|No point at all.|
There’s two sides to that argument:
- 1) the child-hating one: pearls before swine, basically: they’re not good enough for your clever references;
- 2) the child-centred one: they won’t enjoy a passage with a reference they don’t recognise, just like you can’t enjoy a pastiche or parody of a film you haven’t seen, or a book you haven’t read.
I think it’s a huge shame that this antagonistic approach to intertextuality is so common, even among children’s book people; not just because it’s strangely anti-intellectual, but mostly because it’s premised on the notion that intertextual references, in order to function, have to be encountered after the ‘original’.
There’s an implicit chronology to our basic understanding of intertextuality, especially pastiche or parody: first the original, then the reference; that’s the way to do it. The same rule applies to everyone, but since children have, to put it simply, lived less long, and encountered fewer texts and cultural productions than adults, they’re particularly unlikely to understand most references to films, books, or works of art. This is especially of concern if the pastiched element is part of ‘adult’ culture and literature.
It’s obvious, though, that the intertextual game is much more erratic than that, and for everybody - not just children. Just a few days ago I was reading the slightly obscure 1884 French novel A Rebours, by J.-K. Huysmans. I was staggered when I found in it the gloriously synaesthetic description of a kind of organ which delivers, when played, different kinds of alcohol, forming symphonic cocktails. That description seemed to me to have fallen straight out of another French novel, this time an absolute classic - particularly among teenagers - Boris Vian’s 1947 Foam of the Days (L’écume des jours), which famously features a similar instrument, called a ‘pianocktail’. A quick Google search informed me that indeed, Vian had been inspired by Huysmans’s fictional instrument. The reference, I gather, would have been more obvious to a 1940s audience than to a Millennium one.
|someone made a real pianocktail #yolo|
Intertextual references that are ‘not immediately understood’ are not a big deal. It’s not as if you spend years wandering around in utter perplexity, feeling you’d missed out on something crucial, until you finally encounter the ‘key’ that you ‘should’ have had the first time around. You already find it funny and intriguing the first time around; or, quite simply you don’t notice it at all. In Asterix in Britain, everyone Asterix and Obelix meet speaks weirdly - in the original French, they keep saying ‘Je dis!’ before every sentence; and ‘n’est-il pas?’ after each clause.
At the time, I thought it was hilarious, because it was so weird and seemed to correspond so well to this odd tribe of red-haired hot-water-drinkers. It’s only much later, in English class, that the revelation hit me: Goscinny and Uderzo were directly translating into French ‘I say!’ and ‘Isn’t it?’. I couldn’t stop giggling. Joy.
My villain in The Royal Babysitters is called King Alaspooryorick. Some schools I go to have gone to great lengths to tell the children where this name comes from. Others haven’t. I like to think that one day, in high school, or at a theatre somewhere, some kids will giggle to themselves when they encounter the phrase for the ‘second’ time. And it’s not as if they’re not giggling now - it’s not as if I’m forcing them to save their giggles for later. Alaspooryorick is a ridiculous enough name to be already funny.
Let’s not be inflexible with chronology when it comes to intertextuality. The ‘wrong order’ is perhaps the best one. It’s not the joy of erudite recognition; the wink, the nod, the handshake between two adults above the head of the child. It’s exactly the opposite: it’s the joy of accidental recognition, in an unpredictable future - the joy of stumbling upon a distant memory, resurfacing in the middle of today’s serious activity - and triggering an unexpected, slightly nostalgic laugh.
Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia.