Books and movies are both legit­imate ways to tell stories | Wiki­media

“A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.” So claimed Astrid Lindgren, the pro­lific Swedish writer who authored the iconic Pippi Long­stocking series.

Lindgren grew up on a small farm in rural Sweden. She played and played and played with her sib­lings, until she thought she would die of fun.

She knew the people in her life intimately…she expe­ri­enced a childhood without dis­trac­tions. Before the days of cell phones and street­lights and tele­vision sets, all Lindgren had were the fairytale Swedish woods, the pas­tures and the barns, her sib­lings and her friends.

In her late 30’s Lindgren began to write. She wrote about her childhood. She wrote about her pranks, her farm, the woods and the food and the family. And she brought to life some of Sweden’s, and the world’s, most beloved char­acters and stories.

What is it that appeals so much to adults about children’s books? It is that we, even as adults, still feel an attraction to them, as if their inno­cence and sim­plicity were a magnet for our jaded and dis­il­lu­sioned souls. Lindgren’s char­acters — boys and girls so full of spunk, ferocity, strength, and kindness — rep­resent some­thing we feel we have lost.

As children, we appre­ciated the imag­i­nation and adventure of the stories, but we lacked a sense of their overall vision and depth. We were thrilled by “Watership Down”, a spell­binding quest fea­turing talking bunnies and dreadful predators. We laughed at “The Phantom Toll­booth”, a wacky tale of a bored young man caught up in a magical land and the adventure of a lifetime. We smiled at the foibles and tom­foolery of Toad and Badger in “The Wind in the Willows”. They appealed to our imag­i­nation and our youthful craving for adventure, and they offered a lens through which that inner spark of imag­i­nation, inherent in all children, could glow.

Now, we are older. We live busy lives. We study and we hang out and we exercise and we try to make our way in this crazy college uni­verse. But we don’t play anymore. Perhaps we can’t. Perhaps we have lost that imag­i­nation, that inner spark which paints the world with wonder and our lives with adventure.

Yet still, even after our coming of age, the books of our youth not only maintain their fun and adven­turous tales, but offer even more sub­stance to the adult reader. Now we under­stand Hazel, the pro­tag­onist of “Watership Down”, in light of the epic heroes Aeneas and Odysseus, and are inspired by his sac­rifice and bravery. We can sym­pa­thize with Milo of “The Phantom Toll­booth,” as he nav­i­gates through “the dol­drums” — rep­re­sen­tative of life’s dreary, boring, and ho-hum days. We gain a fresh under­standing of loyalty and friendship through the com­radery of the char­acters in “The Wind and the Willows.”

Author’s like Lindgren, Richard Adams, and Kenneth Grahame have offered more to the world’s lit­erary legacy than history often credits them. They cap­tured the magic of childhood — the wonder and the fun. And they taught us, at a mal­leable young age, some of life’s most important lessons, ones we carry with us to this day.

As Hillsdale stu­dents, we can get so caught up in the intricacy and com­pli­cation of knowledge and truth that we often miss out on it’s sim­plicity and beauty. So I chal­lenge you to pick up a copy of your childhood favorite this Christmas break and get reading. Forego, for a while, “The Pol­itics” and “The Con­fes­sions,” and lose yourself in the sacred sim­plicity of youth.


Philip Berntson is a sophomore studying the liberal arts.