The Classics Club: The Water Babies

The Water Babies

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?

The Classics Club – 43/50
Once Upon a Time X – #5

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10 thoughts on “The Classics Club: The Water Babies

  1. I fear I am allergic to books that moralize-:) I will have to give this one a pass. Did you ever read The Borrowers series? Lots of lessons learned by both children and adults but never feel like morals. I would for sure count them as classics and there was recently a movie called The Secret World of Arrietty that was pretty good.

  2. I read this so long ago that I can’t remember the first thing about it! The thing is though, I can’t particularly remember enjoying it – which is perhaps why I’ve forgotten the plot so spectacularly.
    Lynn 😀

  3. Interesting! As a child, I hated it with a passion – all that moralising! And those hideous montrosities – Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid – are the reasons I give whenever I feel I have to explain why I so dislike so much children’s literature from around that era. Actually, this is one of my pet hate books altogether! So I’ve never tried to read it as an adult, and never will, even though I suspect I might see more to admire in it than I did as a child. Ugh! I’m so glad I was never a Victorian child! 😉

    1. FictionFan, I can certainly sympathise with your experience of this book. This wasn’t my favourite and I will sadly never know whether I would have liked it less or more as a child, my instincts tell me I would have liked it less, but I have enjoyed many other Victorian/Edwardian children’s classics.

  4. I read this as a child and loved it, but re-reading it a few years ago it seemed a different story and terribly moralising and quite boring in parts. I think I must have read a child’s version before.

  5. I’ve seen this in the library but don’t know if modern children actually check it out – it would be interesting to know what they think of it! I think it sounds really interesting so I might just have to check it out myself. 🙂

    1. Anbolyn, it would be interesting to know if modern children read this because even the film I watched as a child is rather old now too – this is a story which seems to have been forgotten a little bit. When you check it out, I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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