The View from the Cheap Seats

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Book: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Neil Gaiman
learning what I could about adults. I was extremely interested in how they saw children and childhood. There was an acting copy of a play on my parents’ bookshelf. The play was called The Happiest Days of Your Life . It was about a girls’ school evacuated to a boys’ school during the War, and hilarity ensued.
    My father had played the school porter, in an amateur production. He told me that the phrase “the happiest days of your life” referred to your school days.
    This seemed nonsensical to me then, and I suspected it of being either adult propaganda or, more likely, confirmation of my creeping suspicion that the majority of adults actually had no memories of being children.
    For the record, I don’t think I ever disliked anything as long or as well as I disliked school: the arbitrary violence, the lackof power, the pointlessness of so much of it. It did not help that I tended to exist in a world of my own, half-in-the-world, half-out-of-it, forever missing the information that somehow everyone else in the school managed to have obtained.
    On the first day of term I felt sick and miserable, on the last day, elated. To my mind, “the happiest days of your life” was just one of those things that adults said that not even they could have believed; things like “this isn’t going to hurt” which were simply never true.
    MY DEFENSE AGAINST the adult world was to read everything I could. I read whatever was in front of me, whether I understood it or not.
    I was escaping. Of course I was—C. S. Lewis wisely pointed out that the only people who inveigh against escape tend to be jailers. But I was learning, I was looking out through other eyes, I was experiencing points of view I did not have. I was developing empathy, realizing and understanding that all the different incarnations of “I” in stories, who were not me, were real, and passing on their wisdom and experience, allowing me to learn from their mistakes. And I knew then, as I know now, that things need not have happened to be true.
    I read everything I could find. If the cover looked interesting, if the first few pages held my interest, I would read it, whatever it was, whatever the intended audience.
    This meant that sometimes I would read things I was not ready for, things that bothered me, or that I wished I had not read.
    Children tend to be really good at self-censorship. They have a pretty good sense of what they are ready for and what they are not, and they walk the line wisely. But walking the line still means you will go past it on occasion.
    I still remember the stories that troubled me: a horror storyby Charles Birkin about a couple who had lost a daughter visiting a carnival freak show a few years later and encountering a golden-eyed creature that was probably their daughter, stolen and deformed by an evil doctor; a short story called “The Pace That Kills” about evil traffic wardens, in which I learned that women could be made to pee into bottles to have their alcohol levels checked; and a short story called “Made in USA” by J. T. McIntosh, in which an android girl was forced at knifepoint to undress in front of a gang of boys, to show them that she had no belly button.
    There was also a newspaper I read, aged nine or ten, while waiting for my parents, with nothing else to read, that turned out to be a factual sixteen-page description, with photographs, of Nazi concentration camp atrocities and horrors. I read it, and I wished that I had not, because my view of the world was so much darker afterwards. I had known about the millions of people who had been killed—I had lost almost all my European extended family, after all. I had not known about the medical tortures, the cold-blooded, efficient monstrousness that humans had inflicted on other, helpless, humans.
    Helplessness upset me. The idea that I could be stolen from my family and turned into a monster and they would not know

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