A week or so ago on Facebook I posed a question to cozy readers about how much of real-world issues they wanted to see in cozy books or series. Cozy mysteries are usually centered on a crime, most often murder—that much is real world—but often it’s the only cloud to mar a cozy’s sky. But what about real-world social issues, like human trafficking or drug dealing? Do they fit?
The responses to that post covered a broad spectrum, from both authors and readers, and they made interesting reading. Many people read cozies for escape: they want a good story about solving a crime, with a satisfying ending. If they want blood and terror, they look to another genre.
I tend to lean in that direction myself. Sometimes I want to read a book for entertainment, not enlightenment or social commentary. Tell me a story! Make me care about the characters (and want to see them again). That’s enough.
But a couple of days later I started thinking about children’s books and what their authors chose to include. No doubt many of us read the same ones when we were growing up, and maybe even read them to our children (or grandchildren?). They were and are beloved (and many are still in print). But they are not always happy.
Several came to mind immediately: Charlotte’s Web, written by E. B. White with the wonderful illustrations by Garth Williams; Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson; and Bambi, from the Walt Disney group. Of course there are more, but these are the ones I remember best. And guess what: they each involve a significant death, which makes painful reading. I might add Peter Pan, written by J. M. Barrie. No, Peter doesn’t die in the end, but he is left behind while his friends grow up and move on while he doesn’t. Again, it’s sad.
The one that I recall most often is Charlotte’s Web (and I think it was the answer to a recent Jeopardy question), because I blieve the author teaches a life-lesson without being heavy handed. (If you haven’t read it, skip ahead, because this is a spoiler.) Charlotte is a spider who befriends a pig, Wilbur. They can communicate to each other, and when Wilbur is headed for the slaughterhouse, Charlotte mounts a campaign to save him by weaving written messages into her web (if I remember right, one was “Some Pig”). And she succeeds.
But Charlotte is a spider, and spiders don’t usually live very long. Yes, Charlotte dies in the end. Wilbur’s sense of loss is balanced only when he finds that Charlotte’s spider offspring have hatched and can also speak with him, and they’re all around him. It is a bittersweet ending–and memorable.
What books did you read early in your life that you still remember well? And did they include any sad parts?