Book Review: Peculiar Stories

Peculiar Stories, Mora Fields
O Street Publishing, 2010, ISBN 978-0-9791416-1-4. (92 pages), Ages 6-10 and up.

Mora Fields Mora Fields has been an inquirer her entire life, although she didn’t always realize it, and translated her early wonderings about the nature of life into these stories of inquiry for children. She has long been a reader and admirer of the English philosopher/sage Douglas Harding. She co-authored a previous book called Aspects of the One: the 99 Names of God.

Unless your 6 to 10-year-old child happens to be called Shankara, it is unlikely that he will be interested in learning about Nonduality. It also seems that one does not usually become a seeker until one has become disillusioned with life, so a serious book on the subject is unlikely to be applicable to this age group! However, most children enjoy a good story – especially one that excites the imagination, forcing them to think in a new direction. If the direction in which you would like to point them involves the serious matters of life, i.e. those addressed by advaita, then this is an excellent book to begin with.

That is not to say that this book is serious! It isn’t. It is light, amusing and unputdownable. It catches superbly the attitude of mind and mode of speech of a nine-year-old girl (or at least how I think one would behave!) Provocative questions are raised, flirted with by the active mind of a child and pointed towards an answer by the eccentric but clearly truth-oriented Uncle E (who must bear more than a passing resemblance to an imagined young Douglas Harding).

The book is written in the first person by the girl who wants to tell us some stories about her life, family, friends and neighbors, pets and school but most particularly about her peculiar Uncle E. We know that uncle E, although seeming to be weird, is actually quite perceptive. It is just that he is not taken in by the habitual way in which we reach judgments about the worth of things without having really looked into them. On the very first page, he points out that “kids are smart when they’re little and they get dumber as they grow up”. We also quickly come to appreciate that the child-author of these stories is one of the more astute ones.

The stories are not overtly about Nonduality but rather about not taking the world for granted, and instead questioning what we see and what adults tell us about what we see. Thus, for example, the relativity of movement is dealt with in the first story. And the question as to how we feel about ourselves in relation to our appearance is addressed in another story. Another guides the reader into a practical exercise for freeing the mind from thoughts.

There is a danger in writing a book of this sort that one would be tempted to go a bit too far. In one story, Uncle E cuts the child’s hair asymmetrically. After the initial adverse reaction, she finds increased confidence and eventually concludes “But what I am wondering is this: If my old self was one way, and my new self is another way, what is my real self like?” And, if I had been writing the book, I would have been tempted to go on to investigate this further. But I can see that, for the intended reader, this is the right place to stop. Just enough to allow the thought to appear and grow rather than providing some pre-digested answer which might smother the idea in its cot, so to speak.

So, if you yourself are interested in non-duality, and you have a child of around this sort of age (not too critical – I enjoyed it so an older child should, too, as long as you are not patronizing about it), then slip this book into their next Christmas box. They should certainly enjoy it and it just might start them thinking about life, the universe and everything. Just make sure you are ready with some answers when they start asking some tricky questions; most children do not have an Uncle E to do this for you!

For its presumed intended purpose, namely entertaining and at the same time subtly provoking a child into thinking about those things that really matter in life, I happily award this book 5*.

Buy from Amazon US ($4.95)

I haven’t included the UK link because, clearly out of print, some unscrupulous sellers are charging a silly price.