I know I read William Steig’s SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE as a kid, more than once or twice or Iwouldn’t remember it, and I must have liked it or my mom wouldn’t have picked it out as a present for my little cousin. But re-reading it recently (before it got mailed off to aforementioned little cousin), I felt such distress and empathy for the parents, who for a whole year believe something horrible must have happened to their child because he went missing and couldn’t be found, that I couldn’t really enjoy it at all. I mean seriously, how awful for those poor parents. Yes, in the end, there’s a happy reunion, but still, a whole year.
It occurs to me, though, that perhaps as a child my empathy didn’t naturally focus on the parents (although there are quite a few pages devoted to them and their sorrow), but rather on Sylvester, the child, whose plight of being stuck in the form of a rock is also quite miserable. The Sylvester story line somehow seems less inappropriate to me, more in keeping with common fairy tale themes (hero/heroine stuck in unhappy situation with no apparent way out, in the end finds way out or is rescued). This of course raises the question: when I begin identifying more with the parents in a story than with the kid? How did that happen? What is this creeping, insipent adultness that keeps happening to me???