Adam Fisher: The mea-culpa merchant of monstrous stories

Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — When I was a kid, my single-mom mother would read me stories. There was no television and there was no Internet. There were tales to be heard on the radio, but somehow that was never the same as when I snuggled up next to her on the couch as she turned the pages and transported me to strange and imaginative places. I suppose I was 6 or 7 or 8.

As far as I could figure out, there were no boundaries to what she picked out for an evening’s pre-bedtime adventure. She read me the uncensored version of “Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” There was “The Wind in the Willows” and “Stuart Little” and the action-packed tales from Robert Louis Stevenson.

There were Rudyard Kipling and E.E. cummings. She also read me “Frankenstein” and I learned that it was not the “monster” that petrified movie-goers; rather, it was the doctor who created him.

On occasional visits to my father’s house, he too might read to me. His made-up stories of “Googlamont and the White Knight” were always my favorites. I suspect he robbed Greek and Roman mythology as he stitched together tales of derring-do.

Googlamont and the White Knight were good guys who thwarted evil and Googlamont himself had a magical ring that allowed him, in a dangerous pinch, to say “Whisk! Whisk! Whisk!” and then disappear.

How kool [sic] was that?! It took some years to realize I too could make up stories and from time to time I would give it a whirl. Stories allowed you to go anywhere, imagine anything. A storyteller is the god of his universe and, in one way or another, who doesn’t want to be god?

Twenty-five years after my early adventures in listening to stories, I was painting lockers at a school in New York. People passed to and fro in the hallways where I worked, but mostly, like a lot of break-a-sweat-workers, I was invisible.

Or at least I thought I was invisible. One day, I sensed that someone was staring at me. I turned around and there, thumb planted firmly in her mouth, stood a little girl of 5 or 6. Something about me seemed to mesmerize her and the only thing I could think of was my paint-spattered clothing. How could anyone be that messy and get away with it?

Finally, to break the ice, I said, “I hope you’ll be careful sucking your thumb.” She took her thumb out long enough to ask, “Why?”

“Because,” I replied, “I wouldn’t want you to swallow it.”

“C’mon!” she said, not wishing to be considered a dummy.

“Well.” I said, warming to my fairy tale, “there have been kids who swallowed their thumbs.”

“C’mon!” she said again, but I could tell she was feeling a little less certain. Adults wield the power and confect the truth in life — any kid knows that.

“You know what happens if someone swallows their thumb,” I said, laying my paint brush aside for a moment. “If you swallow your thumb you might accidentally swallow your hand. And if you swallow your hand, you might swallow your arm. And if you swallow your arm, you might just end up swallowing your whole body. How could your parents find you if you did that?”

Her face took on the look of anyone who was seriously considering the implications and possibilities laid before them. She wasn’t frightened, but this was serious.

After a couple of minutes, I realized I had to get back to work, so I gently led her away from the land of the ouroboros, the ancient mythological snake that eats its own tail.

We parted, I think, as chums.

Later, it occurred to me that the tale might be a story worth writing. So I wrote it and dutifully sent it out to possible publishers, most of whom sent the one- or two-line rejection notes that writers got used to in that time. But one day, a plump business-sized envelope arrived. Inside was a three-page, single-spaced, typewritten rejection of what I had thought was a whimsical tale of a disappearing child whose parents had to jump through hoops in order to get her back.

The letter was full of outrage. It positively shrieked at me. How could I possibly imagine this was suitable fare for a child? The object of children’s stories was not to wound children; it was to reassure them that the universe was a friendly place.

The letter went on and on with this oh-so-sensitive outlook from a political-correcticrat [sic]. It was a torrent of psychobabble and yet too a warning to any like me who might tell a tale in a universe where they were god: Don’t create a heaven if you are unwilling to shoulder the responsibility for hell.

That said, is there anything more exciting than a tall tale?

Whisk! Whisk! Whisk!

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at


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