Re: Children's writers

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Posted by Guy C. on April 01, 2006 at 21:10:49 from user Astronomer_Guy.

In Reply to: Re: Children's writers posted by Ian E-N on April 01, 2006 at 19:58:18:

Yes, there are people in any group to whom you would want to say, "Get a life!" Even among AR readers. (It's always dangerous to be obsessed by anything; of course, fearing that danger can also be an obsession.) But to invert that and insist that adults who read "children's" books don't have a life is logically flawed, and misses many important points.

First, why do we read novels at all? The answer is different for each of us, and some of those answers are troubling -- regardless of the genre. But the best of any genre is far better than the average of any other genre. And I would enjoy the company of an adult Ransome (or Rawlings) fan much more than I would fit in with someone whose passion was Sidney Sheldon... or James Joyce, whose writings could be brilliant, but also full of self-important posturing and pretense (something that you don't find in Ransome).

I read Ransome as a child, and rediscovered him when I was doing graduate work at MIT. It was only when I was an adult that I could appreciate how well he wrote and how richly he could characterize both people and places. I was also surprised at recognizing how much of my adult life had been formed by the dreams he had inspired in me when I was a child.

But more than that, reading them as an adult has given me an entree into several worlds that would otherwise be unknown to me.

The first is the world of middle-class Britain of the 1930s. These books make that world come alive. The discussions we have had hear on Tarboard have helped to flesh out many details of that world. I thank you all.

Associated with that, by reading about Ransome's own life, I have come to understand and appreciate the small and sometimes "incestuous" world of 20th-century British letters. The description posted here recently how "Ransome met Nesbit in Chesterton's apartment" sort of says it all. It helps me appreciate how the thinkers who shaped English-language letters for most of history lived in a very small, closed world... Collingwood knew Ransome knew Chesterton knew Shaw knew Wells knew Eddison, who was at school with Ransome, who also knew Lenin and Trotsky and Sun Yat Sen; and so on. So different from today, where important writers in English can come from any continent, and know each other only through their writing.

The other is to re-introduce me to the world of childhood. I visited a friend the other day whose daughter is ten years old; and as we were discussing her favorite books it suddenly occurred to me that this "little kid" was supposedly Susan's age. Could I imagine her doing the things that Susan does in the Ransome books? Of course not. But -- here's the point -- when I was ten myself I could easily believe those things, and without a doubt the ten year old in front of me could also envision it -- recognizing it as a stretch, but possible. For a moment, I could remember what the world looked like through the eyes of a child, and see the child as a human being, not just a halfling.

To get to know other worlds; to understand the context in which the ideas that shape our world arose; to understand deeper the dreams that have shaped our own lives; and if nothing else, to recapture the innocent fun of being alive and dispel the easy cynicism that can poison our lives... what better reasons are there to spend a few hours with a good book?

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