Here is a recent conversation we had with George H. Lewis and Arthur D. Lubow, co-creators of the children’s book The Boy and the Boy King (AUC Press, December 2020).
The book addresses friendship, hope, peace, tolerance, imagination, dreams…. How much do children need any of this, especially in today’s world?
Arthur: In our view, the shortage of friendship, hope, peace, and tolerance stems from a failure of imagination. In our book, two boys, the boy and the boy king, armed only with their unspoiled, innate sense of wonder, who come from different “time zones,” wage peace, not war. It is a celebration of childhood innocence and heart-sourced imagination, which leads to friendship and understanding, something the world needs more of right now.
George: The heart is a kind of mid-body divinity. If we are to evolve as a species, we must unleash it. If we as humans can learn to be children again, if we can learn to let our sense of creativity flow through our soul, then friendship, hope, peace, tolerance, and transformative dreams will follow and our humanity will evolve. We’re naturally wired to imagine. This is our software. It’s the unspoiled heavenly code that reconnects us with the stars, shows us the source of our beginnings and guides us to where we must go.
Why is it so important for children like Arthur and the Boy King to unleash their imagination?
Arthur: Why do Arthur and Tut both end up embracing an imaginary friend? On the most basic level, it’s because we all need imagination. And we all need friends. We run the danger these days of imposing a dull, insipid, and banal world upon our children. As the title of the art exhibition associated with our book implies “May We All Grow Up to Be Children.”
George: A child’s imagination is the source from which the unfiltered, better part of our humanity flows. I saw this when I watched my son at play when he was very young. It was divine—quite literally. Imagination, when natural and uncorrupted by material needs, is a candlelight to consciousness. It is the cosmic force that connects our minds to our hearts. Did you know that there are brain-like neurons within our hearts? The heart knows what it wants. After all, it’s not our brains that fall in love. It’s our souls. Our hearts have a mind of their own.
The story focuses on a boy and his imaginary friendship with his stuffed rabbit and with a boy king, the young pharaoh Tutankhamun. How do little girls reading this book feel included?
Arthur: Yes, “boys and boy kings will be boys.” We’re guilty of writing that line, albeit with a sense of comic irony. We do understand that on the surface, our book may seem to be about the majesty of boyhood. But it’s really about the more expansive splendor of childhood at large. As a matter of fact, the sequel we’ve been planning is about a little girl who walks through a mountaintop cloud into a timeless mountain of ancient Buddhist temples, where she meets another young girl of great spiritual gifts. In learning, both girls end up teaching and going beyond conventional spiritual mindsets to challenge the conventional order. And by the way, The Boy and Boy King is dedicated to two little girls, Ellie and Charlotte, “who know more than any adult could ever imagine.”
George: Yes, an artist paints and writes about both earthly daily experience and otherworldly mystical encounters, too. We happened to be born male. And, yes, in this first collaboration, we’ve written about our own experiences, how we felt in school, how we loved playing with friends, making up adventures, sailing or shooting arrows and so on. But, yes, our next book is going to transcend that, tapping into the spiritual journey of two girls who shake up the old order. We hope that will resonate with everyone, beyond the confining bounds of what concerns us as men or women or boys or girls. We want to explore what matters to us as humans.
“Imagination rules . . . The magic of today is the science of tomorrow. . . Let’s look for the source of energy and creation.” These are some of the things Bun-Bun tells Arthur? Were you inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic children’s book The Little Prince? Is Bun-Bun a little like the fox giving advice to the little prince?
Arthur: Yes. And yes. George and I independently loved the idea of a child guided both by the cosmic pull of the stars and the love and admiration of a friend.
George: Yes, Le Petit Prince was a seminal, magical, classic work, and an inspiration. But Arthur and I have tried passionately to show that we humans all are born of star shine, stardust that has been evolving for so long that it can now wonder where it came from. We wanted our story to go beyond petty worries; we wanted to show the freedom we can all experience by connecting our hearts and our minds to the vibrations and the music of the universe.
Why did you want to write this book?
Arthur: We wanted to remind parents to guard their child’s imagination with all their hearts. There were teachers in both our childhoods who did their best to beat every ounce of creativity out of us. Imagination and creativity are a form of intelligence that often go unmeasured, unappreciated, and unused. This is not a good idea in a civilization where most all health and wealth stem from creativity.
George: We wanted this book to reconnect us to our own hearts and souls. Only then are we free to create, evolve and, well, survive as a species.
The illustrations are soft, rendered in gentle tones, the mood almost dreamy, magical, fairy-like. Was this to convey the purity and wonder that exists in the realm of a child’s world of imagination?
George: What a nice compliment that you should say that. If I’ve succeeded in showing what childlike innocence and imagination look like from the inside out, I’ve done what I set out to do. And it’s wonderful to think that the interplay between the prose-poetry of the book and the lyrical brushstrokes of the illustrations are a metaphor for the book’s central theme: the convergence of mind and heart.
Arthur: I take great pleasure in showing the book for the first time. Because when I look into the viewers faces, I see that same dreamy, jaw-dropped, misty-eyed aura that you see in these wonderful illustrations. If this book evokes that reaction—in different cultures around the world—well, maybe more folks will find and advocate for friendship and peace.
Through Bun-Bun, you describe the desert as a space that remembers and imagines and point out that all humans are connected in the cosmos but that they don’t learn from their past but instead continue to wage wars. How much of these deeper messages, woven into the story, do you think children will pick up?
Arthur: All of it. Not necessarily all at once. But we hope that readers of all ages will come back to the book again and again and find new things. Even we, as authors, are doing that. We’ve always said: never underestimate the intelligence of children. If their lovely and timeless innocence is set free and allowed to blossom, children will teach us all more than we can ever imagine. Yes, there’s the old adage that “to teach is to learn.” But it’s also true that to learn is to teach. Watch. And learn.
Why, in one of the illustrations, is Arthur reading the magazine Psychiatry Today, with on the cover the heading ‘How to get rid of your child’s imaginary friends’?
Arthur: This is the “frightful pamphlet” that Ms. Severe—Arthur’s more difficult, less imaginative teacher—gave him to read, in hopes that he would drop Bun-Bun. Miss Gutkind, the kinder teacher, in contrast gave Arthur and Bun-Bun a volume called The Book of Magical Friends. It serves as an inspiration for their adventures to come.
George: Bun-Bun is not a fan of most psychiatrists because they are examiners of the mind more than the heart. In their professional opinion, Bun-Bun—who is all heart and imagination—doesn’t exist! The study of the mind is a noble endeavor, but it can’t exist properly if the heart’s intelligence isn’t part of the analysis. All we wanted to do was to connect hearts and minds to the source—the rapid waterways of spirit that come from imagination and the very act of creation. Creativity itself loves love. And love creates creativity.