Thursday, August 29, 2013

We Are All Impressionable Youth

Mother Goose was probably the first author who really moved me. Her themes of adventure, naughtiness, suffering, and redemption resonate through much of contemporary literature, and I believe her influence is all too unsung. Feels good to be able to give her a plug here.

My mother read me those. I also remember sitting on my father's knee listening to Kipling's 'The Elephant's Child' and my dad's own made-up stories of Sinbad the Sailor, which always seemed to involve a little girl who lost her dolly and cried in a bitter baby voice, then found her dolly in the end with the help of Sinbad. That doll showed up in the little girl's own back alley so often I can't tell you.

When I was in the first grade, my mother, age 40, decided to get a college degree and become a teacher. She enrolled in Eastern Michigan University and studied English literature and composition, and that was one of the signal events in my life. Suddenly, at the very time I was learning to read, new and amazing books rushed into the house. One was a gigantic anthology of children's literature that pinned my thighs to the couch like a sack of concrete as it took me to marvelous territories. I shuddered at the Norse myth of the brave Balder and the horrible Loki,

who fashioned his arrow from the Kryptonitic holly, the only plant that failed to take the oath of benignity at Balder's birth. My heart was stirred by the cheerful inventiveness of the Borrowers, and by the delicious vengefulness of Hansel and Gretel.

Man, I thought, if only I had the guts to shove Mrs. [neighbor's name redacted] into her own red-hot oven! I read of the selflessness of the kids who wanted the Wheel on the School so the lucky stork could nest there, and realized with an unpleasant feeling that if I were one of those kids, I probably wouldn't care all that much about the damn wheel, frankly.

The act of reading, much moreso than going to catechism or enduring a scolding, was the thing that first got me to consciously examine my own moral code. I looked within myself and what did I find? Quite a selfish little girl! In the hard years since, I've achieved spotty success at rationalizing and camouflaging—and at times even overcoming!—that self-interest. I keep reading in order to gain greater expertise.
My mother did in fact graduate from college, then taught high school English for ten years. Books flowed through our house. I remember the books I read way too early (Deliverance stands out), and the books I should have read at a youngish age but didn't bother to (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, one). From that, I guess I learned that a sensational story beats a sensitive one almost every time. Think back to Loki.

Life isn't fair, books teach us. But what a gift it is, they also teach us! Thanks, Mom and Dad, for having unprotected sex on New Year's Eve of 19-cough-cough!

Which stories inspired the little you? Which stories do you wish you had read at a younger age?

To post your ideas / comments, all of which I read and try to respond to, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

If you'd like to receive this blog automatically as an email, look to the right, above my bio, and subscribe there. Thanks for looking in.

[Image note: A rendering of Loki, harvested from Wikipedia Commons.]


  1. I love fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I've noticed that the "younger" Moms of today read fairy tales less and less to their children. They have this crazy idea that they are too scary for their little babies. Fairy tales don't teach our children about monsters, children already know about monsters even without fairy tales. Monsters are under the bed and in the closet no matter what, right? One of my very best friends teaches writing at University and I love how she tells everyone that Fairy Tales teach our children how to BEAT the monsters. It's so true and I think people forget this.

    Long live fairy tales!

    1. You're so right, Silver Fox! I hadn't thought about it quite like that before--that kids DO know monsters (along with the generic 'Bad Man') without any instruction at all. And of course, at the deepest level of myth and the human psyche, we know that one's monsters are part of oneself.

  2. I loved fairy tales and mythology as a kid. Everywhere I went, I had my nose in a book, even while walking around. It's a miracle I didn't I didn't run into more walls or get run down in traffic. But somehow, my inner navigation system kept me alive. I read everything as a kid. The Odyssey and The Iliad were just two more wonderful fairy tales to me.

    What I really wish is that I read more now, as an adult. I don't prioritize it now as I used to, when it used to be my life's blood. Sad, I know. But in my power to change.

    As an aside: my mother, too, got her teaching credential later in life. She taught fourth grade for years after that. I can't even remember a time in my life when I couldn't read, and I credit my mother for that. She read to us all the time as kids, she took us to the library regularly, and she would always match whatever of our own money we wanted to spend on books from the Scholastic Book Club at school. I can still remember the thrill I felt every time my box of books arrived. It was sweeter to me than ice cream.

    1. Susan, how neat that we share so much background. Wish I did more reading, too. Going to the library was a special treat for us kids too! And having your own books, especially into 3rd, 4th, 5th grades was the most wonderful thing...

  3. I LOVED the Borrowers too! I think it was about being creative and making do with what was available, and the smallness of everything was of course appealing to me as a child. And as for reading above my years, when I was about 15 I read Gone with the Wind and saw the movie and I couldn't sleep for many nights. It was very disturbing.
    Fairy tales and legends are, I believe, about horror, only much better than those Friday the 13th movies.

    1. That is interesting about GWTW being disturbing, Jean; I can see how that could happen to an impressionable young girl. I remember getting upset reading things in the newspaper when I was a young child. (Olden days when every house got a paper and nobody censored them for children...)


Tell us your thoughts! You know you want to.