Missed it by this much.
March 15, 2014 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Goodnight Clock. In which the celestial accuracy of the children's classic Goodnight Moon is analyzed.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The old lady saying "Hush" still creeps me out, and no one should eat mush.

My kid actually was meh on all the Brown books. We did better with Charlie and Lola.
posted by emjaybee at 7:58 PM on March 15, 2014

It's a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush - I had always assumed the mush was some sort of hair product by association with the comb and brush.
posted by GuyZero at 8:09 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

C'mon, even my daughter knows it's delicious oatmeal.
posted by benzenedream at 9:05 PM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is an awesome article. Obviously the house is a spaceship.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:30 PM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

emjaybee, I had the same reaction. But a couple years ago when our daughter was little, it became a bedtime standard, allowing me many nights to obsessively ponder what it was that creeped me out so about her. So I wrote this:


Like many young children in the English-speaking world, one of my first favorite books was Goodnight Moon, a classic nightly valedictory paean to the trappings of a young anthropomorphic rabbit’s bedroom. Like many young children, I imagine, I found comfort in the soporifically methodical narrative voice, which first catalogs and then bids goodnight, one by one, to what one imagines might be the comforts of the bourgeois anthropomorphic lapine home.
Recently, however, the arrival of our daughter has led me to revisit this beloved book for the first time in several decades. With the added perspective of adulthood and a few too many courses in literary analysis and cultural studies along the way, I was shocked to (re)discover in this book not a harmless ritual nightly cataloging of creature comforts and domestic landmarks as our young flop-eared narrator drifts off to sleep, but rather a narrative into whose structure and imagery has been woven a terrifying children’s introduction to the concepts of mortality, decay, and the void.
The book opens in the seemingly comfortable mise-en-scène of the child-rabbit’s “great green” bedroom, lovingly appointed in bourgeois art (the rabbit equivalent of dogs playing poker, it seems, is bears sitting in chairs), playful pets (although why a rabbit family would keep pet kittens, when cats are known rabbit predators, is a point of analysis beyond the scope of this brief essay), toys, and on a night stand, a comb, brush, and bowl full of mush. This last item seems at first to be out of place: while one can easily imagine the comforting function of nearly all the other items in the room, no easy explanation leaps to mind for the presence of a bowl of gruel that will presumably spend the evening cooling and thickening on the child’s nightstand. It is an unlikely late-night snack – far too Dickensian for such an otherwise lovingly cared for rabbit-child – and would in any case likely belong in the kitchen. Is it, then, merely a hackneyed poetic trick, a desperate grasp at a rhyme for “brush,” even though we have already been introduced to an old woman (also a rabbit) whispering ‘hush?’ Only later in the story will the mush’s function become clear: it is a metaphor whose meaning is revealed in its juxtaposition with other elements.
But I get ahead of myself. After the room’s contents have been systematically catalogued, the narrator begins, in roughly the same order of these objects’ introduction, to bid them each goodnight. The room, the subjects of the two paintings, toys and furniture are each greeted in turn.
And then: we come to the bedside table’s trio of comb, brush, and mush. But rather than be announced in simple and sequential order as in their first introduction, here the narrator’s methodical catalog falls headlong into a shocking nothingness:
“Goodnight comb / And goodnight brush / Goodnight nobody / Goodnight mush” (Wise Brown 1947: 21-24). From the richly animistic microcosm where rabbits speak and even the most mundane domestic detritus is worthy of an individual greeting, the narrator’s attention is turned without explication into the void. “Goodnight nobody?” Are we to read this as a spontaneous anomistic rejection of the need for interpersonal (or interlapine) connectedness, or a cry of despair that indeed there is nobody there to be wished a good night, a sinking into existentialist solipsism where ultimately, in the deepest center of our own consciousness each of us is truly alone? The narrator provides no answer, but rather chooses to return suddenly to the most banal, the least comforting of the room’s elements, the bowl of mush that has now taken on a clearer and more sinister meaning. For what is mush, in the wake of this sudden unblinking confrontation of nothingness itself, but a crass reminder of the inescapable morbidity of this consciousness’s fleshly trappings? It is nothing less than an oaten memento mori, the charnel house in a bowl. And if there were any doubt about this conclusion, the reader need only turn the page to find the creeping certainty of mortality itself personified: the rabbit narrator can only see in the “little old lady whispering hush” (ibid. 25, italics mine) his/her own inescapable future. And that future speaks to him, not with the comforting logos with which the young rabbit has tried (in vain, we now know) to exercise a cognitive ordering of his world by interpellating (in Althusser’s sense) the pets and toys and clothes of his world, but rather with the insensate command of silence. There’s no point to all of these goodnights, the old woman seems to say. We’re all bound to be mush and nothingness anyway.
posted by dr. boludo at 9:31 PM on March 15, 2014 [30 favorites]

But I never considered the moon angle -- this is a great read, feckless. Worth sticking around for the last line.
posted by dr. boludo at 9:32 PM on March 15, 2014

The apparent size of the moon is easily explained once you've read Goodnight Room.
posted by hades at 10:06 PM on March 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

An hour and ten minutes is about right, on a good night. We do say goodnight to all the objects out the window, followed by those in the room. My youngest gets anxious if we skip this part of the process. This book gets read about every other night. We have a little black and white kitty and had a little grey kitty until she died unexpectedly. I can't for the life of me figure out why there is a bowl full of mush on the night stand right before bed. Also, a fireplace with a fire burning in a toddler's room seems recklessly dangerous, never mind a young mouse.

