This Day In Literary History
On July 28th, 1932, the famous American children's book writer Natalie Babbitt was born. She was born Natalie Zane Moore in Dayton, Ohio. Her family moved frequently. Growing up during the Great Depression, Natalie enjoyed reading fairy tales, folklore, and books about mythology.
When she discovered an illustrated copy of Lewis Carroll's classic Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Natalie determined to become a children's book illustrator when she grew up.
Her mother, an amateur landscape and portrait painter, encouraged her. She gave Natalie art lessons and made sure she always had enough paper, colored pencils, and paints.
Natalie Babbitt studied art at the Laurel School for Girls in Cleveland and at Smith College. After graduation, she married Samuel Babbitt and bore him three children. She spent the next ten years as a stay-at-home mom.
When her husband became the president of Kirkland College in New York, she performed all the duties of a college president's wife, including attending various functions.
In the late 1960s, Natalie and her husband collaborated on a children's book called The Forty-Ninth Magician. Samuel wrote the story and Natalie drew the illustrations. The book, published in 1966, was successful.
Unfortunately, Samuel's work left him little time to write, so further books were out of the question. Natalie's sister asked her to illustrate a comic novel she'd written, but that panned out due to her constant rewrites, which required Natalie to keep drawing new pictures.
Frustrated, Natalie Babbitt decided to write her own books. Her first solo effort, Dick Foote and the Shark, was published in 1967. With her enchanting fairy tales, she made a name for herself as one of the best children's writers of all time.
She also had a gift for humor and satire. In 1974, Natalie published The Devil's Storybook, a collection of humorous Saki-esque short stories featuring the Devil as the main character.
The Devil's Storybook has nothing to do with religion. Instead, it presents the Devil as a comic character. As Jean Stafford, book critic for the New Yorker magazine, noted:
"This Devil is not dire; he is a scheming practical joker and comes to earth often when he is restless, to play tricks on clergymen, goodwives, poets, and pretty girls."
Natalie Babbitt's ferocious wit, combined with her hilarious illustrations, made The Devil's Storybook a favorite of both children and adults. In 1987, Babbitt published a sequel, The Devil's Other Storybook.
Natalie Babbitt is, of course, best known for her fairy tales and fantasy stories. In 1975, she published Tuck Everlasting, a novel that most of her fans (including me) consider to be her best work.
Set in 1881, the novel tells the story of Winnie Foster, a bored and lonely ten-year-old girl stifled by her wealthy, overprotective parents. She escapes from them by exploring the forest near her home.
One day, she finds a mysterious family, the Tucks, (mother Mae Tuck, her husband Angus, and their two sons) living in the middle of the woods. The Tucks have a secret, which Winnie discovers: they are immortal - the result of drinking water from a magical spring.
The Tuck family doesn't age, they are immune from illness, and they cannot be injured or killed. Winnie befriends them and promises to keep their secret. She grows close to their younger son, 17-year-old Jesse Tuck, and thinks that it must be wonderful to live forever.
She ultimately realizes that immortality is more of a curse than a gift. The Tucks live a lonely, isolated existence, trying to prevent their secret from being revealed, for then everyone would want to be immortal, and the world would become a terrible place.
Unfortunately, someone other than Winnie knows the Tucks' secret: a mysterious, sinister businessman referred to as "the man in the yellow suit." He demands that the Tucks reveal the location of the magical spring - so he can sell its water.
When Mae Tuck kills the man in the yellow suit to save Winnie, she's arrested and jailed, but Winnie helps her escape, for fear that the family's secret will be revealed when the hangman's noose fails to break Mae's neck.
The Tucks flee, taking their secret with them - except for a jar of magic spring water which Jesse Tuck gave to Winnie. Will she drink it when she turns seventeen so she can marry him and live forever?
Tuck Everlasting was adapted twice as a feature film, first in 1981 - a rarely seen, independently made gem that really captured the essence of Natalie Babbitt's novel - then again in 2002.
The 2002 version was a Disney film - a horrible adaptation that turned Babbitt's great novel into a sappy teen romance - despite the fact that Winnie Foster is only ten years old in the book. The movie was panned by critics and film goers alike.
In 1977, Natalie Babbitt published The Eyes of the Amaryllis, a haunting tale of the supernatural. It's summertime, and 11-year-old Geneva "Jenny" Reade has been sent to stay with her grandmother for a while.
The old woman has broken her leg, and needs help while she recovers. Jenny's grandmother believes that her husband, who went missing at sea thirty years ago, will soon send her a sign of his love.
Jenny doesn't believe her - until she meets the ghost of a drowned man named Seward. Seward is tasked with returning to the sea anything of value that may wash up on shore.
When Jenny finds an object of value that washed up, her grandmother believes that it's a sign from her husband. But Seward warns them that the sea wants it back - and will take it back by force if necessary.
The Eyes of the Amaryllis was adapted as a feature film in 1982 - an excellent, independently made film that wonderfully adapts Natalie Babbitt's novel to the screen.
It featured a memorable performance by 11-year-old Martha Byrne as Jenny Reade. A year later, she would star in the science fiction classic, Anna to the Infinite Power - another indie gem.
Natalie Babbitt wrote seventeen children's books. Her last book, The Moon Over High Street, was published in 2011. In addition to writing, she served as a board member of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. She died in October of 2016 at the age of 84.
Quote Of The Day
"Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live." - Natalie Babbitt
Today's video features the complete, rare 1981 independent feature film adaptation of Natalie Babbitt's classic novel, Tuck Everlasting. Enjoy!