The Poodle in the Church: Literature and Laughter

Remember this rascal?

Remember this rascal?

Our taste in reading material may change as we grow older. It becomes more refined, picky even (dare I say snobbish?). A more discerning taste is often a sign of maturity, talent, genius even.

Yet, this is not always so. I had some inklings of the inherent fallacies of this view when I noticed that everything I read was a gloomy diatribe against some indefatigable wrong–whether societal or otherwise. Let’s face it: most of literature’s great works are downright depressing. They are full of fragile beauty and piercing truth, but they often leave the sensitive among us weighed down with the unending weight of the world with no end in sight only more questions, questions, questions…

So, imagine my delight when I decided to pick up again Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. The characters in this novel had accompanied me since childhood. “Huck Finn” happened to be the first novel that my mother ever bought me, her bookworm of a daughter. Some years back, though, I remember trying to re-read “Tom Sawyer” and being incapable of doing so! I could not identify with the antics of a obnoxious Southern boy. I was so exasperated that I couldn’t finish the book, since, at the time, it was so important for me to be able to identify with the main characters in order to read a book.

Fast forward to a month ago: the teacher I work with assigned a “Junior” edition for our High School special education class. The students vacillated between daydreaming and attentive listening (but of course not following along in their own copies, in any case), while it was the three adults in the room who were chuckling and enjoying the story the most.

I was so charmed by Twain’s style, his humor, the believable characters that I marched right down to the library and checked out the complete version of the novel from the school library.

After work, I plopped down on our living room couch and began reading. The book was heavy in my hands, certainly larger than our everyday paperbacks, not thick, but long and wide, child-sized. (Someone should write an essay on how our books shrink as we age: children receive these huge books with big words and scores of pictures, while we get short, fat books with little, bitty letters). I was thoroughly entertained.

Imagine me, almost 30, thinking she’s refined and sophisticated, laughing out loud at a pinched poodle running around a church! I could not stop laughing at the book, and trust me I’m not a laugher (if that even is a word). I’m on the couch reading and laughing, with my sisters rolling their eyes at me and my attempts to convey they story to them. It was a change. My mood was actually lifted by something I was reading. What gives?

Twain was such a genius because he captured childhood. For most of us, no matter how tough our youth might’ve been, childhood was a time of joy, happiness, and freedom. I laughed because I remembered the joy of being a kid. I remembered life being an adventure. I was never bored, never cynical, always active, always getting into something I shouldn’t. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” touches adults like me and my fellow teachers because it makes us remember.

So, occasionally, take a break from the mental exercise that is the majority of English Literature and laugh at a good story. Are there any treasured childhood books that transport you to the past and still take you away?


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