My Mind Is Turning To Comfort
I am still a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. If you think I was whining yesterday, let me just say that today was quite a waste so do not get me started.
However, I have been thinking about comfort books. Comfort books for children, in particular, because this past weekend I read Sam Pig and the Dragon by Alison Uttley.
A few years ago, a friend of mine kept asking me if I'd heard of Sam Pig. It was a book she had read with her children, and she seemed quite taken with it. She finally brought the book over--months and months ago--and suggested I read it to see what I thought.
Well, I think that Sam Pig is one of those English country stories that are charming and restful and comforting. My family had one called The Teddy Bear Gardener. The Teddy Bear Gardener worked in his garden, ate some biscuits (cookies), and, if I remember correctly, went to bed. That was it.
We wore that book out.
Adult comfort books are all over the place. Mystery, romance, fantasy, spirituality, nineteenth century novels and anything else a particular reader finds...well, comforting. But I think children stick to mundane things that reinforce the comfort of their routines.
And that's why many children--and their adults--become so attached to these older English stories in which animals play people doing every day things. We liked Beatrix Potter, who was from an earlier period than Alison Uttley, who started publishing in the 1930s. My personal Potter favorite was that hedgehog who did laundry. Can you guess why?
Sam Pig and the Dragon is interesting because it breaks out of the mundane mold a bit. Sam Pig and the other pigs do run-of-the-mill things like picking berries and playing the fiddle. And they live in a little house. But in this particular book (part of The Adventures of Sam Pig series) Sam accidentally wakens a dragon who went into hibernation around the year 100 because the Roman's were annoying him. He was supposed to sleep for 2000 years, figuring, correctly, that the Romans would be gone by then.
Sam overcomes his fear, and the dragon becomes part of his family's domestic arrangements. Ann Pig stretches a clothes line over him and hangs her laundry on it so it can dry in the heat from his breath. (A clothes dryer!) And their woodland friends play on the dragon's back.
If the dragon hadn't started eating cows, they could have gone on like that forever.
What could have turned into a horror story, goes quite the other way. Sam takes the dragon back to the forest, plays a lullaby on his fiddle, and the dragon goes back to sleep. "Not till the year two thousand or thereabouts would the Dragon waken again."
But in the meantime, Sam Pig has taken care of the problem and life goes back the way it was.
In a BBC Radio production, Uttley's biographer, Denis Judd said her books remain attractive to readers because they involve "another sort of world," "a reassuring world," where there is always a "friendly paw to take the child to safety."
I think the same could be said of all these late nineteenth and early twentieth century stories of animals who wear clothes and eat biscuits.