So far this year I have really been enjoying working my way through the children’s classics on my Classic Club list. In May, I continued this with The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley; a story I vaguely knew from a film I watched as a child.
Poor, little orphan Tom has been forced to work hard as a chimney sweep, by the villainous Grimes, all his short life. One day, on a job at a local manor house little Tom is wrongly accused of theft and chased mercilessly across the countryside. Exhausted and disheartened Tom falls asleep in a small, cooling stream where he magically transforms into a water baby. In his new form Tom sets off on a long and arduous adventure seeking redemption and his heart’s desire; along the way he is helped by the fierce Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, the motherly Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and many magical sea creatures.
As you can imagine this book has a whole host of colourful, if a little two-dimensional, characters however the only one we really get to know is our flawed protagonist, Tom. While Tom has changed outwardly, from a dirty, over-worked boy to a new, clean water baby, he still needs to change inwardly. He is taught many a lesson by Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid and Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby for not helping, for stealing and teasing other animals. These lessons help to express to the reader the author’s moral teachings, but I also felt they made Tom a more believable and relatable character.
This is the first book I’ve read by the Reverend Charles Kingsley and while I had vague memories of watching a film as a child, this book didn’t resemble my memories much at all. After Tom’s magically transformation Kingsley takes the reader on a long, meandering, surreal journey beneath the waves – with each adventure teaching Tom and the reader a lesson on behaviour, love, faith and forgiveness. I found some of the adventures charming whilst others were a little too surreal for my liking, however I so enjoyed the rhythmic flow of the book I was happy to continue reading. My only real pet-peeve was Kingsley’s insistence on addressing the reader as a boy! As an adult woman while it was annoying I could get past it – I do fear what a little girl reading this book would think though (perhaps that it is not a book for them?).
The Water Babies is a classic children’s moral tale which I enjoyed but I didn’t love – I do wonder if I’d have enjoyed it more or less as a child. After finishing this, I continued my children’s classic reading with The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit. Okay read.
Have you read this? What did you think of it?