But every now and then something comes up and I think, yeah, I should say something about that... if not for the sake of people who may, or may not, still be interested in dropping by here, then for myself to smile and nod at in future years. And so... The Witch's Catalog.
When I was a kid our school, probably like virtually every other elementary school in North America, used to hand out these monthly folded brochures of books on offer from Scholastic. Remember those? It amazes and delights me now to think back to how that used to light up the classroom. Kids would pore over them excitedly and circle the ones they wanted to read and own; compare notes, and prepare their pitch for when they got home to the parental money press. A month later, a big box would show up with the manifest, and books were handed out by the handful. Not library books, but possessions! You got to keep these. These went into your own personal library. They become totems that were carried around, became well-worn and ripped and stained, and if they were loved long and hard enough, maybe even fell apart.
I wonder if kids still get as keyed up about books these days. I sure hope so.
Naturally I long ago lost, traded, or just plain threw out the books I got that way. As I drifted into middle age, and the internet gave us eBay, I often thought back to the books I'd particularly loved and started looking for them, and getting them back here and there. One that has a special place for me is The Witch's Catalog by Norman Bridwell (probably best known for Clifford the Big Red Dog). It's out there, but it's so rare and expensive I just balk at pressing the button. But someone scanned the pages and put them online, and snagging those was free.
The book came out about the time I was eight, so I would have been in grade two or three at the time. The book purported to be a catalog of magical objects kids could order with the form at the back. I got the book at that strange juncture in everyone's life when imagination and utter credulity are being scoured away by reality... but not quite completely yet. I was still most of a year away from having the guts to ask my mom point-blank if Santa wasn't real. It was also an age of fantastic scientific wonders, and when you're new to the world, it's hard to say for sure what's possible and what isn't (I'm still often amazed... "3D printing"?!). What I remember about the book was thinking, initially, that it was full of neat ideas, but that magic wasn't real.
...Or was it?
The thing that really fascinates me now is that over repeated readings, I actually got myself to the point that I was ready to believe. I was on the verge of accepting that this just might be possible. It didn't help that in the mid-70s, TV was full of shows about scientific gadgets that gave their owners incredible abilities, and it all seemed just around the corner. Things like invisibility cloaks and teleportation and weather control and time travel were the weekly fare of shows like The Six Million Dollar Man. So... why not magic?
I was right on the verge of ordering a handful of items and I read the order chart that instructed you to rub the thing in bat fat and stick it in a tree. I stewed on that for a while and somehow decided that no, the world really didn't work that way, and the book probably wasn't genuine after all. I have the impression I kept trying to find the right thread to pull to realize it all, but it was really a slow climb down to reality over the next several days. But I'll never forget my brush with magic. The last moment I might have believed.
One day, I'd like to find a copy of it, reasonably-priced. I don't care if it's beaten up. I just want to hold it, leaf through it again, and smile at what once seemed so plausible. But until then, let me present some of the leaves from the book, for your perusal.
P.S. The one I really wanted to get was the inexhaustible pop tap. :)