Gifts of the Imagination from Three Late Bloomers

Gifts of the Imagination from Three Late Bloomers

posted in: Writers | 12

Do your kids adore Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty? Are you a fan of Twilight or True Blood?

Did you catch Ridley Scott’s Prometheus on the big screen? Or is Doctor Who more your style?

We can trace the roots of fantasy, horror, and science fiction to three writers who had one thing in common—all were creative late bloomers.

Charles Perrault, Bram Stoker, and Jules Verne started their careers in law or government. They went to the office, supported their families, and imagined curious worlds on the side.

Perrault published Tales from Mother Goose at age 69, Stoker published Dracula at 50, and Verne published Journey to the Center of the Earth at 36.

Although they got off to a slow start, they prove creativity has no “use by” date.

“Once Upon a Time…” ~Tales From Mother Goose

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in the shadow of his talented family.

His father was an attorney and his brother designed part of the Louvre Palace—but Charles Perrault couldn’t settle on a career. To make his father happy, he enrolled in law school, sat for the bar, but never practiced.

Perrault eventually landed a government job composing inscriptions for royal monuments. There, he used his power to oppose making the Tuileries Gardens a royal park. Because of him, the Gardens remain public to this day.

At age 67, Perrault retired and devoted himself to writing. Two years later, in 1697, he published Tales From Mother Goose.

CinderellaPerrault gave us the phrase “Once upon a time” and introduced the world to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and many more. He adapted these tales from oral tradition, stories told by the common folk.

And perhaps in gratitude for their park, the common folk made him a 70-year-old celebrity.

“We learn from failure, not from success!” ~Dracula

Like Perrault, Bram Stoker waffled through his 20s. He got a graduate degree in Math, worked as a government clerk, and penned theater reviews.

At age 29, Stoker wrote a gushing piece about Henry Irving, Victorian England’s greatest actor. Irving invited Stoker to dinner to thank him and asked Stoker to become his personal assistant. The job would last over two decades.

Lugosi as DraculaIrving, however, was a narcissist and nonstop drama queen. He wore a black cape, which he swirled for effect when he walked. He expected Stoker’s complete obedience. Stoker both worshiped and abhorred him.

In his 40s, Stoker began writing, perhaps to escape Irving’s influence. At age 43, he published a completely forgettable romance. But then he got an idea for another book, about a mesmerizing bloodsucker who wore a black cape.

Dracula was published in 1897, when Stoker was 50. When he asked Irving what he thought of the book, Irving replied, “Dreadful!” He refused to star in a theatrical adaptation and the two parted ways.

Stoker wrote prolifically for another 15 years. Dracula has never been out-of-print.

“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” ~Around the World in Eighty Days

Like Perrault, Jules Verne did a stint in law school to please his father, and like Stoker, he stumbled into theatre. Verne spent eight years writing forgettable comic operas.

But at age 29, h fell in love and decided to get a “real” job. His brother-in-law set him up as a stockbroker. Verne loathed it.

Although he gave up comic operas, he continued to write and experimented with different forms. He wrote to escape and he wrote of escape—fanciful journeys to worlds unknown.

Around the WorldAfter six years as a mediocre stockbroker, Verne published A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and From The Earth to the Moon. They weren’t immediate bestsellers, but Verne kept at it. Around The World In 80 Days and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea made him a household name.

Verne penned over 80 novels between age 36 and his death forty years later. National Geographic credits him with foreseeing newscasts, solar sails, lunar modules, video conferencing, and electric submarines.

*  *  *

I can’t wait for the next season of ABC’s fabulous series, Once Upon A Time, where an evil curse transports all our favorite storybook characters to the modern world. They’ve lost their memories and their magic. They struggle with day-to-day life, like we do.

Do you sometimes feel “it’s never too late” has become a cliche? That’ll you’ll never reach your dreams?

For one week, try this. Note the times you encounter a fairy tale, vampire, horror story, or science fiction reference on TV or the Internet.

