Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Goodnight Nobody

Goodnight MoonGoodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

There is still no children's book to my mind that conveys so great a sense of peace, security, and well-being as does Goodnight Moon.  Clement Hurd's illustrations are just as compelling as the words.  The translation of the people into bunnies, while hardly the first personification in the history of books, does a great deal to foster that very safe feeling that emanates from the "great green room"--the complexities of people and human relationship are for the time being ignored.  As others have noted, the parental figure and the child do not interact in this story; the parent is more like a part of the furniture, like a part of the heavenly firmament, like a moon.  What's important about her is that she is there, and in some sense will always be there, following right beside you in your mind as a moon follows along with you as you go for a walk at night or even if you drive a country road in a speeding car; it is with you; it sets, but it always returns.  The narrative strategy of Goodnight Moon is akin to the first lines of Genesis--a naming of things.  But it isn't a story of creation upon the void, but an insistence that all that was there will remain there, even at night, that darkness or unconsciousness or anything that may reside in a child's imagination, does not abolish the elements of his or her world.  They are sturdy.  Quietness and gentleness are sturdy.  Love is sturdy.  It will not disappear from the earth.  The only thing that doesn't exist is nothingness and nobody itself: even "Nobody" has sufficient being to warrant an individually addressed goodnight.  The mouse that's on every page also seems to reiterate without saying it, in a way that is more vital than words, that is antecedent to words, that is real and independent of the child: I am here, I am here, I am here...

There is a less reassuring, but interesting, story behind the disposition of the royalties for Goodnight Moon--not what you think, not a squabble over money, but something at once more strange and sad.  For the story, go here.  That is reality, that is life; but it's not the part of life to which Goodnight Moon addresses itself, a part that is real, that is there, that is there, that is there....

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