The Angst of Looking Forward or the Comfort of Looking Back

The Angst of Looking Forward or the Comfort of Looking Back

Eloise Wilkin takes me back to childhood and a simpler life.

Dystopian literature is all the rage and particularly popular with young people. Like utopian, these books look forward, project into the future. Because I have always found comfort in looking back, reading about older societies, I needed more information—wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The owner of states: Dystopia presents a story told out of despair…makes use of “big government”… using tactics of intimidation and sometimes mind control; … Dystopia presents societies based on segregation, inequality, and oppression. 

For utopian literature, he says: usually has a …communal society, where decisions are made based on the “greater good.” …societies are generally based on the so-called equality of all humankind. And he says utopian books come from the perspective of hope. That sounded better to me, though the point was made that the equality of societies can be an illusion. Another downer.

And this literature is filling bookshelves and tablets and making film directors salivate—think: Hunger Games, Divergence, Ender’s Game.

In the past I read some of this utopian/dystopian genre—not sure how I would categorize: Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm and The Handmaid’s Tale. Was there more hope than despair??

One thing I do know, the continued popularity of novels like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Jane Eyre, plus the phenomenal success of Downton Abbey, indicates that not everyone wants messages of despair. Hope and happy endings are still popular experiences—and looking back to an older society that possesses elements far removed from ours might give one better dreams. I confess I just don’t like civilizations are destroyed and the earth is burned to a crisp stuff.

YouTube: Downton Abbey

YouTube: P&P

Feeling more hopeful? Video, film, and book illustrations leave lasting images in our minds.  I don’t understand the pull to exploding cities and violence. Some would argue it’s escape. Okay—but I’m still down after viewing. I’d rather dwell in a positive zone. I guess my bottom line: some viewers and readers are just better able to compartmentalize this stuff. I carry it around with me.

Two illustrators that always bring the comfort of looking back are Eloise Wilkin and Garth Williams. Both illustrated favorite books of my childhood. And though Wilkin’s work was only found in children’s Golden Books, not leather-bound tomes, she’s got a big fan club—check out Pinterest where people are filling boards with her illustrations. Why? We want to go back, capture precious and idyllic moments from our childhoods. Example: Ten years ago, I was wandering a bookstore when my eyes fell on the cover of a featured book. A tingling, déjà vu feeling hit me—here it was, the book my mind had glimpses of but could not fully remember–Jane Werner Watson’s GOOD NIGHT, illustrated by Wilkin, a Golden Book, copyright, 1949. It’s a simple story, but it brought back great memories.

Readers, do you remember her work? Victorian interiors, plump children, and many patterns of flowers, checkers, plaids and stripes. The gracious homes she drew with lush gardens and swings modeled houses in Rochester, New York—her lifelong home.

And it’s almost certain, that growing up you read a book illustrated by the American artist Garth Williams, 1912-1996. His work includes: Stewart Little, Charlotte’s Web, The Little House on the Prairie and all subsequent books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. He also illustrated many Golden Books.

I love fiction and read a variety of titles, periodically suggested on this blog. But a ledge in my guest bedroom is reserved for my Wilkin books and many Garth Williams titles—it’s my way of wishing hope and comfort for my guests before they turn out the light. I wish you all the same.

PS If you want to go back in time for even more comfort, Diane E. Muldrow, long-time editor of Golden Books, has published: Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book   See it here.

The Angst of Looking Forward or the Comfort of Looking BackThe Angst of Looking Forward or the Comfort of Looking Back









The Angst of Looking Forward or the Comfort of Looking Back

Art for ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, another wonderful way to look back.



4 thoughts on “The Angst of Looking Forward or the Comfort of Looking Back

  1. This rings very true with me, as those wonderful childhood memories always fuel a good feeling in my heart. Some of these newer elements in society of exploding cities and violence stem from the video games that children often times grow up with if parental guidance is not in place. There’s an old proverb “It takes a whole village to raise a child…..” Never more true than now. As a society, we should take note, as Boomer Highway has done here.

