I’m a firm believer in finishing a book, and there are very few that I’ve abandoned (Cloud Atlas and the mammoth Infinite Jest spring to mind unfortunately). Some books simply take a while to get going; the author preferring to spend time building the foundations to allow the many layers of a complex story to beautifully unfold.
Other books pull out unexpected plot twists midway that can transform the reading experience into something very different than was initially expected. Joyce Carol Oates’ plot structures regularly do this.
However on this occasion, it’s Martyn Beardsley’s Sir Gadabout that has defeated us after chapter two.
This is not a reflection on the quality of Beardsley’s prose. The chapters were nicely constructed, carefully paving the way for an obstacle-ridden character journey that would see Sir Gadabout grow and blossom with each challenge.
It was a very specific incident that finished this tale off for Toby. During chapter two Sir Gadabout loses his ear (yes his whole ear) in a jousting incident.
The whole escapade was handled with a nice dose of black humour. But at age six, Toby didn’t pick up on the humourous touches that included the crowd shouting “Come ‘ere” when the dog was chasing Sir Gadabout’s ear as it rolled across the ground.
Nor was he comforted by the suggestion that Merlin would magically fix Sir Gadabout’s ear in chapter three. He was clearly disturbed by the sliced-off ear and Sir Gadabout has been returned to the library.
We’ve previously survived the children-hating demonic women in The Witches and the sinister button-eyed parents in Coraline by Neil Gaiman, but this gory incident has got the better of my sensitive six year old who does usually feel every word I read. And that is fine.
It is a stark reminder to stay within age appropriate boundaries when choosing bedtime stories. I often pick up that parents are quick to push their kids on with reading and other activities but just because a child might be an advanced reader and able to cope with more advanced language we should be mindful of the content with sensitive younger children.