Let Us Speak of Building Blocks

In which the author speaks of childhood castles.

Let Us Speak of Building Blocks

I built castles when I was younger.

And so I dreamt of becoming an architect – for that was the profession that was allowed to “play with blocks” when you grow up.

At first, I largely raised the same castle – over and over again – as I did not have a great variety of blocks to work with. And endless repetition to children is not the terrible burden that adults feel. Later on, when I saw Star Wars, I built spaceports and battle stations. Then strongholds for my G.I. Joes to ward off Cobra’s tanks. With Jurassic Park, I staked out Dinosaur paddocks – from which my pack of “Velociraptors” (they’re Deinonychuses, whatever the movie says) leapt forth with murderous glee.

These were the playgrounds of my imagination.

Children ponder our possessions with
Minds that are free, they play with curious fears
Adept at suffering second-hand, their legends
Are dire with cruelty. As overseers
They watch with fascination from the path.
Their truth being other than the facts, their brigands,
Pirates and thieves can be shut up at night,
But move like mice within their dreams beneath
The floor of sleep and with the morning light
Appear, unlike ours, fabulous as death.
- Elizabeth Jennings, "Sequence from Childhood," I

Places, structures – they have an elemental quality. They are foundational, for stories need settings. And I played with blocks more than any other toy because I loved story more than any other game.

But the making of a new country is not the place alone. A wind of power must blow through it. It must have a spirit. The grim fortresses that I wrestled from the earth, they called to me that I might invest them with my magic.

And so, I breathed my power upon them and made them live.

My castles and their kingdoms were filled with knights and dragons and wizards. This was my Sherwood Forest, my Narnia, my Middle-earth. Every beast harkened to my call. Every monster served at my whim. Armies mustered when I lifted my hand.

No mystery was beyond my understanding, for I was the creator of every one.

Here my rule was absolute. And I decreed that my country would be forever wracked by war. These castles and the fields about them would be the sites of desperate battle. They would become the fields of strife that I strode about.

I, the unseen Master of Fate.

A looking-glass is not where they indulge
Self-scrutiny, it is a country that
Opens before them in a lucky journey
Where animals are waiting to divulge
Important secrets, where the children meet
And threadbare rulers begging for a penny.
The sudden likeness seen is not their will,
They look beyond it curious to spy out
New topsy-turvy landscapes without any
Images of themselves. They would wipe out
Their own reflections clearly to reveal
The tempting country ever in retreat.
- Elizabeth Jennings, "Sequence from Childhood," II

But I am not God, t0 create with a word. My childhood mind was a factory of marvelous magic, but it yearned for materials and patterns to work upon. And so I devoured what was required.

Prince John’s mother’s castle is the final, decisive setting of the conflict in Disney’s old animated Robin Hood. I loved those vulture-men, one with a halberd and the other with crossbow. The wolf archers that pad along, loosing as they come (probably why they never hit anything). Even the Sheriff, looming up with his torch as he finally corners Robin.

And the castle burns around them.

Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated Lord of the Rings – a classic! We had it recorded from TV on a VHS. I thrilled to that film, so evocative, such a force to my imagination. It is incomplete, flawed – and there is a part of me that loves it far above Jackson’s work. The Nazgûl!

The Orcs!

(There is more of the Dark Faerie in Bakshi’s work than any B-Horror special effects Jackson can conjure.) All so potent. Yet, it was the Battle of Helm’s Deep that fired my imagination with images of war and sorcery.

And so again and again, I ran to my building blocks. And then, later, my Legos. I marshaled ranks of little warriors on the kitchen tiles, ready to brave the hail of arrows from the battlements, all for the chance to bring steel to the killing reach.

But the battle was always over all too quickly, and so men and monsters would be lifted from where they lay slain to dance again for my pleasure.

My worlds will never die.

Children ask that stories be repeated
And if we change a word they catch us out;
Wanting no ends they trace the well-known route
As if it is new land they have created.
Their history is of animals who live
Lives within lives, are always on the move.
Of kings who fall but to be reinstated.
Their detailed countries live by being told
Over and over, they unwrap new meaning
From stories, learnt by heart, when we repeat them,
A dream made verbal is for them no dream
And boring narratives are where they build
A power of love, a world without beginning.
- Elizabeth Jennings, "Sequence from Childhood," III

The poem quoted above in segments is "Sequence from Childhood," by Elizabeth Jennings. It seems few remember her today – this is a small step toward remedying that loss.

Here is a single volume containing her collected poems. It is a rather hefty book but there are other ways to enjoy her poetry, if you are so inclined.

Ah, Dear Reader, here we must let the matter of childhood imagination rest for now. I hope that this letter finds you well.

Best regards,


Want more words, Traveller? Come visit my website at bryanerye.com, or take the direct route to the blog.

Want to throw me some coin to support me financially? I have a Busker's Hat to help buy coffee and used books.

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