    • Thanks, Bill. I just know that I feel better about life when I have positive images circling in my brain. I like to end the day with a story that at the very least is moving toward an acceptable positive ending. I do not understand the infatuation with zombies and blood sucking. But each one of us is programmed to like certain things. I guess my question would be for those who watch this stuff night after night: how were you parented? Thanks, Beth

  2. I am a reader. A HUGE reader. As in I can put away an entire 300 page work of fiction in about 3-4 hours depending on the author. I am partial to happy endings. I also will read the last page of the book to see if there’s a chance it ends devastatingly or not… I will re-read my favorite books over and over.
    My favorite series, and yes, I read it as an adult, is Harry Potter. It is the ultimate in hope. It is a book filled with tragedy, pain and extreme suffering, yet it ends with the utmost in hope. The books lead us to a place of complete darkness and yet throughout the entire series there is love, friendship, support, belief and hope for the future. With every sad moment that Harry Potter encounters, comes a fighting moment in which he recognizes that he must go on, he must carry through to the end, and that it is only through that persistence and perseverance will he succeed at finding peace for himself, his friends and his deceased family.
    These are the books that grip me most, when the underdog, overcomes such seemingly insurmountable odds to find peace, freedom, love, and a genuine good life. I am most happy in those books.
    However, I find that every 25 books or so, I must stop with the utopia and go into the darkness…I must read something that is so eerily frightening in it’s reality and possibility that I think for days afterwards. In these moments I’ve read, Enders Game, Atlas Shrugged, 1984, A Clockwork Orange…it is because books like this exist that I function in the world. My head and heart knows that the world is filled with pain, disease, poverty, death, torture, war, corruption, evil and I know that the path our forefathers took is far away from the path being taken today. I know that the dystopian books have a far greater chance of coming to be a reality than the utopia I so desire to be a part of.
    However, tragedy and pain have long been part of the world of literature. Shakespeare’s stories are filled with horror even though they are covered flowery language and grand ideas. Shakespeare wasn’t any less dystopic than Hunger Games. He just wrote it to sound more eloquent.
    Perhaps too, some of the need for dystopian literature is because people’s own lives are fraught with pain and humiliation and so that is the only thing their mind relates too. They cannot see past a world that ends in a burning inferno because they’ve lived inside a burning inferno…
    Each person starts this world as a clean slate; an innocent being that is shaped by the events around him/her. Each infant is nothing but a bubble of wonder and blankness that because what they see/hear/feel/learn/touch…
    My life was terribly hard as a child so I looked to books that made life lighter, happier. My husbands life was also extremely hard as a child, he took to non-fiction books that explained the world. On the contrary, our daughter has lived a better life than we did as children and she reads almost exclusively about animals. However, she will read both light, happy books about magic puppies while also devouring sad, tales about a wolf cub who’s mother is dying.
    Perhaps it as simple as we are all just different people, with different neutrons maneuvering their way through the brain, different pathways firing at different times to produce an enjoyment material that we are lucky someone thought to put down on paper…

    • Natalie, what you experience in your childhood can profoundly affect your view of the world. But pardon my preaching–that’s why literature exists. No mater what you think of the world today (and I think we are improving life on many levels) there will always be sorrow and death, but there will also always be joy and happiness. Harry Potter might face deadly events, but he overcomes. That’s positive, yes and hopeful. I am conveying that FOR ME literature should have something that lifts you up. A Shakespearean tragedy is not dystopian as there is always hope, even when there is death. Romeo and Juliet is a story, but the mere engagement in their sorrow, the denouement, is positive for the person watching the play–you are uplifted by the very force of their love. Death of a Salesman asks questions that we walk away and ponder. Children’s literature can touch on the negatives in life, (Charlotte dies!) but it is the positives that circle around the story that help children adjust to life. Your mention of neurons might provide an interesting study, but I will maintain that literature that teaches, uplifts and provides hope is more beneficial to society. And as I wrote, it helps me sleep. Yes, I can watch a WWII film and see the evil of Nazi Germany, but there is always some bravery, some connections, some hope at the end. They were defeated.
      Thanks, Beth

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