Apparently, The Little Mermaid was a cultural milestone for girls of my generation (or at least it was for the girls I interacted with). I am about to make a shocking confession: I have never watched The Little Mermaid. I blame my parents; they were loving and provided me with everything I needed, but they failed to give me a chance to witness this cinematic masterpiece. Were they trying to teach me a lesson and warn me against the evils of mermaids? No, they simply forgot to buy me the VHS tape *nostalgic throwback to the 90s*. My mermaid-less childhood is also one of the many reasons I can’t understand everyone’s sexual obsession with mermaids and mermen (translation: I stumbled across some very disturbing fan fiction). So, to recap: my parents saved me from at least one disturbing sexual kink. I also feel no need to watch The Little Mermaid or any other childhood movies I might not have seen. I have missed my window for these things.
I could find a copy of The Little Mermaid, lock myself in a room, and get it over with. But I won’t; it simply wouldn’t be a pleasant experience. Right now, The Little Mermaid would be an avalanche of symbolism, gender and feminist analysis, patriarchal pressure, and so many hidden meanings. My eyes are no longer the eyes of a kid waiting to be blown away by singing animals and limitless underwater breathing. I have the eyes of an adult (bitter laughter) with two degrees in literature. Re-watching a cartoon from my childhood—i.e. The Lion King, A Goofy Movie, Aladdin—is still a sacred experience, but this is thanks to the very important filter of nostalgia. Watching a cartoon for the very first time though, is no longer a pleasure; it’s a study.
The same applies to literature. Can you read the books and stories of your childhood and honestly tell me that they still feel the same? I recently reread Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and what struck me the most was how simple the book is. I don’t use the term “simple” in a bad way; I remember first reading the book in 2000, totally mesmerized by every single word. Can an adult pick up a Harry Potter book and appreciate it? The deep love I have for Harry’s world is based in the year 2000 when I was still a stupid kid with no self-esteem and a weird fascination with bugs. Back then, Harry Potter saved me. The books made an impression on me, an impression I’m still carrying with me. Back then, Harry Potter was all about the magic. Now, I approach Harry Potter with the curiosity of a researcher: Is this supposed to be a well-hidden metaphor? Can we use a Freudian or a Foucauldian analysis? And why is my spidey sense tingling whenever I read Draco’s part? Why is Draco so obsessed with Harry?
Is there a window for literature or art or music? Do we read the same as we age? I would love to know what the 15-year-old me would make of The Hunger Games. Would I focus on the forced love story or choose to decipher the social and political aspects of a dystopian reality? For some weird reason, here in Greece Charles Dickens was marketed as a children’s author. I remember reading shortened versions of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, and thought to myself “Why is this guy so obsessed with orphans?”. His stories moved me, but they moved me the way an 8-year-old was supposed to feel: I was crying for the poor kids. I had the chance to revisit Dickens’ work for my dissertation. Sure, I still felt bad for the kids, but I was also able to focus on the social critique, the satire, the inequalities of Victorian society and the description of a life of crime that was the norm in Victorian England. To a kid, Dickens is a guy who describes his/her worst nightmare; being all alone in a dangerous world. To a more mature reader though, Dickens writes down a social, political, financial and historical chronicle of a complicated, yet fascinating, era.
My only suggestion is this: let the children read whatever they feel like reading. Revisit the books of your childhood. Don’t be alarmed if your kids go for the more “serious” books. Just let them read, they can only benefit from it. We should not underestimate the power of the nostalgia effect. It’s a good thing to know that you already love a book. That means that you can reread it and analyse it as much as you want, but your love for the book remains the same. I try to reread some of my favourite books every now and then. For instance, I reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy every two years. You cannot imagine how much a book can change in two years. No, wait, the book doesn’t change; I do. Still, there’s something very beautiful in finding your changes reflected in your favourite stories. It makes me sad to think of all the books I was never able to read and enjoy as a kid. Sadly, the first time I read The Chronicles of Narnia was as an adult. I enjoyed the story immensely, but I always felt as if I was trespassing on what should have been my first reading as a kid. The innocence was definitely lost, some of the magic as well, but I try not to lament over lost reading opportunities. I simply keep reading and so should you.