“Seeing is believing.”
It genuinely took me a while to figure out just what it was that I couldn’t stand about Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. And in truth, it wasn’t the fact that this doesn’t really work as an engaging children’s book–though that was annoying–nor is it the complete uselessness of the main character. I think, over the years, I have just become very bothered by the notion that we should just believe in something and magical things will happen.
Santa is a Precurssor
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. It happens to be my favorite Holiday. I’m a huge fan of Christmas music, movies, and decorating. I’ve always loved the magic of it all. But I also believe in science and think the notion of god is ridiculous. And believing in something just because you have faith is in direct opposition to science and logic.
The overall message of The Polar Express is that you just need to believe.
I find this completely ridiculous. The day I found out that Santa Claus was not real was the very same day I stopped believing in god. Faith is not evidence and believing for the sake of believing is silly. And so this book just feels incredibly misleading, beginning with a boy certain that his friends are all wrong when they tell him that Santa does not exist. And it just makes me cringe and causes my heart to break.
My little brother was bullied for believing in Santa past when his peers did.
It’s one thing for Santa Claus to be a fun piece of childhood. It’s another thing entirely to imply that when you’re told the truth, the people who told it to you are either wrong or liars.
A Scene, A Scene
The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, but they don’t work for most children. The vast majority of them are very far away, scenic moments that don’t give you a second to connect to the characters. The words are lengthy and squashed on the sides of the pages. Colors are muted half the time in favor of portraying a snowy night.
This is not the bright and engaging, magical story you expect from Christmas tales. It’s ironic that this book is all about the magic of Christmas and yet it couldn’t evoke even the smallest amount of magical feeling in me. Maybe it’s different for the children?
I don’t have the nostalgia
The Polar Express is not a piece of my childhood, therefore I don’t have the nostalgia to tie me to it. There are no young memories that make me feel that I should still love this story. And, sure, watching The Santa Clause and hearing “believing is seeing” from Judy the elf annoys the heck out of me now that I’m an adult who knows better both on the Santa and religion front, but I still appreciate and love that movie.
I just can’t bring myself to do so with this one. And maybe it’s because the story itself is poorly written, maybe it’s because the main character is useless, or maybe it’s because the book just doesn’t have the emotional oomph that it should. Then, maybe I’ve just grown past this.
Whatever it is, I did not like this book.