The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

Challenge #12 ~ “A childhood classic.”


★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Yes- so I just – I mean, what was this book on? I’d never really intended on reading this – it was one of those books my mum was adamant against reading to us when we were little, and I can see why. I only really picked it up when I was working on a balletic interpretation this summer, and it’s taken me the six months to make it to the end. The ballet sure made it a lot more optimistic, and a lot more interesting. But then, I’m sure Kingsley could have made it miles more interesting if he’d cut the long, rambling passages on absolutely nothing.

At it’s simplest level, the book was about a young boy, badly-treated, who ended up drowning and becoming a water-baby (which read on another level leads to an interesting discussion on purgatory and the comforts of an afterlife.) Either way, it’s a pretty solemn and complex theme for a children’s story. This is the first place in which Kingsley could have changed the novel slightly, as his actual imaginative creation of the under-world land was very impressive. I was a particular fan of his not-so-imaginatively-named characters Miss-Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By and Miss Be-Done-By-As-You-Did.

As I alluded to earlier, the long, pointless passages were a definite turn-off from the novel. At times, Kingsley would make a reference and move on, whilst at others he would spent pages explaining a story or myth, with seemingly no reason as to why he made such a distinction. If these weren’t bad enough, Kingsley also spent pages addressing the reader regarding societal etiquette in a fictional society he expected them to be from – another pointless and boring element to the novel.

The Water Babies may have been a classic in its time, but in its form it isn’t really suitable for the modern reader. That’s not to say his ideas aren’t valid, or that his imagination and characters aren’t great, but that written as is it, it’s not at all enticing, engaging or edge-of-your-seat amazing. As childhood classics go, there are plenty of others I’d recommend reading over this!


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