Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Salon: Second to the Right and Straight on 'til Morning

It was a rumor that I enjoyed, but never one that I thought would actually come true. There was no way it would actually happen. No way way it was true. NO WAY.

And then, it did happen. It WAS true.

On Friday night, a 100 foot tall Voldemort was taken down by a team of Mary Poppins. And it wasn't just Voldemort. Cruella de Vil, Captain Hook, the Queen of Hearts, and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Not only did the Olympics celebrate Children's Literature, it celebrated its villains and nightmares.

It's an interesting juxtaposition to the common cries of "WAH! YA lit is too dark!"

The Opening ceremonies embraced that darkness and celebrated it, and for an even younger audience.

I immediately thought of an article I read many years ago, many years before I worked in children's literature. In her December, 2000 Salon piece "Oz vs. Narnia," Laura Miller compares the two beloved classics, with Narnia being the clear winner. And one of the reasons it is the clear winner is because of the darkness. At the time, I thought the comparison didn't work-- one was written for Victorian children on the plains, one was written for British children who just survived the Blitz, of course Narnia is darker. But, I now know differently. I know the debate. I know the literature and this argument still resonates, 12 years later:

[Oz scholar] Hearn complains that American librarians have unjustly labeled Baum’s Oz books as “poorly written”; the librarians, however, are right. He attributes their preference for British fantasy to “Anglocentric” “reverse snobbism,” but the truth is that in Britain real writers like Lewis (and J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman today) write children’s fantasy, and they take their readers seriously, as people facing a difficult and often confusing world.
Just as the British think that children are important enough to merit the work of their best writers, British children’s writers think children are important enough to be treated as moral beings. That means that sometimes things get scary.
Baum, like many Americans today, saw children differently, as pure innocents who need to be shielded for as long as possible from the challenges of life.

And this debate still rages. Children and teens much be protected from nightmares, and reality. librarian Josh Westbrook says, "Kids are living stories every day that we wouldn't let them read."

But on Friday night, on a global stage, some of literature's most memorable and terrifying villans came out to play. We didn't frolic with puppies, Peter Pan, Alice, a flying car, or even Harry. We didn't immerse ourselves in Neverland, Wonderland, or Hogwarts. No, we recognized and reveled in their enemies. We recognized the nightmares they've given us. But, instead of ignoring they exist, instead of covering our eyes and turning away, Danny Boyle and the London Olympics paraded them out for us all to see. They were celebrated.

In the US, we gnash our teeth and wail and moan about books that portray the darker, harsher sides of our world. In the UK, they take center stage when the entire world is watching.

The prominence they were given, and the seriousness with which they were treated, surprised and delighted me even more than the Queen parachuting in with James Bond or the obligatory singing of "Hey Jude."

And, in the end, I'm still smiling with glee over the fact that the rumor of a Voldemort/Mary Poppins smackdown in the middle of the Opening Ceremonies actually happened, and was completely awesome.

1 comment:

DougWheeler said...

I totally agree. While it is fun to be silly and give to nonsense, children are also real people. Is the Bellybutton Song silly or serious? Fun to sing and do the motions to but why do I have this hole here in my stomach? This is one of the reasons you and your sister were exposed to and given music that took childhood seriously; not much Strawberry Shortcake there. You had folk and other music that spoke to real issues and real joys. You can probably name more than I and I don’t want to get too personal on your blog. And… to quote your mother, ‘This is why we sang ‘This is the day we give babies away…’ to them!’