Give a nod of thanks to Charles Perrault, Bram Stoker, and Jules Verne, late bloomers whose imaginations have so enriched our lives. Then take out a piece of paper and title it, “Once upon a time I dreamed…” and finish the phrase. Let your imagination fly free.

The world of the future needs your story, too.

What is your favorite fairy tale?


  • The opening image comes from the ground-breaking 1958 movie The Fabulous World of Jules Verne by Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman. The film evokes the original illustrations for Verne’s works by combining live actors with various forms of animation.
  • A version of this article first appeared in Jennings Wire: The World of Success.

12 Responses

  1. florence fois
    | Reply

    Debra, I’ve read and loved each of these authors and their works. In science fiction there has never been another to surpass Jules Verne. More than just an author, he was a true visionary, or perhaps the DaVinci of science fiction (since DaVinci had drawings of the escalator, the helicopter and many more.)

    In children’s books I often read Hans Christian Anderson and in fairy tales I think Walt Disney’s Cinderella since the real story had a very gory ending for the ugly stepsisters. I’d waltz around the house singing, “Some day my prince will come,” and my mother would complain. “Would you please set the table in case he wants supper when he gets here.”

    I always felt an affinity to the Oz stories and longed to be “somewhere over the rainbow.” How we dream of other worlds, of making three wishes, of finding true love at last … that is how we escape. How we put those dreams to work in the real world is how we write stories to help others escape 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      So true, Florence. Madeleine mentioned a Hans Christian Anderson tale, too. He was quite a master. I recently tried to read a Verne short tale in the original French (try being the operative noun here) and was surprised to find that he wasn’t actually a very good writer! Even with my imperfect grasp of French, I could see he was constantly switching verb tenses. So it was his vast imagination and some good editing that made his tales so memorable. Something to think about for those of us who write 🙂

  2. Madeleine Kolb
    | Reply

    Debra, I love fairy tales and read many of them to my children when they were growing up. My favorite is The Little Match Girl–such a sad but beautiful story.

    Great profiles of some wonderful writers. I particularly enjoyed reading how Bram Stoker came to write Dracula. Recasting Henry Irving as a vampire was brilliant and, of course, a huge success. Well done!

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, Madeleine. The Little Match Girl. I’d forgotten about that lovely tale, Madeleine. Bram Stoker is one of my personal favorites. I read an amazing biography that made the Irving connection. It made total sense. Although vampire stories existed before Dracula, Stoker was the first to give his vampire such a definitive personality.

  3. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    A wonderful article and very motivational. I love the story behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula My favourite fairy tale is Cinderella.

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, Darlene. I’d love to write more about this subject sometime. I’ve read there are over 300 versions of Cinderella across the globe!

  4. Lee J Tyler
    | Reply

    Charles Perrault is my new hero. I didn’t know it was he that made sure the Louvre gardens remained public. He gave to the common folk and they repaid them with their oral history. I wonder if he had heard someone utter he phrase, ‘Once upon a time…’ ? No, with his mind, it had to have been him, as creditted. What a wonderful article, as always, Debra. Thank you!

    • Debra Eve

      Actually, Lee, I think he did hear someone utter it, but he’s the one who gave it to us by writing it down. I think the phrase in French actually translates to “There was a time…” so perhaps some English translator came up with it. In any event, it still signals to us that we’re in for a fabulous tale!

  5. Karen McFarland
    | Reply

    Well Debra, after reading your post today, there’s hope for me yet! 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      Of course there is, Karen 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Chris Edgar
    | Reply

    Hi Debra — there does seem to be a pattern among the late bloomers described in this piece and elsewhere on your site — my sense is that they explored a number of different career possibilities until they finally became willing to admit what they actually wanted, as odd as it may have sounded to those around them or even to themselves. I feel like I am going through a similar process of becoming more and more willing to admit that I just want to write and record music, and allowing it to encompass more and more of my life.

    • Debra Eve

      I’m sure you’re absolutely right, Chris, and it’s definitely true for me. When younger, I hesitated to buck the system and people’s expectations of me. Now, like you, I can’t NOT do what I’m passionate about.

Leave a Reply