I asked you what novelists Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and Mark Twain
(1835-1910) had in common, you’d probably reply that they both wrote very
popular books for juveniles.
is, however, that neither Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
(1726) nor Twain’s two most famous books (Tom Sawyer,
1876, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
1884) were written for young readers at all — unlike
most other “children’s literature”.
for example, was first and foremost a satirist — and a merciless one at
that, bitterly hating anything that smacked of hypocrisy and oppression.
Gulliver’s Travels was thus intended as a relentless satire on
international politics, war, science and travel writing.
in mind, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what Swift would make of the
fact that his novel (especially the first part, about Lilliput) has been
appropriated by an audience of children. And this, even though there is
much in Gulliver’s Travels that children simply cannot understand.
They have accepted what they like in it and ignored what they don’t.
Twain wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn for adults too.
Yet they seem destined to endure as captivating yarns for children,
largely because of the adventure and fun they contain and their colourful
characters — notably their mischievous heroes, who are hardly the stuff of
the then prevalent moralistic “Sunday School” stories.
Finn, in particular, was quite serious in intent, in spite of its
humour, in so far as Mark Twain was using it as a vehicle to attack
corruption, cruelty and prejudice. Believe it or not, this masterpiece was
actually banned from the Brooklyn New York Public Library Children’s Room
for a time. A decision, apparently, that Twain vigorously supported.