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August 03, 2014

The Famous Five

Text by Nittal Chandarana

Every adult stands to learn from children’s literature. Verve takes you back to five classics to see what was so special about them

Some of the most profound things in life have been said by the writers of children’s literature. Authors that scribble stories with a license for the nonsensical, the ones who speak of colours and sounds and cute little quirks, of friendship and love with unabashed simplicity and glorious adventures found just around the corner. If you really wish to unwind after one of those long, tiring days, pick up a good ol’ children’s classic. They bear treasures far precious than the ones found in modern novels.

Among their pages one always finds the most endearing characters with an infectious zest for life, cookies and cupcakes readily available at all hours, unlikely friendships with one and all and magic generously sprinkled like fairy dust on each page. Here’s a pick of our five all-time favourites:

1. Roald Dahl has a special talent of making the most revolting ideas sound like they’re perfectly sound remarks. He made us want to turn witches into mice and take tours seated comfortably in a giant’s ear. He also gave some brilliant life advice. “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…” he said. He also wrote winners like, “You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely” in The Twits and reassured us about that sinking feeling we experience occasionally when Mr. Fantastic Fox said, “I think I have this thing where everybody has to think I’m the greatest. And if they aren’t completely knocked out and dazzled and slightly intimidated by me, I don’t feel good about myself.” THIS is what the fox really says.

2. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is my favourite travelogue. She reaches a wonderful place, meets and blends in with a bunch of characters from that world, eats and drinks and indulges in tea parties with the natives and what do you know… saves the land in a heroic climax. It gives us the reassurance of: ‘We’re all mad here!” and the Hatter suggests something perfectly nice when he quips, “Yes, that’s it! It’s always tea time.”

3. Ruskin Bond shows us that there’s an equal amount of magic to be relished in the real world. That each person hides an unusual story within herself. That the best bit of slumber is achieved on the branches of a tree. And the fact that it’s completely okay to have a pet python.

4. The wisest of them all is our chubby friend, Winnie the Pooh. A.A. Milne conjures up a world of clinically ill characters. You know, Tigger with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Winnie himself diagnosed with an eating disorder, Roo of the OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Piglet being Panophobic (afraid of everything), Eyore having Narcissistic Personality Disorder and our human cherry on the cake, Christopher Robin, the resident schizophrenic. But they have a ball of a time together and these supposedly ‘ill’ protagonists say some of the most memorable things. “One of the advantages of being disorganised is that one is always having surprising discoveries,” says Pooh. We agree whole-heartedly. Or, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” And, “If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” If only.

5. There’s always the undisputed master of the game – Enid Blyton. She effortlessly owns the art of writing bewitching tales for children. She gave us Noddy. And the Famous Five. And Mr. Goon! Who can forget that colourful policeman? She’s the only one who can speak of dogs and mothers in the same breath and present a legitimate analogy in The Mystery of the Hidden House: “Mothers were much too sharp. They were like dogs. Buster always sensed when anything was out of the ordinary, and so did mothers. Mothers and dogs both had a kind of second sight that made them see into people’s minds and know when anything unusual was going on.” She also slyly slipped in some very grown-up advice in her books when she wrote, “When you’re paid to do a job, it’s better to give a few minutes more to it, than a few minutes less. That’s one of the differences between doing a job honestly and doing it dishonestly! See?” in The Mystery of the Strange Messages. She holds her audience of little folk in a Piper-like spell and never ever disappoints her reader. In Blyton land, magic exists even in the mundane and happy endings, a fundamental climax for every story.

While their allure doesn’t diminish, there is the added advantage, of them always having the best illustrations. Book in hand, tea on the table and a very active imagination. The world morphs into a utopian paradise at once.

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