Why do adults read children's books? Blame modern life
Rob Sharp is a freelance journalist specialising in arts and culture. He was on staff at The Independent from July 2007 to December 2011, first as a features writer, and then as the paper’s arts correspondent. He has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. For more information visit his website, www.robsharp.com or email him at email@example.com.
Friday 23 September 2011
From commuters absorbed by Harry Potter books to the wide appeal of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, the mystery of why some grown-ups like reading children's books may finally be solved. Adults are hacked off with the disappointment of modern life.
Dr Louise Joy, a Cambridge University academic, believes classic children's books, and the work they inspire, attract older readers because they give them things they cannot find in their everyday lives, including direct communication, tasty home-cooked food, and tolerance towards eccentricity. The researcher claims such books represent a "symbolic retreat from the disappointment of reality".
"Books such as Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach offer a world where self-consciousness is overthrown and relationships are straightforward," says Dr Joy. "But relationships in the real adult world are often fraught by miscommunication and the impossibility of understanding one another properly."
Dr Joy will unveil her theories in a forthcoming book, Literature's Children, which focuses on Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories, and the works of Tolkien, Carroll and Dahl. She will present her findings next month at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, an arts and humanities festival.
Dr Joy claims The Hobbit's characters hanker after simple meals, whereas "in the real world we rarely sit to down to a home-cooked meal".
She says adults are drawn to The Wind in the Willows because its characters speak clearly to each other to "provide information", while normally "we are always anxious about how we come across". Meanwhile Winnie the Pooh's varied characters "seek out each other just to pass the time". She adds: "Present-day society is obsessed by the idea of seeking out a perfect soulmate who is just like us."
The academic says her research applies to modern children's books, like the Harry Potter series, which resemble older classics.
Julia Donaldson, children's laureate and author of The Gruffalo, says: "I have recently re-read The Wind in the Willows and also the Alice books, and they are very different.
"Alice's world can often be disconcerting and confusing in a dream-like way, something which struck me more as an adult than when I read it as a child. With The Wind in the Willows, the character of Toad becomes quite squashed at the end, which is in a way quite sad, and Mole's homesicknesses, conflicting with his desire to go on adventures with Ratty, is quite complex. It's hard to generalise."
The children's author Charlie Higson, who will be attending the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, says: "I get irritated when people try to come up with great theories... The nostalgia which inspires us to read children's books written 100 years ago is the same as what attracts us to watch period dramas on television."
sportLiverpool 5 Norwich City 1: Uruguayan striker has now scored 11 league goals against the club
arts + entsOlivier-nominated actor and singer is set to star in Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair
filmWith more than 70 per cent of early films lost, archivists are scouring the world to preserve the precious examples that remain
sportThe coach of Chalfont St Peter's under-10s football team was relieved of his duties after he sent an email to parents that said: 'I am only interested in winning'
techA piece of new hi-tech kit aims to get us scribbling again
indybestMake getting out of the wrong side of bed on cold winter mornings a thing of the past with our selection of night-time covers
life + styleClarissa Baldwin is the brains behind the slogan 'A Dog is for Life not just for Christmas'
Arts & Ents blogs
The 50 Best Christmas songs: Bells continue to ring for the Pogues' 'Fairytale of New York'
Shia LaBeouf's Nymphomaniac sex scene removed from YouTube
Eminem, Drake and Jay Z among Spotify's most-streamed artists of 2013
Morgan Freeman portrait: The world's most realistic finger painting?
Nymphomaniac trailer shown to children at screening of Disney film Frozen
- 1 North Korea: Kim Jong Un 'sacks powerful uncle and has his aides executed'
- 2 The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'
- 3 Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
- 4 A forgotten episode in Russian history leaves links with the Philippines
- 5 ‘Put it in my mouth’: Viewers outraged by apparent reference to oral sex in VIP e-cig advert