Skip to comments.(Vanity) In Praise of A Simpler Time, or, Dude, Where's My Childhood?
Posted on 05/31/2009 4:33:07 AM PDT by grey_whiskers
This screed is going to be a little different from some that I have posted recently. Instead of worrying about dire threats to our nation's sovereignty, we are going to take a trip down memory lane, with the aid of a remarkable couple of children's books. While we are doing this, there will be a couple of wistful reminisces and (of course) a passing reference to the title of the piece.
As C.S. Lewis wrote in a dedication of one of his Narnia series, the person to whom he dedicated the book was too old for fairy-tales; but the time would come when she was old enough to enjoy them again. In this light, I have been re-reading some children's books from a generation ago, and reminiscing. First, about my enjoyment of the stories themselves; and second (as I have grown older), realizing just how much has changed in our country since the time the books came out.
One set of books is The Mad Scientists' Club and its sequel, The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists' Club. These books detail a series of scapes, pranks, and adventures of a group of young teenaged boys growing in an indeterminate small town. Some of the adventures are harmless, yet endearing: building a hot air balloon and racing it 50 miles as part of the State Fair festivities. Some are more, well, rambunctious: buliding a fake sea monster to spoof lake goers, or breaking into an abandoned mansion and turning it into a haunted house, and tricking the mayor and chief of police (hey, I told you it was a small town) into visiting it, where they can be more easily terrorized. Ah, the dreams of youth! These are the stories and the adventures everyone *wishes* they had had; in today's overly protective, metrosexualized culture, overrun with Amber Alerts and lawyers, I fear that boys will never again be given so much freedom.
And yet, the stories themselves are not just those of hooliganism and contempt for law and order: the boys happen to stumble upon bank robbers while testing a home-made sesimograph, and use their knowledge of knots, fire-starting skills, and their familiarity with the nooks and crannies of the surrounding countryside to help the cops nab the criminals. They paricipate in cloud-seeding with homemade rockets to relieve a drought. They help the air force rescue the victim of a plane crash (as the Air Force major says of their first aid on the victim: "Somebody did a first-rate job here! You boys probably saved this man's life."
The essence of the stories is that "boys will be boys": and that in allowing them to be boys, to follow their testorone-fueled need to build, create, and explore -- they learn responsibility, and how to become men. The stories are full of useful information about orienteering, first aid, self-reliance, and good-old-fashioned American spunk: and they show the best of what made so many generations of Americans had, growing up. Stable loving homes, justice tempered with mercy from the authorities, freedom to roam. How many children now, spend their time watching American Idol or worse, doing nothing more demanding than X-box or texting, and not learning how to think on their feet, interact with others, or participate in the community? How many children are not allowed out of the house except under the watchful eyes of a chaperone, lest they be abducted by an estranged spouse, or worse, someone jumping out of the bushes?[+]
The entire character of the country, the "givens" which are taken for granted, and the carefree, confident spirit which nourished this country and made it great, are being usurped: replaced by a mishmash of fatous, supercilious advertisements of "The More You Know" and the forced importation of people from the Third World, who are here more to game the system than to assimilate to our values. I weep that my children, and grandchildren, may never know the vanishing world I grew up in, one in which they were free and safe to explore. Dude, where's my childhood? How can we claim it back from the predations and screwball social engineering of the annointed?(*)
[+] In one of the stories, two of the Mad Scientists actually get kidnapped, by the bank robbers. It is an indication of the simplicity of the times that they are merely tied up and left in an abandoned cabin, rather than being used as a hostage negotiation: still more telling that they are not subsequently hustled off for "crisis counseling" by an army of social workers, before being given over to State custody.
(*)Most of us who are old enough to know better, whether on Free Republic or elsewhere, have bored our spouses and children with memories of "a simpler time" in the United States. It matters not if you have lived through the Great Depression, and recall the value of thrift; or World War II, when the nation pulled together; or even (for those on the left) recall the halcyon days of the Counter-Culture, Free Love, and fighting the eeeeevils of Watergate. Everyone remembers their youth through rose-colored glasses.
It's a good book -- and you're right, it could never happen today (it probably couldn't have happened then, but at least it was more plausible). The stories were originally published in Boy's Life, and clearly have a Scouting angle.
Other good books for kids on the same theme (kids' almost plausible adventures) are any of the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome -- a series by a former Royal Navy captain and Anglican priest named Philip Turner, starting with Colonel Sheperton's Clock -- and A Swarm in May, Chorister's Cake and sequels by William Mayne. Mayne is better known for his English fantasy books like Earthfasts, but this is a realistic series about boys in a church choir growing up in a small English town.
My 2nd grader loves the mad scientist club books, he’s reread them several times - I highly recommend them too (and they’re still in print)!
Just the idea of kids playing games outside without adult direction seems so foreign to many nowadays. There’s children that won’t come over on a “play date” if you don’t have X-box or Wii!
because a good number of these are not in print in the U.S.
You can get some of the Swallows and Amazons series in paperback (from Godine) at Amazon, but really abebooks has the best deals on the planet.
I buy all sorts of oddball stuff from them at dirt cheap prices ($5-$10 for hardbacks, a couple of bucks for paper). Like the Amazon used books, you're dealing with individual book shops, but I haven't been stung yet. My best deal so far is a Liber Usualis (Gregorian chants) that retails new for over a hundred bucks -- for $25. It's a little beat up, but it has all its pages and the binding is sound.
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