I’m afraid I haven’t churned out many reviews this week, partially due to a couple of headachey, unproductive days, but also because I am immersed in rereading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I will be writing about it when I finish, but in the meantime I am thoroughly enjoying Tolkien’s masterful style. All parents will know this problem: far too many books we read aloud to our children are so badly written they are a struggle to get through. Like picking your way through a rock-strewn field. So when we pick up a true gem by someone who really knows their craft – E. B. White, Tolkien, Kenneth Grahame, A.A. Milne – it can be quite a revelation. So perfectly evocative, so smooth to read, so musical!
A few months ago I was reading Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and “The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo” was so liltingly written I had to read it aloud to my daughter immediately. Look it up and you’ll see what I mean.
Why do you think Goodnight Moon is so universally loved, even after 66 years? Because books like it were not written quickly, every word was laboured over and the whole project was carefully, meticulously crafted. Plus Margaret Wise Brown knew what she was doing. Dr. Seuss books too, give the impression of freewheeling, chaotic abandon, but he took a long, long time achieving that tone and constructing rhymes that scan so perfectly that you never stumble over them when reading.
One particular quality of my favourite writers, most notably writers from a past era, is their restraint. So many books today seem purposefully over-wrought – whether it’s an avalanche of action, torrents of emotion, or a hyper ping-ponging of current teen slang. The more timeless writers, I think, are the ones who slow down, step back a bit from things and comment more thoughtfully. More omniscient, more measured. An old-fashioned style, yes, but it lends itself well to carefully crafted sentences and turns of phrase that are sheer poetry.
(More to come about The Hobbit, restraint, and the complete lack of it in Peter Jackson movies…)
So, all you weary parents, do yourself a favour and pick out an old classic for bedtime tonight, be it prose or poetry. Here’s a good one for a start: The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. So soothing it’s like meditation.