~ On Reading Two Books at the Same Time

February 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s something I’d always done but stopped during my English degree, so I suppose I’m falling back into old habits. My mum always wondered how I didn’t get all muddled from switching back and forth between books but I used to think it was the best thing: you could change when you got tired of one, until you got tired of the other! Plus, you need different ones for different moods/times of day (anyone with me on this one?). But this time it feels a bit different because I am reading two books at the same time, in light of each other.

faraway tree

Egmont, 2012

A friend of mine got me The Magic Faraway Tree trilogy by Enid Blyton for my birthday, because you’re never too old to catch up on children’s literature you never got round to reading at the time. I have thus been spending the last few weeks surrounded by fairies, multicoloured cakes and an ever-changing, lively, generous Nature. To be very honest, I’ve been having the best of times immersing myself in it and I can see why so many children have loved it and still cherish these stories as adults.

But the books took on a new flavour when I started reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring last week. A work that couldn’t be more different from the Faraway Tree. And yet.

Next to a story for younger minds that teaches them the beauties and secrets of the natural world is this work on the harmful effects of pesticides and their destruction of our entire natural environment. It took me a few days to connect the dots but reading them in parallel of each other once I’d made the connection has been heartbreaking. The children who are taught that their natural environment is something fun, to be cherished and full of exciting beings grow up to find out that this very same environment is on the verge of destruction – through their own species’ fault. The stark contrast between the innocence and the reality of these two works is enhanced by Rachel Carson’s beautiful prose (she was an English major before turning to biology) whose words describe with visible emotion yet scientific precision the irreversible waste we are creating.

And so, since last week, I can see the branches of the Faraway Tree bearing no more of its ever-changing fruits. The squirrels have died and the mushrooms the elves used to sit on no longer grow. Mrs Washalot’s water is filled with human-made chemicals that kill with a single touch. There are no more birds to carry messages around. The wood is silent, as silent as Mrs Carson’s spring. And the children have to stay inside and play video games. Melodramatic? Maybe. But not that far away from the truth.

I am still very much enjoying The Magic Faraway Tree but the after-taste in my mouth when I finish it will certainly be more bitter than if I hadn’t started reading Silent Spring. Am I sorry for it? Actually, no – it has only given the stories a much deeper meaning.

It convinces me even more of the importance of reacting now, to stop the damage, so that children in fifty years’ time don’t read Blyton’s stories like she’s talking about another planet.

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