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What was your favorite young reader novel growing up?
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The sad part is that the movie has usurped the written work, at least in google searches, although I would wager minds as well. This book was an amazing ride, and it is my earliest memory of reading a full-fledged novel. Of course, I enjoyed the other animal book by the same author. However, this adventure was something else–a hero’s journey, much like the films I adored at the time. Right up my alley!
In writing this blog, I think of the boat the protagonist obtains, which graces the cover, rendered as a lovely watercolor. You know the book of which I speak: Stuart Little. EB White penned this gem in the Post World I era and then published it in the World War II era. In addition, the book contains illustrations by an artist bearing my last name: Garth Williams. All these things considered, along with my love of Rodentia, it becomes extremely clear why I adored this book. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the subtle subversion. It’s a solid work!
Did you know EB went to Cornell? I sort of live near there. In fact, EB White hailed from my state. What did EB stand for? Elwyn Brooks (White), showing that we share a connected heritage. Did I mention that I have a character named Alwyn ? He’s coming up in a new Trailokya series. That’s no coincidence.
There’s a lot me and Elwyn have in common. He wrote his story from a dream. It took years (1926-1945) to get the work on its feet with the industry and audiences. He essentially wrote fantasy adventure with a dark streak (thinking of you Snowball!). Fairy tales clearly had a huge impact on him, as they did with my own writing. Long live the folk tales of our childhoods. Their inspiration and warnings are a treasure.
I’m going to be up front. I didn’t care for the film adaptation of this work (1999). In my opinion, they changed Stuart too much just to make him more palatable to audiences. For instance, how you see him as a pet instead of a sibling. They turn his fur white instead of brown-gray. Thus, Stuart disappears. He becomes a domesticated mouse–erased. Additionally, the focus shifted too much onto the humans away from the little rat-like boy, for which the story was named. Had this been my adaptation, I would have left the humans in the background. He would have retained his appearance. These things mattered to the message.
The reason the humans took over was to give familiar faces for the audiences to adhere to. The idea that you need a major celebrity to draw audiences is something that also hobbles many potentially great films. The adaptation should have kept focus on Stuart seeking others like him (à la Tom Thumb/Thumbelina). That is especially important for children to read/see. Think about it. Audiences forget the details when it’s couched too deeply in recognizable faces for the sake of recognizable faces. Story gets lost, often becoming pointless or undermined. I forgot a lot of the book, but it took years, not an hour and a half. I loved this story, and the book didn’t have people I recognized. Children don’t care about this.
Returning to the story, however did Mrs. Little give birth to such a different child? That’s right, he is BORN to the family, not adopted. In this world that EB White created, there are others similar to Stuart. Yet, the author never gets into the details of what creates these different humans. Had he written the tale in the time of fairy stories, I have no doubt that Mrs. Little would have had an affair with a rat, thus producing Stuart as punishment…imagine… What would her husband have done? Maybe they were barren after a difficult pregnancy, and Mrs. Little begged some fairies to help her, and this is the result of them fulfilling that wish? I always wondered.
Without sufficient answers, my brain just had to dismiss the detail. Therefore, I ended up treating Stuart as an adopted mouse–kind of like how the movie goes, but he was definitely still brown-gray. A field mouse, not a white mouse. I could do a lot of unpacking (between ableism–making him fully mouse–and racism–the literal white washing of his fur–Snowball)–tasty tasty subversion.
The thing my brain retains to this day is the scent of adventure. The majority of Stuart Little is gone from memory, but I remember he left his family to set out alone in search of others. It seems, the whole point of him going was to find his friend, a sickly song bird once saved by the family, a detail my memory ejected. That’s so much of the story! I really need to revisit this work.
Do you think that the cat from Babe was inspired by the cat in Stuart Little? Babe was published in 1983 under the title The Sheep Pig. Snowball and Duchess are strikingly similar. Why are cats always painted with an evil brush?
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