In the past year I’ve gone back and read some older children’s books, and I’ve been struck by how strange they now seem. The magic that made them classics still absolutely remains, but it’s striking how much sensibilities have changed.
If you read a thriller published in the ’60s or most literary fiction published in the twentieth century, there are certainly elements that may seem dated, but it does not usually feel like a wholly different experience than reading something written today.
And yet I was struck by the very adult perspective in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the way A Wrinkle in Time starts slowly before veering into what I now think is a bit of a scattered plot by today’s standards.
A few months back in The Atlantic, there was an interesting discussion about adults who re-read The Giver, not even a book that was written that long ago.
Is this just a matter of returning to books with adult perspectives, irreversibly influenced as we are by our experience and the way our outlook has changed? Is it a reflection of the maturation of a genre that is still relatively new compared to most adult genres? Is it the movie-influenced impeccable pacing that has come to dominate modern fiction?
Have you revisited a book you loved as a child and experienced it differently? What do you make of it?
I've been delighted to find as I grow older that the books I read as a child have more to say to me now than they did then. Or perhaps I just still enjoy a good story for story's sake. C.S. Lewis wrote an essay "On Juvenile Tastes," arguing that treating certain stories as "children's" stories and others as "adult's" is harmful or useless: "Fashions in literary taste come and go among the adults, and every period has its own shibboleths. These, when good, do not improve the taste of children, and, when bad, do not corrupt it; for children read only to enjoy. Of course their limited vocabulary and general ignorance makes some books unintelligible to them. But apart from that, juvenile taste is simply human taste, going on from age to age, silly with a universal silliness or wise with a universal wisdom, regardless of modes, movements, and literary revolutions."
Kentish Janner says
Enid Blyton books can make for some slightly uncomfortable reading these days, with their just-dancing-on-the-line colonial racism and 'fifties sexism and class snobbery. If you can ignore all of that though, the actual stories are still pretty good.
I remember loving Little Women as a child, but reading it back now it seems quite saccharine and a bit preachy. I still LOVE Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass though. And it's only since re-reading The Rose and the Ring that I realised how many subtleties I missed as a child.