When Dream, Play And Innocence Are Serious

Where do I come from? I come from my childhood.
I come from my childhood as from a country.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Is fascination with childhood a convention?

No, inasmuch as, for most of us, childhood was filled with wonderful things and games, fairy tales and ingenuity, love, pampering, and carefreeness. I would venture to say that even a frustrated childhood, scarred by poverty, despair and trauma, often deprived of the warmth of a home, may contain a small dose of treasured recollection. Then, dream, play and innocence become serious!

The world of childhood preserved within each of us must be intelligently explored and shared, for – in time – it proves priceless, or even tantamount to survival: neglecting it may turn one's life into an austere, humorless way to apathy.

As children, we learn about the great myths and legends of the Greek and Roman antiquity, then the Divine Comedy and the Canterbury Tales. We laugh with Rabelais and Mark Twain and the Good Soldier Svejk, travel with Gulliver and Jules Verne and Jack London, dream with the Grimm brothers and E. T. A. Hoffmann and Walter Scott's heroes, or suffer with Dickens and Andersen's children. As grownups, we often sit back and enjoy Disney's cartoons once again. One movie frame will suffice for every child or adult to recognize Don Quixote or Pinocchio. Mickey Mouse, Baloo and, yes, Harry Potter become our oldest friends. The thirst and quest for an ideal, the attraction of a magic world, the voyages to fantastic realms appeal to children, but will keep their fragrance when the children have grown old. This is the secret of great literature.

Romanian literature is not short of heroes, many of whom can travel across borders without a passport: children around the world may recognize themselves – or their friends! – in Creangă's Nica, Sadoveanu's Lizuca, Arghezi's Barutzu and Mitzura, or Simona Popescu's successive Exuviae. The teachers from Cismigiu & Co. or Sorin Stoica's book or may remind them of their own teachers; on the other hand, Mr. Vucea and Caragiale's "new-school pedagogue" may look now not just old-hat, but blatantly weird. With half a century separating them, Verdeş and Eliade's adolescents are, fundamentally, relatives, just as they share the same dreams and preoccupations with any generic teenagers.

Folklore has been a rich alternative source for children's literature. Although more sketchily represented in this issue, the all but staggering amount of cradle songs, doinas, ballads, riddles, proverbs, fables, heroic poems and historical narratives, not to mention the tales, has always been a productive source of inspiration for cultured literature. George Calinescu, a classic Romanian critic, dedicated an entire book to fairy tales, convinced that in this genre with a "specific genesis," "children and adolescents will find mythology, narration, science, and moral observation." Next to "international" heroes such as Prince Charming and the typical objective of his adventure, Ileana Cosanzeana or some emperor's daughter, and their sworn enemies (e. g. Baba Cloanta or Muma Padurii, literally Mother of the Wood), there dwell in the kingdom of Romanian folklore Pacala and Tandala (pranksters and fools at the same time), monsters like Stone-Breaker and Wood-Bender, Quenchless Boy and Starving Boy, Pasari-Lati-Lungila (a kind of behemoth) and Statu-Palma-Barba-Cot (a mischievous gnome), and legions of other fantastic creatures.

The ludic spirit is ingrained in most of the children's authors, beginning with the very level of language, as in the works of Nina Cassian or Gellu Naum, which, alongside classic stories, have found their way to the stage. A future edition will perhaps feature a special games section; for now, one casts an inevitably brief light on the performing arts, from puppet theater and animated cartoons, both with solid traditions in Romania, to current TV shows in which science plays an important role.

Yet, whatever the speed and comfort of modern trains, there will always be an overspoiled Mr. Goe who inadvertently blocks himself up in the toilet.

by Aurora Fabritius