Tuesday 7 April 2009
Still trying fruitlessly to catch up on the kiddy lit
A friend of mine recently lent me Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH because it's her favourite childhood book and she felt I'd been unduly deprived in not having read it before. Indeed, when I returned it to her, a bunch of other people were around and all responded with shock, horror, and perhaps a little disgust when they learned that I'd just read it for the first time.
I really enjoyed this book and know that it would have been an obsessive re-read if I'd discovered it 25 years ago. Now, though, I can't help but question the ideology of it - and if you think children's lit isn't replete with difficult and complex ideologies, you haven't been paying attention.
I mean that most respectfully; I didn't think of kids' books this way either until a friend started talking to me about the work she was doing on Philip Pullman...and now I can't escape it. Nor do I want to escape it, because I like the notion that children's authors imagine sprogs to be invested with the ability to think about what they read.
That said, the issues I have with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH wouldn't have occurred to me back in the day. The rats of NIMH are a group of lab rats who've escaped and are trying to create their own civilization and stay out of sight of the Man. These particular rats, having been experimented on at the National Institute of Mental Health, are the results of tests designed to make them smarter - and it's worked so well that they've escaped, can use tools, can read, and are learning how to farm so they can be self-sustaining.
That's cool. What isn't cool is how benign O'Brien makes the lives of lab rats seem. While this book's idea was apparently based on experiments that were really happening at the real NIMH back in the 70s, the majority of lab animals are tortured and then killed for things as stupid as make-up and, I would think, already well figured out as cleaning products. What bothers me is how O'Brien acknowledges that being a lab rat isn't cool (because being in a cage sucks no matter what) but whitewashes just how uncool it generally is by having these rats actually benefit from what's happened to them.
I think it's better that I don't have kids. They wouldn't be able to just enjoy stories because I'd be analyzing everything for them and telling them what the authors were conveniently neglecting and where their logic was faulty.
Anyway, I still liked the book. It was a good story, and a pretty original one, I think.
In unrelated news...
So, I've begun posting my French literature list - you can check it out in the right-hand column near the bottom of the main page. I'll link to my posts on each book as I write them. Having just read Marie de France's Lais in January, I'm not going to re-read it now.
I am, however, going to re-read The Book of the City of Ladies and The Romance of the Rose because it's been about 10 years since I had the pleasure of immersing myself in them. I love me my medieval lit so that will not be onerous. Also, I just recently found the sequel to The Book of the City of Ladies that I didn't know existed so I need a refresher.
Also in unrelated news, I'm going to Halifax in early May to see my family. What this means is that I'll be visiting all my favourite bookstores there: Back Pages, J.W. Doull's, and The Last Word. In the past 5 years or so, every time I've gone to Back Pages, they've had the same copy of Gargantua and Pantagruel in the same spot. Each time, I've considered buying it and each time I've refrained, deciding I didn't have time for it. Well, now I have time for it AND it's on my French reading list! If it's not there, I'll shake my fist at the heavens in rage at the horrible irony of it all.