(CNN)For weeks, I have been hoarding kids' chocolate Easter eggs. The knowledge that they're there in the kitchen cupboard, a small artillery of 10-second holidays from reality, provides ballast against future emergencies. It's a familiar strategy, but one I've not deployed for a few decades.
Even locked in, I found a key to the magic world I needed
All over social media, I see other adults in my demographic doing similar things. Aggressively ambitious professionals are watching Disney movies, hiding in bed or playing dress-up. They're mostly non-parents -- such regression toward childhood is not a luxury so easily afforded those who have actual children to look after. But for those of us not currently going out to work, there is something infantilizing about being stuck indoors. It makes sense to return to the comforts we sought the last time this was the case.
When I was a child, the natural companion to my chocolate stash was books. The miniature transgression of eating "restricted" foods between meals, combined with the escape into another world in the pages of a beloved novel, was as close to a breakaway as I could muster from the banality of the revolving door between school and home. I imagined myself alongside characters who weren't bound by the same limitations of age and science that I was, moving through expansive worlds full of danger and possibilities and magic. In the snatches of time in between working, eating and staring at the window over the last several weeks, I've retraced my steps back through these worlds.
Roald Dahl was a natural start for me when it came to literary escapism after I started going to school. While Enid Blyton provided adventure and sometimes travel -- such as in her unimaginatively-titled "Adventure" series -- it tended to come with a side order of piety that even a cloistered nineties kid like myself couldn't not notice. The "you're nearly as good as a boy" quips from the Famous Five, combined with the sense that the entire undertaking was a sort of morality test, kept her flights of fancy tethered firmly to the ground.
Dahl, on the other hand, let the mind run free. His stories, so full of magic, were like dreams writ large -- free of sentimentality and littered with moments of darkness which made the triumphs shine brighter in their relief. Obstacles were overcome in fantastic, jaunty ways -- from James's glorious escape across the Atlantic in a giant peach attached to a flock of seagulls (which crushes his evil aunts to death en route) to the Ladderless Window Cleaning Company formed of a giraffe, pelican and monkey. One of the most wonderful things about them -- by contrast to Blyton's work -- was that the heroes rarely ended up back where they'd started. When Dahl made the world bigger, it stayed that way. There was no cozy -- or claustrophobic -- return home.
C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" books, though charged with a far greater emphasis on spiritual virtue than Dahl's, came with a sense of grandeur which more than made up for it. Like T.H. White's beautifully written "The Once And Future King," and the lesser-known -- but also wonderful "The Baron in the Trees" by Italo Calvino -- Narnia was full of mysticism: medieval-sounding castles, swords and horses. The Narnia quests had the advantage of being led by ordinary children - the Pevensies: Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole, and Digory and Polly in the latterly-published origin story, "The Magician's Nephew" -- who had usually set out upon them in lieu of going to school or enduring a boring country holiday. The relatability of the imperfect child heroes who rose to epic, sacred challenges in other worlds made those challenges feel accessible to children like me, who felt trapped in their ordinary, seven-year-old existence.
Already a fan of interdimensional travel and charged with the disregard for authority championed by Dahl's entire oeuvre, I was well primed for Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series, which might still be my favorite to date. Eleven-year-old Lyra's journey to the far North and her concurrent sexual, theological and political awakenings were the puberty experience I'd have killed for. Mediating wars of succession between armored polar bears and unwittingly undoing the evil work of one or other of her parents at any given point -- accompanied by Pantalaimon, her shape-shifting demon friend -- revealed a more complicated and contradictory world than my life at the time provided any evidence for.
Two decades later, I know quite a bit more about the world I was born into. I have certainly seen more of it than I had when I was a Dahl-obsessed seven-year old. But now that this pandemic means my freedom to move about in it is roughly the same as it was when then, I want to fill the limited space in which I spend my days with more magic.
The common thread between my favorite books as a child -- which, it goes without saying, are also some of the most widely loved books of all time -- was that apparently ordinary kids could prove themselves to be extraordinary, once their normal restrictions (and the restrictions of reality) were removed. In this strange time, as reality is bearing down with brutal force, I'd like to entertain the conceit that if I did go out into the world, what I'd find there would be extraordinary.