I have always thought it was really interesting to read about the origin of the world or explanations of phenomena that does not match today’s scientific facts and theories. In the Water-Babies, the reader was exposed to an alternate state of life and what life was like “under the sea.” In Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens the explanation for where babies come is that they are born first as birds on an island of birds and then fly to their future homes to become babies. This explanation is just as valid as the stork baby story when adults make up untrue explanations for children. I’m not sure why adults seem keen on telling children more fantastical and unreal versions of the truth, as we have learned in class through reading Golden Age literature and specific cases like Lewis Carroll entertaining children with enchanting lies, but they do. These lies become stories, and these stories go on to be published works.
An example of one of these quite interesting stories is the explanation for fossils in Five Children and It. The Psammead, the wish-granting sand fairy, imparts a lot of “historical” knowledge to the children who find him. The Psammead is several thousand years old and supposedly from the time of Pterodactyls and Megatheriums, the time of dinosaurs. Apparently he used to grant wishes for Megatheriums to be eaten, but whatever of them was not eaten by sunset would turn to stone. This applies for any wish that produces an object. As soon as the sun sets, it turns to stone. Thus, this story implies that the dinosaur remains, fossils, we find today are the results of, for lack of a better term, wish leftovers.
I delight in this kind of pseudo-mythology in literature, and I wonder why this form of fiction is popular and frequently embedded in novels and stories. I mentioned before that I am not sure why adults enjoy these kinds of “re-tellings,” but they do provide a source of entertainment. Adults constantly lie to children about life—babies coming from storks, fairies, the Boogie man, and most notorious, Santa Claus. If we think back, a lot of these fantasy elements have been used over time to protect children and direct their behavior, such as Santa Claus watching over all children in order to reward the good ones with presents on Christmas, and this helps to make children behave properly more often. However, what benefit or advantage does this fake history of fossils told by the Psammead have?
I believe that these fake histories provide background for the story. If the Psammead had no “concrete” history and was just a mysterious being, it lops him into a group of flat characters. Histories, even fake ones, flesh out characters and even if the genre is fiction, make the characters seem more genuine and real, with real not necessarily meaning as from our reality.