Fantasy worlds

Back when we were children, one of my sisters had a book called The Lonely Doll. The author, Dare Wright, illustrated the story with photographs. She used a doll she had had since she was a child, and two teddy bears given to her by her brother, Blaine. The book was reissued a few years ago, and I remember picking it up in a book store and leafing through it. Looking at the photographs as an adult, they seemed a lot more psychologically intense than I had remembered, especially the one of the big teddy bear, named Mr. Bear in the story, spanking Edith the doll. The photographs made the toys seem eerily lifelike.

I found Dare Wright’s autobiography in a used bookstore today. It turns out that Dare Wright had an unusually strong fantasy life as an adult. Her friend Dorothy was present when her brother Blaine went to the FAO Schwartz store in Manhattan to buy Dare a teddy bear:

“Blaine got drunk and weird, as he always did when he drank,” she recalled. “In we went. But when he saw all the bears together, he said it would be terrible to separate them because they would be lonely. With that he directed the saleswoman to pack up the entire lot, all their Steiff bears, hundreds of dollars of bears. Dare’s apartment in those days was just around the corner. We walked over there, carrying all those damn teddy bears.”

Dorothy found the spectacle of a grown-up brother and sister sitting on the floor surrounded by teddy bears, telling stories in imaginary bear voices, disturbing. Soon, Dare added Edith [her childhood doll] to the party — and urged Dorothy to join in. Making no effort to hide her disdain, Dorothy refused.* (The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright, by Jean Nathan [New York: Henry Holt, 2004], pp. 158-159.)

I can understand why Dorothy felt disdainful towards Dare and Blaine — that’s what we adults are supposed to do, we’re supposed to give up those fantasy worlds — but there is not much separating Dare and Blaine playing with teddy bears, and Anthony Trollope weeping uncontrollably as he wrote about the death of one of his characters. Nor is there much separating their fantasy world from the worlds that mystics encounter. I suspect we all have different levels of attunement to transrational worlds: some people are what we might call tone-deaf to fantasy, mysticism, and even fiction; others of us are not.

* For the record, Dare wound up keeping just one of the bears, who became the mischievous Little Bear in her children’s books.