Seeing this funny photo of Edward Gorey today brought back memories of my childhood bedtime story experience. Many writers cite bedtime stories as being a catalyst for their future interest in writing and storytelling. I definitely count myself as being one of those writers, but my bedtime story experience was probably a little different than the typical bedtime story ritual.
My dad preferred making up bedtimes stories to reading them from books. They were always interactive, and usually featured alter egos of me and my little sister as the protagonists of the tale. These alter egos, Malana and Schmemily, went on many adventures over the years. They took spaceships to the moon and hung out with aliens. They were trapeze artists in the circus, befriending elephants and tigers. They went on voyages around over the world, often coming up against antagonists who made their journey difficult.
My dad didn’t really believe in reading cutesy books written specifically for children, so when he did read us books, they were usually pretty off-beat. He preferred the darker Roald Dahl novels like The Witches and The Vicar of Nibbleswicke. His favorite books to read us, though, were written by Edward Gorey. Many a night I fell asleep to the rhymes of The Wuggly Ump:
“Sing twiddle-ear, sing twaddle-or,
The Wuggly Ump is at the door…
How uninviting are its claws!
How even more so are its jaws!
Sing glogalimp, sing glugalump,
From deep inside the Wuggly Ump.”
(© Edward Gorey)
After my father read us these disturbing stories, my mother followed his act with a guided relaxation exercise where we took deep breaths and imagined we were at the beach. I guess that was to calm us down and keep us from having nightmares from our bedtime stories. It’s funny now to look back at how different their approaches to bedtime rituals were. While it was fun to listen to my dad’s made-up stories and hear him recite from the dark rhymes of Edward Gorey, it was probably also good to take a relaxing trip to the beach before falling asleep.
What was your childhood bedtime story ritual?