In conclusion, let me say, "In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and..."
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:21 PM on March 15, 2014

I've wondered about the moon timing before! Thanks, this is delightfully nerdy.
posted by medusa at 10:44 PM on March 15, 2014

There is a fanfic for this that has dtuck on my head as a dark hollow shadow of the void of infinite space every time I have to read that book to my toddler: Goodnight Room. Be prepared to grieve for bunnies.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:30 PM on March 15, 2014

The author said "I however am not particularly interested in reading 'Have a Carrot: Oedipal Theory and Symbolism in Margaret Wise Brown's Runaway Bunny Trilogy' — Oh man that has got to be a dark read."

But it's actually really interesting and really convincing so. They should and so should you.

"Adults can situate themselves in childhood only as adults looking back, and consequently our 'adult' perspective imports our understanding of what children's literature is and should be into the way we read picture books."

"Step by step, [Margaret Wise Brown's] books illustrate the psychological process of a boy's separation from his mother and the development of his independent gendered identity."

It's a really good analysis.
posted by president of the solipsist society at 2:58 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of our games was trying to find the mouse in every picture that shows the whole room. Also, the painting over the fireplace is one of the illustrations from The Runaway Bunny.

Wheels within wheels, my friends. Not since Poussin has such a riddle been laid bare to the ages.
posted by jquinby at 5:54 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

You really want to prove how creepy Goodnight Moon is? Go to any page showing the whole room. Look at the book on Bunny's nightstand and check out the books in Bunny's bookshelf. There's a whole layer of existential horror awaiting you.
posted by dr_dank at 5:58 AM on March 16, 2014

Look at the book on Bunny's nightstand and check out the books in Bunny's bookshelf. There's a whole layer of existential horror awaiting you.

I'm just impressed someone was able to fit "The Necronomicon of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred" in so small a space.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:58 AM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tangentially, what I find strangest about "My World" is that dad is "daddy" but mom is "mother". And that they seem to have a gas pump outside their house -- another obvious phallic symbol.
posted by Slothrup at 7:40 AM on March 16, 2014

My adventures reading the book every night have made me most concerned about the telephone in a small child's bedroom. Who is he calling? And if someone calls after bedtime, the whole elaborate ritual is for naught.

Also why is the bowl of mush full? Don't leave food out overnight, that's wasteful! No wonder there are mice.
posted by kyleg at 8:16 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's always The Wire's approach.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:27 AM on March 16, 2014

I'm picky about celestial accuracy, and I also have a two-year-old who I read to every night. (My wife and I read just over 500 books to him last year—yes, we have a LibraryThing account for him—so I've got a lot of data points.) The two most frequent mistakes that I see in his books books are 1) showing a crescent moon rising at bedtime and 2) including stars within the moon's crescent. #1 is constant, but #2 isn't exactly rare. I've restrained myself from writing crazy letters to publishers (Dear Sirs: Your book, published in 1947, contains a serious error in its rendering of the moon...), limiting myself to the odd cranky tweet.
posted by waldo at 6:25 PM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

'I'm Cleverer Than the Thing for Children' is a boring, undignified game.

Goodnight Moon is an absolutely beautiful book. Not a wasted line in the verse or the art. It feels just like falling asleep -- and just like being a little child in a big room. My memories of falling asleep in my grandmother's enormous room (it wasn't green) have been partly overwritten by my equally joyful, warm memories of reciting this book to my son ten times in the middle of the night when he was a young toddler.

The poem and drawings are beautiful and true, regardless of (sigh) the accuracy of their timekeeping. It's impossible for me to imagine giving a damn about that.

Brown's life story is interesting, and throws useful light on her unusual writing.

There's so much to say about the colours and the poem -- 'good night nobody' is one of the all-time great lines from children's literature, and Brown's evocation of drifting off to sleep is pitch perfect -- but this pretty obviously isn't the moment for it.
posted by waxbanks at 6:29 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

So much to learn. I never thought to look at the book on the nightstand.
I now notice that the one in Goodnight Dune is "Arrakis For Dummies"
posted by MtDewd at 6:03 AM on March 17, 2014

waxbanks: "'I'm Cleverer Than the Thing for Children' is a boring, undignified game. [...] The poem and drawings are beautiful and true, regardless of (sigh) the accuracy of their timekeeping. It's impossible for me to imagine giving a damn about that."

Yeah, the only appropriate way to enjoy this work is the way *I* enjoy it.

I read Goodnight Moon approximately 11 billion times to my two children. I think it's charming. And I also think that the piece linked in this post is amusing. The two views are not mutually exclusive.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:18 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

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