Friday, May 7, 2010

Childhood Favorites Through Adult Eyes

It's always a little nerve-wracking to decide to reread childhood favorites. Will I still like the book this time? Will I shake my head at my younger self for enjoying such trash? Will it measure up to my memory? But I still revisit them from time to time, because there's always the chance that I'll still love the story and have a grown-up appreciation for details of plot, characterization, or theme that I missed the first time around.

I've been thinking of this tension lately because I recently finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for the second time. The first time I read it, I was probably in 5th or 6th grade. The book made enough of an impression on me that I still remember the joy I felt as a reader figuring out that Tom was tricking his friends into whitewashing the fence for him - and the narrator didn't even have to tell me! I remembered other details of the plot, too, though I was a little fuzzy on the exact order of events.

My adult eyes saw a different story from what I remembered. Yes, it was still funny and enjoyable, though more episodic than the cohesive story my memory conjured. Most notably, I realized how incredibly racist the characters were. I mean, even as a child I knew better than to use the n-word, but a lot of the statements regarding African Americans and American Indians really shocked me as an adult. I still enjoyed the adventure, especially the shenanigans that Tom and Huck get into, and I was able to laugh more at their superstitions.

Did it stand the test of time? It's hard to say. I can't say Tom Sawyer disappointed me, but reading it now I definitely have a more complex relationship with the story now as a result of my reread.

What are some childhood favorites that have had a different impact on you as an adult?

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