One of my favourite memories from childhood, is of my school teacher reading fairy tales aloud in class, and asking us to draw our favourite character. The moment we finished we would hang them up on the class wall and see who had drawn their favourite character best. No matter how outrageous, our imagination would hang on that wall for a whole week till the next story session. One glance and you could see that the drawings were all different. Each princess had a different face, a different gown. If my Rapunzel had long, yellow hair with blue ribbons, someone else’s Rapunzel was fair with rosy cheeks and had long blue hair. But try as you might to change it, that image stuck. That was our Rapunzel.
What about Panchatantra. Every story with it’s moral and it’s talking animals. Visits to the zoo were never the same for me. I always thought the monkeys sniggered when I turned my back! And then there were the Secret Seven and Famous Five. Imagine crawling into a den with a door, whispering the password and entering to sit on overturned crates, discussing the next mystery while munching on Oatmeal biscuits and Cream Scones. Just the sound of cream scones conjured up a long pastry filled to the brim with sweet jam and cream, crumbs falling as their dog licked it up. I remember, trying unsuccessfully, to buy cream scones at pastry shops and growing up thinking it was an exotic English tea time snack completely out of my reach.
Or what about Malory Towers and the Lacrosse team? Try imagining the whole game with those strange bats and balls, with no help from pictures. Want a more modern example? Try Quidditch from Harry Potter. Imagine what Quidditch would be like if you had no help from the movies. Now isn’t that good enough to keep you busy your whole childhood? Well, apparently not.
For kids of today, things have been made a lot simpler. Fairy tales have been made into TV shows, shown one episode at a time. Now, kids can only think of Cinderella in a blue gown with a blond bun. Beauty is the one dancing in a canary yellow ball gown with Beast in a blue tuxedo. Every dwarf has its own colour and Walt Disney has made sure all princesses look almost the same. Long, flowing hair and big, dark eyes.
Sure, cartoon channels like Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and the others have made sure stories reach a larger audience. Enid Blyton and Brothers Grimm are not limited to books at the library but for anyone with a TV and some time to watch. Parents do not have to take out time to read, just switch on the TV and there is a show to watch. Is your favourite show not on? Well, rent a DVD! Now children can not only read about their favourite characters they can take it with them to school as their book bag, eat out of their fairy tale plate and spoon set and after dinner, complete a Sleeping Beauty and Seven Dwarves puzzle.
Ask a child now to imagine a character and draw it. Chances are it will resemble something from a recently watched cartoon. Why can’t Cinderella wear a gown of fire-flies and glow as she runs down the stairs or Beauty dance in a golden gown that she stitched from nettles and daisies? It is alright for Spongebob Squarepants and Tom and Jerry to be on TV, but let books be books. Let us go back to those days.