James R. Holbrook ’66

James Holbrook '66 with Meg Holbrook, his wife.

Originally published in the Summer 1976 Grinnell Magazine

Before I recount my tale about The Magical Place, I want to make one simple observation: Angels fly because they take themselves so lightly.

Once upon a time, a little boy named Jimmy discovered himself in a magical place. The place was like an island in a sea of gold or white or green, depending upon the season, as Jimmy was to learn.

The place which was like an island had many tall, sturdy trees and many mysterious buildings. It also had people: young people, like Jimmy, and some older people, like Jimmy wanted to become.

At first, it seemed to Jimmy that all the younger people did only ordinary things. Sleep, eat, walk, sit, and listen. The older people, however, did extraordinary things; they told stories to the younger ones. Each older person had a different story to tell, but each story was exciting. Some were about strange and exotic places where people spoke incomprehensible languages. Others were about faraway times when kings and nobles walked the earth and did good deeds. Still others were about tiny alive things that lived inside big, seemingly dead things and made the big things big.

The story Jimmy liked best was about the magicians who looked at the world in various ways and who could make the world seem first one thing and then another. Jimmy decided that most of all he wanted to become a magician when he grew up.

And he did begin to grow up. In fact, the other young people and Jimmy got older, while the older people got younger. Soon all the young people participated in the storytelling. Some young people were even able to tell a story better than an older person could, or so it seemed.

Finally, one unspecial day, Jimmy got old enough to know that The Magical Place and its magical time would not last forever for him. The magic of the place and time began to grow smaller and smaller until Jimmy was no longer able to perceive it. Soon after, Jimmy discovered that he had a new magical name — Boo Bear — and that it was time for him to leave The Magical Place and venture forth on his own.

First, Boo Bear traveled to a factory which turned would-be magicians into professional magicians. But instead of finding that he enjoyed being turned into a magician, Boo Bear learned that magicians had very dull lives. He stayed in the magician factory only long enough to become an apprentice magician and then he left, deciding it had all been a waste of time.

From the magician factory Boo Bear traveled to a strange and faraway land where people cried and slowly disappeared. There Boo Bear learned that good people can do very bad things to other good people, all the while believing they are doing good. Boo Bear left this sad country, but many good people stayed behind to cry and slowly disappear. This was a very unmagical time and place.

Next Boo Bear traveled to a second factory. This factory was designed to take its workers apart, piece by piece, more or less quickly, and then let the workers put themselves back together again. Most workers did put themselves together again; a few could not. Some who put themselves together emerged very different from what they were when they had entered. Boo Bear emerged with his heart where his head had been.

After he left the second factory Boo Bear was employed by a dragon to help the dragon be a strong dragon. The dragon was always good to Boo Bear, but he singed and burned many others with his fire.

While working for the dragon, Boo Bear began to recall the original magical place where he had slept and eaten and walked and sat and listened. The Magical Place had not really grown so small that he could not recall it. In fact, Boo Bear recollected the time he had spent at The Magical Place so well that he pledged little gifts as tokens of his deep and abiding affection for its magic.

Recently, Boo Bear has learned a number of surprising things. He’s learned that having a heart where a head should be is not at all a handicap. He’s learned that choosing a magical name for another prevents the other from having a magical name. (Everyone who has a magical name should choose it for himself, but only after he finds it, of course.) And, most surprisingly, he’s learned that magical times and places exist without magicians to create them. Magical times and places exist because that is what they are supposed to do.

Now Boo Bear has found and chosen a new magical name, which he cannot reveal because he is still using it. He is learning to see that many, if not most, things in the world are just as magical as The Magical Place, but he never would have learned this had he not first discovered himself there.

Magical places are good for people. They help people grow and change from one thing into another. Those younger or older people who are not now in a magical place should search for one. It would be a nice change.


Originally published as an online extra in The Grinnell Magazine, Winter 2009

James Holbrook ’66

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