Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Book 28 of 2013: The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

I used to have a copy of The Water Babies which was part of a set of 'Children's Classics' that my Grandparents got me when I was younger. I loved the picture on the cover (of a couple of babies swimming underwater) and tried to read it a couple of times, but just couldn't get into it and eventually gave up. When I got it as a free Kindle download I decided that the time had come to give it another go.

Picture from here.
This is the story of a little chimney sweep called Tom who runs away from his mean master and drowns becoming a 'water-baby'. It's basically a story about redemption as Tom is taught various moral lessons and learns what punishments the people who did bad things will be subjected to. Along the way Tom meets other Water Babies and learns important lessons before being allowed to return to the world as an improved man.

I quite enjoyed the beginning of this book. There was an interesting fantasy element to it and it was quite quick paced at first but as it went on it grew slower. By about halfway through it started to really drag. Although it grabbed my attention at first, towards the end I was looking forward to finishing it and moving on to something else.

It was actually quite dark and gruesome in places. Particularly with Tom's drowning. There was no mistaking what happened to him. I guess considering it from the point of view of the period it was written it that's maybe not too unusual, but for a modern child reader it might be a bit shocking or upsetting. I don't think it's really a suitable book for modern children and that's probably why I struggled to get into it on my first attempts.

It was funny in places. I understand that it was intended as a satire, though I wasn't aware of that at the time I was reading it. There was some playful repetition when things were listed, like all the people who were chasing Tom, which I think would make it fun to read aloud. Though I think if I was to read it to a modern child I'd maybe look for an abridged version.

There was a lot of religious and moral stuff in the book as well. I also picked up on an unexpected touch of evolution which I've since discovered was because it was intended as a satire in support of Darwin's The Origin of the Species.

I wouldn't say it's my favourite recent read, but I'm pleased that I've read it. It's another classic book that I can tick off my list.

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