|Ogres are like onions...|
How many of us, returning to a children's book years later, have suddenly spotted references, allusions, themes that we didn't notice with our young brains?
They can be like easter eggs. Not the chocolate ones. Easter eggs are those hidden bits of functionality and jokes in software that are not documented but you might come across by accident, or hidden single frames in a movie. If you want to see an Easter egg in action, open Firefox and type "about:robots" into the address bar. Or open Google and type "do a barrel roll". Type "anagram." OK, enough already - you get the idea. Your previous enjoyment of Google and Firefox was not reduced by your not knowing about those, was it?
There's nothing wrong with layers. We like layers, as Shrek points out. Onions, layer cakes, mille feiulle, ogres - they all have layers. Disney movies have an increasing number of jokes and references for the adults who are going to have to endure the DVD a very large number of times. And they've been doing it for a while. The Nuremberg rally sequence in Lion King springs to mind.
Remember that? Did that stop children enjoying Lion King? And how delighted my Big Bint was, years later, to see the reference to Leni Reifenstahl's film-making - because it's not just (or even) about Hitler and Scar, but about Leni and Walt.
It didn't do Philip Pullman any harm to stuff lots of Milton into the His Dark Materials trilogy, and there must have been a few gasps of recognition when readers grew up a bit and did Paradise Lost for A level English or at university. You not only don't need to have read Paradise Lost to understand His Dark Materials, you also don't need to explicitly sit down and think about authority and freedom, good and evil, or knowledge and ignorance. Themes, references and allusions are gifts for the reader's future self. Not all of them will ever find the gift - probably very few. But for those that do, it's a delight. Do you think three-year olds think about the balance of justice in That is Not My Hat? Does the little fish get away with it? How complicit are you as a reader in either wanting him to get away with it (pro-theft) or get caught (pro-retribution)? When does your allegiance switch? Why? Have you really thought about it? Is this book too old for you?
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