Monday, March 1, 2010

Children in Stories

We visited a working farm this past weekend, on one of those rare spring days when they open it up to visitors, particularly the little ones, who enjoy seeing baby animals. The farm is owned by one family of husband, wife, and a passel of kids, ranging in age from late teens down to a toddler.

As I spoke with the kids about the animals and saw them work in and around the barns, stables, and outdoor areas, I was struck by how mature and responsible these kids were. Modern, middle-class, urban kids the same age are far less so.

You could say that these farm kids had no choice but to grow up fast. You could mourn the loss of their childhood under adult responsibility. You could blame the parents for not hiring enough outside labor to allow their own kids to mature at their own pace. Or you could admire the parents for inculcating in their tender years, virtues that will stand their kids in good stead for their adult lives.

But that is not the thrust (hur!) of my blog here. My focus is on how circumstances make the children into who they are and how historical authors do children incorrectly in their stories.

First of, I'm not even considering those stories where the children are mere props for plot purposes or to act as sounding-board secondary characters.

I'm talking about those stories where the children are well-developed child characters. Only problem is: They sound like modern urban children with modern urban sensibilities.

Our children are, for the most part, mollycoddled and cerebral. Their concerns are, for the most part, themselves and their personal quotidian events; whereas, the maturity levels of kids in different historicals periods were far different.

Kids of the Regency had far more freedom to wander around, discover for themselves how things worked, fall into mischief, and learn about things we (modern people) don't think children should see/hear/know. Kids of the Middle Ages were considered grown and fostered out at seven years of age. Girls were married at twelve; boys became squires at thirteen.

These children also were not around adults 24x7 but around peers. Naturally, their thoughts, speech, and behavior were colored by their experiences.

Consequently, authors need to take this into consideration when choosing how their little characters will be on the stage of their story.

For example, the concern for and carrying on by the Regency hero's children about the hero and the heroine and their ongoing love struggles, might add to the precocious cuteness factor, but is historically inaccurate. Another example, a six-year-old medieval kid afraid of sleeping away from his mother in a separate room of his birth keep and his mother thereby having him sleep on a pallet in her room or in her bed. (And no, nothing bad happened to the kid or the mother in the past.)

What do you think about my conjecture here? Do you have any examples that help underscore your thoughts? Is it a valid concern that authors should worry about being historically true to all their characters?