"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

01 June 2016


This is the very meaning of adventure: that you accept dare, that you allow the freedom of both chance and mischance.  I remember first reading the phrase "happy-go-lucky" and experiencing the idea like a peal of bells in my head.  This is the crucial quality of the Ash Lad and other folk-tale heroes, combining happiness and liberty with chance -- the opposite of the controlled and enclosed life.  Setting out to seek one's fortune is the readying line of folk tales and children are only too willing to play with risk, to draw straws with hazard.  It's a rare child who doesn't take to gambling like a duck to water: they shine at the luckiness of cards, dice and tossing coins, and every child I've ever known would place a bet as soon as nick a biscuit.

Primed to see luck where they can, children turn lucky moments into wishes.  In the wishing lists of childhood, you can have a wish when you throw a coin into a well; when you catch a falling leaf or see a falling star; when you find an eyelash fallen onto your cheek; when the words fall out of your mouth at the same time they do from someone else's; when you accidentally put your knickers on inside out (but only if you're a girl); when you blow out all the candles on a birthday cake; when you pick up a fallen penny and give it away.  Many of these involve fallen things, as if language recognizes a form of fate: this is how things "fall out."  It "fell this way," say stories.  Meanwhile a lottery, a lucky dip, a tombola, a lucky number or a lucky day of the week all appeal to a children's sense that life is riddled with luck and that freedom means doing a deal with chance, for you cannot plan luck or control it, you cannot fence it, enclose it, or store it.  You can only be open to what falls out and hold on to your hope.

This is why the risk-averse attitude of modernity is not only annoying but conceptually malevolent.  It works against the correct instinct children have that they must find a working relationship with chance and risk, otherwise their adventures cannot even begin and they will remain infantilized and enclosed, stuck forever indoors in the house "hard by the great forest" with no chance of setting out on the quest through the forest.  Children know life as a huge adventure, this calling dawn, the invitation of all the mornings of the world, asking chance and childhood to play.  Adventure demands you accept that the roll of the dice may give you a six or a one, that you take a risk for a venture.

Jay Griffiths, from A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World

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