Thomas Williams John Gardner - Essay

John Gardner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Williams has always been more a preacher and entertainer than a serious novelist. If he deals with weighty matters, he does not deal with them weightily: He goes for Hollywood images, Hollywood sentiments and Hollywood's notion of "serious thought." I don't mind such things in novels for adults, though I don't exactly love them. In novels for children, sentimentality and preaching make me cross. "Tsuga's Children" is both: The publisher calls it a novel that "will be read with enchantment by adults and young people alike." (p. 13)

[The] language, emotions and surprising heroics recall Bomba, Boy of the Jungle, Raggedy Ann and the Hardy boys. The good, of course, are very very good, as mushy language insists….

The bad, on the other hand, are outrageously bad, though as in all schlock children's fiction they can be converted from bad to good, if the author feels like it, just like that. And as in all deeply sentimental pseudo-art (as Jung pointed out), mindless, gooey sweetness comes hand in hand with sadism….

Williams's themes, the oneness of all Nature and human responsibility here on this planet, are themes as noble as the mind can think up. But however it's disguised—as drama for adults or as drama for children—melodramatic, mushy writing is an offense against the spirit. In several mildly hysterical passages, Williams makes children the hope of the world. I agree, up to a point, that children are each new generation's hope. But, despite his good intentions, Williams writes, as did Eugene Field, work that leads children in both wrong directions—toward soft-minded goody-goodyness and toward the sadist's delight in pain. (p. 44)

John Gardner, "Children Good and Bad," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 15, 1977, pp. 13, 44.