A lot of children’s authors have used their stories as a way of insulating themselves against the real world. Many never really grow up, despite their seemingly sober, grownup outer appearances.
Perhaps this is the main quality that connects our greatest children's writers.
|J M Barrie|
|Hans Christian Andersen|
Dr Seuss – Theodor Seuss Geisel to give him his real name – was certainly very bashful, with a pathological fear of speaking in public. On the rare occasions he did give public addresses, he resorted to reading a comical rhyme – albeit touched by Seussian magic – in place of a speech. There is a short, but very revealing video clip on YouTube of Seuss smiling at, but saying nothing to, an interviewer late in his life in San Diego.
He never lost his childlike playfulness. Many stories abound of his childlike naughtiness, recounted in the excellent book by Judith and Neil Morgan, Dr Seuss and Mr Geisel. One particular favourite of mine was the time he went into a shoe shop and switched all the stickers indicating what size of shoes were on display.
Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a brilliant, reserved and reticent Oxford mathematics don. He was a man with two sides. On one hand he was Dodgson, the quiet, shy, reserved Victorian gentleman bachelor, a genius in his field. On the other he was Carroll, the dazzlingly creative author of Alice in Wonderland, possessed of a quicksilver wit shot through with a bizarre and darkly comic imagination. The pen name Lewis Carroll clearly allowed the mild mannered mathematician and logician from Cheshire to release his wild and childlike side while offering him the ability to return to the quiet, dusty world of academia when it all became a bit too crazy.
|Roald Dahl's writing hut|
Nevertheless, like these other authors, he had the desire to escape into his writing. How else do you explain his desire each morning to seek refuge in his little whitewashed, yellow-doored shed at the bottom of his garden where he would sit in an old armchair and swaddle himself in an old sleeping bag so that he had created for himself a womb-like workspace?
There are other authors, of course, not all children's writers - here I'm thinking of P G Wodehouse and Charles Schulz - who escaped into their own childlike fantasy worlds.
So, who would you include in the list?