There’s something special about rediscovering a forgotten piece of childhood. Stumbling across a box of old toys or seeing a familiar book title in a second-hand store is often the start of a magical journey of memories and emotions.
But what is it that about stepping back into the past that we love so much?
The joys of childhood books
When I was a child I devoured books the way competitive eaters will go at a plate of food. I would borrow as many as I could from school and then borrow more from the public library. I would read at breakfast, in class (when I could get away with it) and even had a special system (for books so good I couldn’t bear to put them down) so I could read in the shower without ruining the pages. Nancy Drew, The Famous Five, Teen Power Inc, Storm Boy, The Swiss Family Robinson; I would read whatever I could get my hands on.
This was before the days when every literary success was immediately adapted for the silver screen. There was something very special about being about to imagine the story for myself. I miss the time when I could perfectly picture in my head each Pevensie sibling as they made their way through Narnia. In fact I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive Andrew Adamson for making golden haired Lucy a brunette in his 2005 version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and forevermore replacing my version of Lucy with his own.
But childhood books still hold a rare kind of magic for me. I have never once been disappointed rereading an old favourite. While the delight of first discovery can never be exactly the same, I still enjoy reading them just as much as I did when I was young.
When I was in seventh grade there was an old book I would check out of the library at least once a month. While my recollections of the plot are a little fuzzy, it remains in my memory the perfect combination of idyllic country childhood, boarding school mishaps, island adventures and wartime mystery. Despite my best efforts, I’ve never been able to remember or work out what book it was. While I have to be satisfied for now with remembering it fondly, I’ve never been able to truly resign myself to the fact that I’ll likely never read it again.
A picture in time
I have a friend who buried a time capsule in his backyard as a youth. When the appropriate amount of time had passed, the spot was dug up and not a thing was to be found.
He now holds an annual holiday hunt for the capsule. The search methods get more elaborate as the years go by, but not one scrap of teenage 90’s memorabilia has ever been seen. I’m not sure even he can remember what was put inside, but the possibilities for a peek back in time are (for him at least) worth the effort.
When I think back to what I might have put in a time capsule, I picture classic toys like my Polly Pocket and Tamagotchi. Or perhaps a Kinder Surprise toy, or those glow in the dark stars that every 90’s kid had stuck to their ceiling. These simple things have ended up as defining markers of thousands of children’s childhoods.
The Disney vault
And who doesn’t remember sleepovers spent in front of cumbersome TV sets watching The Lion King or The Little Mermaid? Disney’s enduring popularity is a great example of a brand building an empire from childhood dreams and the magic of early animation.
Adults who grew up watching the classics on VHS are now the company’s biggest brand ambassadors. Not only can they pass the magic of Disney on to their own children, but Disney continues to reward their older fans with faithful live action remakes and new original stories.
More nostalgia please
Why is it though that looking back to the past feels so good?
Maybe it’s because our nostalgia brings us together. As we compare old memories we find shared experiences and commonalities that might not otherwise be obvious.
Perhaps it’s because it takes us back to a better time. Our rose tinted glasses come out as we reminisce. We yearn for simpler times when we had fewer responsibilities and a more childlike view of the world and our future.
Often though it’s simply that it makes us feel. We hear a song from high school and feel the exhilaration of being 16 and on top of the world again. We see a sweater on a movie character and remember how cool we felt when we wore that.
Keep looking back
Whatever it is that keeps us coming back for more, It’s not a bad thing. Research has found that nostalgia acts almost like protective boost. When we experience meaninglessness or loneliness, nostalgia jumps in to compensate. Our past experiences of the things we are currently lacking are magnified.
So if you end up spending all day curled up with a childhood book, or playing Super Mario on your Nintendo 64, don’t feel like it was a waste. Take your time and enjoy the blast from the past.
Anna hails from Australia but lives and works in South East Asia. She enjoys travel, good coffee and getting to hang out with awesome people from around the world.