Being a lover of books I have dusted and preserved every book my daughter has read, or was read to, since she was a toddler. They are displayed in two impressive, custom-made cupboards with clear glass panes on the doors, and the titles read the entire spectrum- from Hans Andersen and Grimm to the Famous Five and Mallory Towers. Lodged in between are Noddy and Peter Pan of course.
This dog-eared treasure trove was going to be my grandson's inheritance. Or so I had imagined! My grandson, who is five now, has never evinced the slightest interest in the contents of these cupboards. He has lived, played, and talked Superheroes ever since he learnt to babble, and now he is on inter-galactic voyages, aided by astromechs, encountering droids, in a bid to defeat the Evil Galactic Empire.
Many a night I have woken up to his shouts of 'Wait Superman, I am putting on my dress and coming to help you!' And as he leapt out of bed and started running, I have chased him around the house, and finally grabbed him and put him back in his bed.
In my grandson's world there are no heroes to emulate. To fight Evil and restore Order you cannot be an ordinary mortal. You have to be a Superhero with more than human powers. So, in his Armageddon, there is a sea of ordinary mortals, and every so often the odd one rises from this morass to rescue and redeem. But he cannot do so as an ordinary mortal with heroic attributes. The kind we were brought up to recognise and believe in! He has to don the mantle of the superhero, become superhuman, to be the Good that will destroy Evil.
In my grandson's world Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are out. Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 and C-3PO are in.
I have watched him and his friends playing in the park brandishing their light sabres. They are the good guys fighting the bad ones. In his world, the good guys are the odd white dots in a sea of black. But they will win without a doubt! They are strong because they are ( and I quote him) 'superheroes with extraordinary powers'.
Whatever happened to Oedipus Rex and King Arthur and Robin Hood I wonder! In the past our heroes were ordinary mortals who saved the world! They needed to be exceptional, but they were always human. How did they win? Those heroes could vanquish the most dangerous fire-breathing dragons when CHAOS threatened ORDER. Their heroism make them exceptionally human. They led by example, and ordinary mortals were inspired!
So why do children today have to believe in Superheroes with light sabres rushing around madly in Millennium Falcons to protect their world? Why has the narrative changed? Is it because Evil has taken on such sinister hues that a human hero cannot even comprehend it, let alone fight it?
Interestingly when I was double-checking the meaning of kakistocracy on Google after reading Chitra Subramaniam's opinion piece yesterday, I found out that though the word was coined by Thomas Love Peacock in 1829 to describe 'government by the worst', it was a word rarely used until the 21st century. Now I understand why my grandson's inheritance is irrelevant!