Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Water Babies

Originally written in 1862-1863 by Charles Kingsley, this surreal tale is part fantasy, part morality play, part fairy-tale (literally), mixed with a significant dose of current (for the time) commentary on scientific theory, expansionism, colonialism, society and racism directly aimed at the adults presumably reading this to their children. 

One thing I adore about Dover publications and always will, is that they have a really eclectic catalog with an unerring eye for plucking out books which have languished unappreciated for ages, and re-listing them for a wider audience.  Their stewardship of the weird, the obsolete, the books which are so niche that it's amazing they got published in the first place, and other fun weirdness, deserves our awe and appreciation.

I remember The Water Babies from my childhood where it alternately charmed me and scared the pants off me.  I hadn't read the book since my childhood rememberings and was apprehensive how racist and dated the book would turn out to be.  Fair warning, it IS a product of its time.  It IS quite dated with brutal references to Jews, Catholics, blacks, Irish people amongst many others.  On the other hand, reading the wickedly sarcastic references to smug middle class Victorian English mores and beliefs brought me a new appreciation of Kingsley's work.

This edition includes the weird and beautiful color plates and margin illustrations from the circa 1916 edition by Jessie Willcox Smith. They really add a lot to this edition and also serve as a subtle reminder that this book is more than 100 years old and shouldn't be judged too harshly directly by today's standards.

Just as an aside, the illustration below (by Willcox Smith) of one of the characters, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, scared the bejeebers out of me as a little kid.  A revisit to this book still gave me a frisson of fear, but now tempered by an adult's realization that she looks more like Geddy Lee in glasses :)

Twins separated by 100 year time-slip? I think so!

Five stars for still being around in a culture which counts time in milliseconds, and because Dover publications kicks butt. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher

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