Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Won't somebody think about the parents?

"Anyway," said C the other day, after I unreasonably asked him to get off Angry Birds and go and get dressed, "loads of kids in stories don't have parents that make them do stuff!"  This got me to thinking. In many of my very favourite stories as a child, parents play a very, very minimal role.  Even in stories that are explicitly about family life, such as Tospy and Tim, Mum and Dad are very much in the background, despite Topsy and Tim being depicted as really quite small children. The Mum in My Naughty Little Sister is really a secondary care provider. When I re-read The Wishing Chair series to the kids, I formed the impression that the mother must be on valium.  "We're going down into the garden room Mummy to see the naughty little pixie", they trill.  Mother doesn't actually say "I don't really give a flying **** where you go darlings, just leave me here to self-medicate against my dull and empty middle-class existence", but it is implied.

Modern stories often have a similar level of parental absence or benign neglect. JK Rowling has talked about Harry Potter having to be an orphan in order that he has the freedom to engage in death-defying exploits which no loving parents would reasonably want their small 11 year old to be engaged in.  She gets round Ron and Hermione having parents through Ron's having so many that they can barely keep track of who's doing what, and Hermione's parents being utterly disengaged from the wizarding world in a "oh you fought a large basilisk?  That's nice, dear" kind of way.

In the Mr Gum series, Polly is allowed to roam around with a feral dog and a man old enough to be her grandmother, without a by-your-leave from her parents. The Baker Street Boys series (which, though enjoyable does seem rather interminable at the moment) has a variety of urchins whose parents are absent for various reasons (death, imprisonment, forced repatriation to Australia), and so they live alone with one of the girls acting as housekeeper and doing all of the cooking (hmmm).

The trouble with parents, is they want you to do boring stuff, like getting dressed, eating nutritious foods and getting "healthy exercise." And who really wants to read a story about a child who eats some Weetabix, gets their waterproofs on and goes out for a walk across the fields. Not C, that's for sure.

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