The literary forefathers of ‘Up’


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What do Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World,’ J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan,’ L. Frank Baum’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ and Johanna Spyri’s ‘Heidi’ have in common? They’re all progenitors -- grandparents? -- of the new movie ‘Up.’ As Jerry Griswold writes in our pages:

The title of the new Disney/Pixar movie ‘Up,’ as well as its signature image of a house floating beneath thousands of tethered balloons, reminds us how frequently the theme of Lightness appears in children’s literature. From Mary Poppins to Peter Pan, from Tarzan swinging on vines to Harry Potter scooting on his broomstick, children’s stories seem to feature the quick, the lithe and the aerial. Maybe that’s not surprising. While adults seem earthbound, youngsters zoom by on skateboards or jump from heights as caped incarnations of Superman.


The mature, in fact, seem to suffer from the debilitating effects of kryptonite; they are victims of Heaviness. While children ‘play all day long’ in J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan,’ presumably their parents go to work or attend meetings. Indeed, the tragic moment in ‘Peter Pan’ occurs near the end when the ever-youthful Peter comes to invite Wendy on another adventure and is shocked to find a gray-haired lady in the shadows; she can no longer fly, Wendy sadly explains, because ‘I am old.’

His essay includes a heap of literary predecessors to ‘Up,’ many of which deal with youth and the kryptonite of adulthood.

Lightness has been so deeply threaded through children’s literature that it must have been picked up by those writing for adults. But the only book I can think of that explicitly deals with it is Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being.’ What are some others?

-- Carolyn Kellogg