The Deep Existential Premise of Goodnight Moon

“I would recommend [this] book to anyone interested in going to bed at night and [who] suffers from separation anxiety with inanimate objects.”

“You cannot rhyme ‘moon’ with ‘moon’ and be granted ‘Classic’ status. I’m sorry—no dice. No third-rate, illiterate rapper would get away with this, why does Brown? All I can guess is that, written shortly after the Second World War, the author (and illustrator) composed this under the duress of shell shock.”

“Reading Goodnight Moon is like drowning in a huge bowl of oatmeal (or ‘mush,’ if you must): Bland, stultifying, lukewarm, heavy, soggy, and so sticky that it drags you down into its gross beigeness until you succumb to a clammy death in its depths.”

GoodnightMoon

These are just a few of my favorite Goodreads reviews for the beloved children’s picture book, Goodnight Moon.

Why all these negative sentiments for a cherished classic? Well, because most of these reviewers were reading the book from the perspective of an adult. And really, in Goodnight Moon, not much happens.

Talk about an action scene.

Talk about an action scene.

So what makes it, as many of the more positive reviewers insisted, perfect for young kids?

Why don’t we let a dead theologian explain?

No, this is not Teddy Roosevelt with a crazy wig.

No, this is not Teddy Roosevelt with a crazy wig.

Meet G.K. Chesterton. The following quote is from his excellent book Orthodoxy (which is a pretty ironic title for something being quoted on a blog called The Monday Heretic, but whatever).

“When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales—because they find them romantic.”

Makes sense, right? That’s why Goodnight Moon is mostly for toddlers, and a spinoff like Goodnight Gorilla is for the kindergarten set.

Gorilla

In this one, there’s actually a plot. Yes, text-wise the zookeeper is just saying goodnight to the animals…but the gorilla is secretly letting them all out of their cages! That extra inside-joke and element of surprise works better for an older audience.

And then there’s Goodnight iPad, a book that actually subtitles itself “A parody,” in case you weren’t sure about that.

Ipad

To really appreciate the humor of this (and others like Goodnight Goon), it helps to be even older, old enough to recognize irony. The people writing those one-star reviews of Goodnight Moon would probably love this one.

“Right,” you might be thinking. “Thank you, Amy, for this Intro to Children’s Literature Seminar. But isn’t this supposed to be a theology blog?”

Calm down, staged questioner. I was about to explain that G.K. Chesterton’s theory about realistic tales is sometimes what helps me get up in the morning.

Because, most days, my life is Goodnight Moon. It is a collection of perfectly normal scenes and repeated greetings and ordinary scenery. There isn’t much of a plot. There isn’t a dramatic ending. And then it starts all over again.

There are days where I hate this. I wake up and dread the routine of daily life. But then I remember what Chesterton goes on to say:

“This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”

Wow.

That, my friends, is why I love to hear little kids laugh: there’s nothing fake or forced about it. They’re just enjoying life, and the tiniest things will delight them into giggles.

After reading this, I tried an experiment: a day of childlike wonder. (I’d highly recommend it.)

Wonder

Have you noticed recently the woosh of heat and release of tension when you step inside a building from the cold? Or the fact that emails send instantly or everyone’s laugh is different or food has tastes or clouds move and make new pictures in the sky?

I hadn’t, until that day.

Maybe you’re like me and walk away from epic movies feeling slightly depressed because you are so ordinary and the time and place you live in doesn’t seem to have a pressing need for heroes.

So be a hero in the small things. Notice the tiny ways that common grace leaks into a fallen world. Remember what it’s like to take joy from the way things are, from the everyday setup of the world that has lulled itself into background noise so that we forget to notice how amazing it is: every blade of grass, every drop of water.

You might just find yourself living a better story.

3 comments

  1. By happy coincidence, I’m finishing up Chesterton’s Orthodoxy at the moment. I’ve enjoyed it. Chesterton’s fascination with paradoxes delights me, though I can’t say I appreciate his frequent allusions to thinkers and writers I’ve never heard of.

    I read Goodnight Moon many years ago. I don’t remember much about it, except that it didn’t tax my intellect quite as much as Orthodoxy has.

  2. I’ve never read Goodnight Moon, but I guess its just as well, as I’m on the opposite end of the spoon, Amy, I love a good dish of traditional oatmeal cooked in milk and sweetened with a spoonful of brown sugar and with a handful of raisins thrown in, and don’t forget the sliced banana on top…absolutely scrumptilious! I also enjoy reading Chesterton, his Orthodoxy, Father Brown Mysteries, etc. And as to childlike wonder, I hope at 78 and beyond, I never loose this God given gift.

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