Dec 2, 2020–Using the time I’ve freed up from not obsessing over social media, I’ve been reading “classics” I missed before. Here’s my first question: What in tarnation is the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe about? Kids in closets, ice lady, lion statues, talking beavers? Either it’s a tedious kid story or an obtuse religious allegory. Symbolism eludes me.
I also tried reading the original Oz stories. L. Frank just seemed to make up characters and situations at random in order to get his heroes out of fixes. Whoever made the classic Wizard of Oz movie did him a real service by giving his stories a beginning, middle, and end.
I’d never read Hemingway, so I tried Old Man and the Sea. I’ll quote Homer (as in Simpson): It’s just a bunch of things that happened.
James and the Giant Peach was another one I didn’t get. I am perplexed by these political and religious tales disguised as children’s stories. Jonathan Swift created kingdoms of giants and Lilliputians. I read that at a relatively young age and while I enjoyed the adventures, I didn’t get the politics. Understandable, since they pertained to early 1700-era politics in Ireland.
Alice in Wonderland is another children’s classic not meant for any normal child. Falling down a rabbit hole to start strains credibility. Then she eats and drinks unknown substances to get BIG and SMALL. The creatures she encounters come straight from an opium den nightmare.
Winnie the Pooh is a series of stories I never enjoyed reading. It contains the most uninteresting collection of characters moping around in an unremarkable field where absolutely nothing happens. Maybe Pooh finds a jar of honey. That’s it. That’s the story.
I also recently completed my annual turn as Herr Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. I’ve played that role for 20 years and I still don’t understand my motivation. A caped, one-eyed “uncle” who descends on relatives on Christmas eve to turn mice into soldiers? And what kid gets excited over getting a nutcracker on Christmas?
I’ve shared my incredulity upon watching the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Today that story would have the authorities called out for child endangerment, kidnapping, labor law violations, and to check the immigration status of those oompa loompas.
It’s as if these authors wanted to make some universal statement but tried to hide it inside a children’s story. The best children’s stories are the ones where normal things happen to normal people, and they use their natural ability to handle whatever happens.
Beverly Cleary was the first author that wrote like I thought as a pre-teen. Her Ramona Geraldine Quimby was a real girl who talked like real kids talked and got into real situations.
Sure they stretched believability. How many of us stumble across mysteries and international spy rings every week in our back yards? But the brothers acted exactly like all of us believed we would have acted under the same circumstances.
Reading Arthur Conan Doyle at a relatively young age was a real struggle at first, with unfamiliar psychological terms and the strange syntax of British English. But he has provided a lifetime of entertainment. You know a mystery author is talented when you can read him over and over even when you know the solution.
All Creatures Great and Small
This is my most guilty pleasure. Since discovering James Herriot when I was teaching 5th and 6th graders, I have read every single thing the British vet has written, plus every book written about him and the series, including cheap paperbacks ghost-written by the TV actors who portrayed him, along with guidebooks of Yorkshire. I am so obsessed that when I meet someone from that area of England I insist they tell me all they know of the area, its people, and the town itself where the author lived.
Part of my admiration for Herriot might be that he didn’t achieve literary success until well past mid-life, giving hope to all of us writers who have yet to be well-known enough to have people disparage our work.