Monday, May 03, 2010
"'I want you to know how much I appreciate your offer of putting my birds in the movies. But I am afraid I have to refuse. I do not believe the life in Hollywood would be good for penguins.' Then Mr. Popper turned to Admiral Drake. 'Admiral Drake, I am going to give you the birds. In doing this, I am considering the birds first of all. I know that they have been comfortable and happy with me. Lately, though, with the excitement and the warm weather, I've been worried about them. The birds have done so much for me that I have to do what is best for them. After all, they belong in a cold climate. And then I can't help being sorry for those men up at the North Pole, without any penguins to help them pass the time.'" -Mr. Popper from Mr Popper's Penguins, by Richard & Florence Atwater
I first heard this story read aloud to me in 2nd grade by Mrs. Rexford. Then, it was a tale of loss with the an undercurrent of love streaming all the way through it. In a sense, I think I loved (but just didn't know it yet) this story because it so resembles the story of King Kong, as well. Despite a different ending, the film is ultimately about society trying to turn a profit on nature, on beauty. In Mr. Popper's Penguin's, it is similar. But the difference is, the penguins are let free and Kong is held captive and dies. Thus, the story becomes a charming, graceful, and lovely little picture of how true beauty needs to stay true to its source, its inherent, creative life. When humans abuse beauty in such a way that it disrupts or degrades its source, humans lose out while the object of affection loses the greatest. Even death, at times.
But not so in Mr. Popper's Penguins. No, in this story, we're given hope that one's admiration for something (in this case, some talented little penguins) doesn't have to turn into mere profit, mere exploitation, mere entertainment. It can--and should--be a catalyst for love. Maybe I wasn't getting all this at the age of 7--when Mrs. Rexford flipped through the pages, her face animated and joyful, her expressions real and empowering--but I'm starting to get it more now. I'm constantly in awe of how beauty (and the subject of beauty) is so instrumental in our daily life. So instrumental in pushing us forward to do good, to give love. It just all depends on what we do with the beauty we're given.
The great Russian writer and essayist Fyodor Dostoevsky once uttered, "Beauty will save the world." I think Mr. Popper, and Mrs. Rexford, might just agree.