Spring Forward, Fall Back, through Literature

By Johnston, Arnold; Percy, Deborah Ann | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Spring Forward, Fall Back, through Literature


Johnston, Arnold, Percy, Deborah Ann, Phi Kappa Phi Forum


In the 1926 poem "since feeling is first," E. E. Cummings writes, "wholly to be a fool / while Spring is in the world / my blood approves."

When spring is in the air we look forward to renewal, of course. But we're also reminded of our own springtimes past. Literature that catches the feeling of this season can help us "fools" rediscover the wondering children, love-drunk youngsters and other earlier selves still inside us, however autumnal, even wintry, our current editions may be.

Your inner child will come out of the shadows when you pick up Hugh Lofting 's 1920 novel The Story of Doctor Dotittle and join the title character in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh as he learns to speak with the animals, thanks to his parrot, Polynesia, Once conversant, Dr. Dolittle leaves his sedate life for Africa on the first of many exotic adventures that eventually filled at least 10 books.

Those who associate spring with excitement may want to check out Robert Louis Stevenson's 1 886 historical novel Kidnapped, which chronicles the exploits of the newly orphaned 17-year-old David Balfour in I8"'"century Scotland. The hopeful young man. ready to claim his unexpected birthright and fortune, is abducted, then plunged into a headlong chase involving murder, swordplay and swashbuckling, set against the Jacobite Rebellion.

Another voyage of self-discovery takes young Max Jones beyond the solar system in Robert A. Heinlein 's youngadult sci-fi classic, Starmatt Jones (1953). Readers first encounter the wouldbe stellar explorer just as he has finished slopping the hogs on the family farm he has been working for his stepmother after his father's death. When she remarries a man he despises, the youth runs away to the exotic city of Earthport, taking with him his uncle's interplanetary manuals.

On another field of play, the brash but likable lefty Henry Wiggen takes the mound in Mark Harris' winning 1953 baseball novel The Southpaw. In a voice reminiscent of Ring Lardner's 1916 baseball classic You Know Me Al, the pitcher, a type of wise fool, narrates his funny, poignant, and seldom grammatical coming-ofage story as a member of the New York Mammoths, who are in the thick of an old-time pennant race that hearkens to the days when baseball was still undeniably the national pastime. A good baseball tale is required reading this time of year - during spring training.

Perhaps the definitive young-adult novel for grownups is Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ( 1 884). The first-person account by the title character, an ingenuous and wry teenage misfit, diverts and enlightens, doubling as rite of passage and social commentary. Huck's reckoning, alternatively hilarious and scary, is dominated by his navigation down the Mississippi River on a raft with a fleeing adult slave, Jim, as Twain sets his gimlet eye on the problems of reconstruction and racism after the Civil War. …

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