their pages, and our connection to them functions on a fundamentally deep level. Books will mean different things to us at different times, and I wanted you to know where my head was at when I first met a small white vampire bunny rabbit named Bunnicula. The Bunnicula books, by James Howe, are about a vampire bunny that sucks the juice out of vegetables, a cat named Chester who is convinced Bunnicula must be steaked, a dopey dachshund called Howie, and Harold, the dog who narrates the tale. I enjoyed these books immensely, curled up in the library at lunchtimes absorbed in their pages while outside the nearness of Halloween darkened the world. The forests grew closer. The ghouls came out to play. I honestly don’t remember much about the books themselves, but I what I adore about them is the sense they evoke in my memory, of being safe inside in the warmth while the cold of winter crept up and the sun seemed to abandon us to the dark.
These books also taught me that the spooks that lurked within my mind weren’t just horrors the world – and my older brother – set against me, but things that I could control. A vampire? Horrific. A vegie-sucking bunny? Not so much. In fact, it’s pretty hilarious. My ‘overactive imagination’, the one that had once peopled every dark room with murderers and lions (yes, I used to be afraid a lion would eat me in the night), was now my own domain, and I chose what went on there, for good or ill. Are the Bunnicula books solely responsible for this awakening of my imaginative powers? Probably not, but they were there when it happened, holding my hand, getting me through, and I’ll always remember them fondly for that.
Ben’s latest book is ‘Beast Child’, Volume Two of the Voyages of the Flying Dragon from Random House Australia, September 2011