Here is something a bit different from the usual topic of discussion here, though not unrelated. The inspiration for this post comes from an amusing piece you can read at over at David Dubrow’s blog. Mr. Dubrow provides an interesting example of a four year old boy’s powers of imagination and his flexible approach to the truth about events in his classroom, (See David Dubrow - Author: From Truth to Fiction to Truth). For comparison purposes, it will be helpful to enjoy Mr. Dubrow’s offering first, before continuing with the following.
As a speech language pathologist by profession, my university training included the study of early childhood language acquisition. This is a fascinating process inseparable from the growth of the young child’s cognitive understanding of the world. Certain key “cognitions” appear to underlie the ability to understand and use words: that objects continue to exist even when no longer present to the senses, that sounds and gestures can stand for objects and actions, and—around age 3 or 4—that communication need not be about actual events, but can in fact be pretend, or put to other more entertaining uses besides the merely informative, which can become tiresome after a while.
One such use is the capacity to tell or embellish stories, what in adulthood might be called the ability to fictionalize events. (In some contexts, this is also known as lying, a skill of inestimable value.) What young children are able to do with “the facts” is amusing but also intriguing; their narratives provide a captivating view of their emerging minds as well as their growing skill as participants in a conversation that accomplishes some purpose or intent.
My granddaughter, who is the same age as Mr. Dubrow’s son, visited us on Father’s Day. Instead of bug collecting—our usual joint effort—she asked me to transcribe a story for her. I supplied her with the following inspirational props: a couple of tiny toy automobiles, several small wooden figurines of animals, (owl, bear, zebra), and a large plastic, steampunk-inspired mechanical spider. Here is her story:
The car was driving and then it crashed and then it kept going again. And then there was a giant spider! And then the car ran away. And then the car looked down [from the top of a chair] and they saw a monster! And the monster was very scary. And they scared off the huge monster.
And then there was an owl. And the cars went down to see the owl. [A second car has joined the first.] The cars drive around the owl and the giant spider looked all around for the cars and then he found them!
Then he poked them with his leg. And then the cars crashed. And then the cars fighted the giant spider and he died and they got a trophy and medals.
I admit I am partial to this story, it having been produced by a close relative. At the risk of over interpreting the data, it does seem that the plot line closely resembles a number of “creature features” from the 1950s and 1960s. One in particular comes to mind, the 1959 film, The Giant Gila Monster. In that wonderful old B-movie, teenagers do battle with an enormous poisonous lizard, eventually destroying it by ramming it with a hotrod packed with explosives.
My granddaughter’s early fictional effort also shows some similarities to another film from that time period, Earth vs. The Spider (1958). The first victim in that movie wrecks his car when he encounters a giant arachnid along a lonely country road.
It appears that automobiles colliding with or escaping large mutant creatures is some sort of archetype, perhaps a uniquely American one. Somehow my granddaughter has learned that this is the typical interaction to expect between an automobile and a giant reptile or arthropod. But no one has had to teach her this. Why is this so?
As in The Giant Gila Monster, young people in Earth vs. The Spider are instrumental in bringing about the demise of the creature and saving the town. They accomplish this in spite of the disrespect and disbelief of nearly all the surrounding adults. But the youngsters do not receive any trophy or medals for their efforts, which is a nice touch at the end of my granddaughter’s story.