Okay, so this one is going to be a bit hard to write about. Why? Because I didn’t really like this book, but I didn’t really hate it either.
The Water Babies is a children’s novel by priest, professor, social reformer, historian and author Charles Kingsley. This Water Babies is not to be confused with the sunscreen or toy doll with similar names. The book was published in 1863 and won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award 100 years later (this is an award given to children’s books that “deserve to be on the same shelf as Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).
The story concerns a young boy named Tom who is in the employ of a villainous chimney-sweep named Grimes. Tom’s job was to essentially climb into chimney and clear all the soot out (note: this is an actual, awful thing that orphaned children were made to do in the 19th Century). One day, he’s brought to a big manor house and gets lost in what is apparently a maze of chimneys and ends up in the bedroom of a little girl named Ellie. Shortly after that, he gets mistaken for a thief and gets chased from the house. Then, after a long trek and a feverish night he ends up plunging into a stream and being transformed into a water baby.
What is a water baby? Near as I can tell, it’s a baby that lives and breathes under the water.
Tom goes on to meet all sorts of creatures under the water, especially as he moves from the stream to a lake to the open ocean. Once there, he meets the fairies Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid and Mother Carey. He also gains the companionship of Ellie who dies from a fever and becomes a water baby of sorts too.
Yeah. Dies. The transformation into a water baby seems to essentially be a sort of post-death transformation. In fact, there’s a lot in this book that suggests or hints at a sort of spiritualism. However, I suppose that’s to be expected when the author is a priest.
The book really doesn’t pick up until Tom goes on a quest to the Other-End-of-Nowhere to try and help Grimes, who had also died and was now paying for his sins. Basically, a “journey into the afterlife” type of motif, but more seagoing in nature.
I really don’t have much more to say.
I don’t want to say the book is bad because it’s not. A little odd at times. Sometimes the author would just put long lists of things right into the text. Other times, he would digress for long periods. However, it would usually be a digression with a point. For example, Kingsley who was a supporter of Darwin’s theory of natural selection would in this book poke fun at how closed-minded scientists could be. He also commented a lot on how society mistreats the poor. Also, there are a few creative ideas in this book.
I could say it was because the book was very didactic. But there are didactic stories I don’t care much for (the various works of H.C. Andersen) and ones that I love to pieces (Pinocchio).
Really, the sum of this book’s parts just don’t add up to something that works for me. And I think here we get to the limit of criticism and commentary. As someone who reviews, critiques and comments on things in this big, crazy place called the world wide web, I like to think I’ve gotten better at it. Where once I would simply have an opinion, now I’ve figured out how to express why I have that opinion. But sometimes I really don’t have much to offer on that front. Sometimes a book, movie, TV show or comic just doesn’t work for you and that’s all there is to it. At least I’m willing to admit that.
I guess I’ll just chalk this book up as a loss and donate it to my local library. Maybe the next one will be more my thing.