Before I get started on this week’s Friday Five, let me say first of all that I’m sorry it’s been a bit quiet over here this week. Work has been insanely busy and this is the first time this week I’ve actually had time to stop and think!
What can you expect this week? Well, this time I wanted to look at stories that are set in the past. Historican novels are having a bit of a revival of popularity at the moment. This could just be because people are rediscovering a sense of escapism in travelling through the pages to another time and place. But I hope that it also shows that there is a renewed focus on listening to the lessons of the past, rather than automatically assuming that if something isn’t brand spanking new, it doesn’t have value today.
So here are five stories set in the past, that I think have a timeless message that still applies today and probably will in the future too…
5: The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka
This novel follows the fortunes of 4 generations of the same family in Malaysia. I’m not going to lie to you – it’s definitely a harrowing, challenging read. But I think it really illustrates how the decisions one individual makes can have consequences years and generations later. Traumatic but powerful.
4: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Miles away from your Hammer Horror Boris Karloff type, the original Frankenstein examines much deeper issues. Like the nature of childhood, class privilege and man’s vanity in his attempts to control nature and life itself. I can’t help but wonder if people in the future will read this and shake their heads about the fact we didn’t take its message to heart and continued to meddle with nature.
3: My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards. Illustrations by Shirley Hughes
OK so I realise this may look oddly placed next to a heavyweight like Frankenstein. But I suspect many more people have read this than Mary Shelley’s work. I remember reading this when I was little and upon discovering the ‘little sister’ had the same name as my younger sibling, I always wondered if Shirley Hughes had secretly written it about her! The universal quality here is that all kids love to read about the naughty things other kids have done. My two children love to read it with me now, and I’m sorry but they think it is about their Aunty too!
2: The Crucible by Arthur Miller
This play is set in 1600s Massachusetts, but is well known to have been an allegory of McCarthy era America, where the right wing government mobilised mass hysteria against liberals and anyone perceived to have Communist leanings. However, it’s a situation that seems doomed to repeat itself. You need only glance at some of the tabloids today to see they’re still at work whipping up hatred towards single parents or immigrants or Muslims. The witch hunters never retired and so this play is as relevant as ever, sadly.
1: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce
This is a classic children’s story that is still as popular today as when it was first published in 1958. For me, what makes this book as timeless as the clock at the centre of the story is its examination of the tension you feel as a child between wanting to grow up as fast as possible and wanting to stay young forever. Tom gives us a chance to see what it’s like to have a foot in both worlds and satisfy that overwhelming curiosity.
Have stories about the past taught you any lessons to live by today? Let me know