Friday, 19 December 2008

Everybody knows that

One of the things I most remember from childhood reading is that a lot of narratives used an all-knowing lofty stance when educating their young readers.

There seemed to be a fashion for informing when writing for children - using the statement ‘but of course, everyone knows that’. Sometimes it would be with a sprinkling of truth, such as the one below:

Percy the kitten went over to the saucer and happily drank the top of the milk (as everyone knows kittens like that bit best).

Or it would be something quite bizarre, like:

The polar bear was wearing a red woollen scarf (as everyone knows that red is a polar bear’s favourite colour).

The result gave me a slight feeling of inadequacy. I didn’t know that kittens like the top of the milk, or that a polar bear's favourite colour was red. But the author has just told me ‘everyone’ knows – you mean to say no one told me? Everyone knew apart from me? I viewed books as all-powerful guides – if they said ‘everyone knows’ then surely they must be correct, on both the statement, and the fact that everyone around me were surely information hogging gits. Text printed in a book meant Truth, Justice and The American Way. Well, perhaps not the latter two, but definitely ‘truth’ – unless it was something obviously mad, like Doctor Seuss.

I’d test this ‘everyone knows’ theory by asking my mother, not yet realising this would ultimately confuse me further. No, she didn’t seem to know that polar bears like red woollen scarves, but she did know cats liked the creamy top of the milk. My mother was the voice of adult reason, twenty foot tall, and my light shining ahead on the path to adulthood (which explains A LOT!). So I’d go back to the book, unable to dismiss the statements as one of those baffling jokes adults like to play on children, and equally unable to totally believe them to be gospel.

As I got older I saw through them for the author trick they were, but I do remember that perplexing time of wondering whether I was the only one in the world who didn’t know, and wanting to believe polar bears only liked red scarves.


idil o. calvero said...

if i were a polar bear, my favorite color would be celtics green (and everyone knows that).

man, i'm a very unique polar bear.

Jayne said...

But I didn't know that! You mean everyone knows your colour would be celtics green? I might have to go and ask my mum...