When I was a child my friends had a nickname for me. They called me The Preacher because I would turn every situation into a moral lesson.
Where did this finger-wagging tendency come from? My dad had a somewhat sententious manner arising from his rather straight-laced Methodist upbringing. And my mum had an unusually heightened sense of social justice which spilled out whenever anything made her angry. Climbing on a soap-box just came naturally to me, I suppose.
I can only pity my poor friends, having their ears bent like that! And now it’s your turn, WordPress people, because looking back over my posts I can’t find one that isn’t a sermon in disguise. Poems, satires, opinions – each of them a little homily to a happier future where prejudice, ignorance and cruelty are unknown.
A world without evil is impossible if you believe in Original Sin – the idea that we are all born bad and must be redeemed. I happen to believe the opposite – that we are born good but corrupted by social conditioning into bad habits. I’m reading a biography of children’s writer Lewis Carroll which explains how he was influenced by the poets Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth towards an idealised yet honest view of childhood – his Alice books show their feisty little hero more than holding her own against the nonsensical gibberish emanating from so-called adult authority.
Carroll works through parody, a skill he honed as a child producing countless magazines for his younger brothers and sisters to read. He was just thirteen when he wrote the spirited poem My Fairy which spoofed the solemn rubrics and prim & proper prudishness of conventional Victorian society.
I have a fairy by my side
Which says I must not sleep,
When once in pain I loudly cried
It said “You must not weep.”
If, full of mirth, I smile and grin,
It says “You must not laugh”;
When once I wished to drink some gin
It said “You must not quaff.”
When once a meal I wished to taste
It said “You must not bite”;
When to the wars I went in haste
It said “You must not fight.”
“What may I do?” at length I cried,
Tired of the painful task.
The fairy quietly replied,
And said “You must not ask.”
Moral: “You mustn’t.”
So finger-wagging isn’t the way to go. Who knew?
And how easy it is to glimpse, in this barely teenage prodigy with his natural genius for companionable hilarity, the witty man who transformed children’s literature by giving children a stronger voice in the bewildering world we grown-ups create for them.