Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lullabies and Fairy-Stories

I like to listen to lullabies. This must be qualified. My taste is for certain lullabies, not ones of nonsense or comforting cooing, but gentle, lulling melodies that have words of simple truth. Michael Card produced two albums: Sleep Sound in Jesus and Come to the Cradle which, though they sing of infants and cribs, teach wisdom. He is not alone. There are many profound lullabies.

Adults, in our stressful world, probably have as much need for these calming bed-songs as anyone. I enjoy the comfort they bring, the hope for the next day and peace for the night.

In general I have a skepticism of anything directed to a segregated age group. "Only old people like classical music," is nonsense to me, because I certainly reserve the right to enjoy music if it is well-composed and performed. For a parent to say that teenagers will be rebellious is just as ridiculous. As a teenager, I did not feel innately obligated to rebel. In fact the impulse came more from the pressure of knowing it was expected: if I'm to be interpreted as rebelling there is no point in working hard not to. Finally there are children's books. Dr. Seuss had catchy rhymes, but he cheated by inventing words for poor children to sound-out which served no purpose but to rhyme. Other children's books are either so silly and empty that they serve no purpose beyond diversion, or they are quality. The latter, however, have just as much appeal to me as an adult, and so should not be identified as "for children" at all.

Winnie the Pooh borders between these. Blessed with creative genius, A. A. Milne wrote stories and poems. Embarrassed by popular opinion that these fantastic tales are supposed to be for children, he attempts to disguise them into the nursery tales "belonging" to babes, by misspelling words and speaking condescendingly as the grown-ups who are rarely in the company of juveniles would talk if they encountered a kid. Nevertheless, Milne did not entirely succeed, and I love his books.

Having grown up reading Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien has had a pretty big influence on the way I think. His stories affected me before I knew his comments (found in his letters and such), so that when I heard what he felt directly about the main topic of his books, for instance, I could say, "Yes! I totally agree." Professor Tolkien wrote this quote:

"But an honest word is an honest word, and its acquaintance can only be made by meeting it in a right context. A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one's age group. It comes from reading books above one."

He expounded this philosophy in the essay On Fairy-Stories from The Tolkien Reader. Basically he abhors works done simply for children. If something is childish, it is rubbish. He was from the old school, I suppose, that believed the responsibility of adults with respect to children was to grow them into excellent adults. On the flip side, he said that some genres of stories that would normally be considered appropriate only for children are, if well done, just as necessary for adults. Therefore his tales are not for children. But they are, for they grow children, as they grew me, into thoughtful adults. Long ago a reviewer for the New York Times, Donald Barr, wrote,

"This is not for children; nor is it for whimsy-lovers and Alice-quoters. It is an extraordinary work - pure excitement, unencumbered narrative, moral warmth, bare-faced rejoicing in beauty, but excitement most of all..."

Also, Loren Eisley from the New York Herald Tribune Book Week:

"...the adult mind has, if anything, greater need of fantasy than that of the child."

And so have we a greater need for lullabies.

To God be all glory.

3 comments:

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Uh...I like Chloe Agnew's rendition of Brahm's Lullabye...does that count?

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Does it matter if it counts?
To quote Pride and Prejudice, "Do you need my blessing?"
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

"No, but I should like to know I have it all the same."

"Then get to it."

*carriage moves away*

(Bingley thinks, Jane Jane Jane!)

"Bring me my horse, at once. Quick, man!"