Thursday, January 12, 2006

Childhood's End?

So aren't this and this really two sides of the same coin? One diagnosing a problem to which the other contributes?

Judith Warner joins the rising chorus -- and I've joined in that chorus myself -- who decry the speed with which childhood is dispensed. The close cousin is the argument that children are no longer able to gather outside and develop their own fun -- spontaneous games of baseball or kick-the-can or whatever -- without adult intrusion and organization. I've been part of that chorus as well.

But isn't an attitude like Morford's also part of that problem? If children need the ability to have a childhood, then does it help that someone like Morford is essentially arguing that if children's books also don't entertain him as an adult, then they "suck." (I know Morford doesn't write his own headlines -- no newspaper writer does -- but isn't this one a little much?)

It's the Shrek-ization of childhood culture. The idea that everything has to have enough levels to entertain parents as well as children. Well, I guess that works sometimes (and I'm not sure if Shrek is one of those times), but is it fair to pop up now and hold C.S. Lewis to that standard -- 60 years after he wrote the books?

I read all of the Narnia books to my daughters and no, they're not great writing. Yes, they're kind of flat and straightforward. No, they don't have multitudes of meanings, "shades and ponderings and uncertainties." They're not supposed to. They're children's books! They're not meant to entertain the adult mind, so why be surprised when they don't? Guess what? Children like straightforward narrative and easily identifiable characterizations -- and that's just fine. My kids liked them, and that's enough.

As we wrestle against the rapid disappearance of childhood for our children, shouldn't we also understand that it's OK if they have some popular culture that is actually childish? Do we have be so selfish as to demand that it entertains us as well?


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