Are there really hidden messages in children’s books or are certain adults just determined to impose their own subtext? From BBC Culture:
As a child many of my favourite books had food as a theme. One in particular told the story of a boy who helped save his local burger bar by becoming a gastro-sleuth to track down a lost secret ingredient.
Long after losing track of the book and forgetting its title, I found myself in Edinburgh to interview Alexander McCall Smith. He was already the mega-selling author of The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but years earlier, he had published a few children’s books. There among them on a shelf was The Perfect Hamburger.
It was my book. Except that it wasn’t – not really. While burgers do indeed feature in lip-smacking detail, this time it was clear to me that The Perfect Hamburger is actually a tale of corporate greed and the fate of small businesses forced to compete with big chains.
Revisiting kids’ books in adulthood can yield all sorts of weird and wonderful subtexts, some more obvious than others. How could Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas be anything other than a parable of consumerism? Why would it not seem blindingly clear that CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia are in fact a fantastical re-imagining of Christian theology?
Similar close readings have rendered the Paddington Bear books fables about immigration and Babar the Elephant an endorsement of French colonialism. Alice’s Wonderland adventures have been seen as everything from a paean to mathematical logic to a satire about the War of the Roses or a trippy caper with drugs as an underlying theme. And what about The Little Engine That Could? You might know it as a story about trains that fosters can-do optimism, but it has also been taken as a you-go-girl feminist tale. (The eponymous little engine is a lady train and when she breaks down, only another female train will stop to help out.) As for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: why, it’s an allegorical representation of the debate surrounding late 19th Century US monetary policy, of course…
[continues at BBC Culture]
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