The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The mortality and immortality of authors.

A few weeks ago, I was in the library, in Singapore. Now, for those who have never set foot in one of Singapore's many libraries, I have to point out that it is, typically, a pleasure to do so: Singapore has very good public libraries. They have a wide variety of books and a pleasant environment. It seems to me that quite a lot is invested in public libraries.

I roamed around the library largely at random, noting with the delight of recognition, some of the authors of my childhood reading: Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Roald Dahl, Michael Crichton, Frank Herbert...the names danced before me, and brought to mind days on which I had either read their works, or seen films adapted from their works. Then something struck me: they were all dead.

Authors are not typical people in many ways. They live their lives in thought. Some live almost entirely in imagined worlds which they seek to record. Others write of the world as it is, as they lived it. Whichever type of author they are, they share two things in common: firstly, they are all mortal; secondly they are all immortal. By this, I mean that one day they will cease to breathe, to think, to write, but beyond that day, their works will remain to be breathed, thought and read by others. The author dies, the author's work lives on.

All my childhood authors are dead. I don't think that even one of them still lives. Many of the authors I used to read in my twenties are also dead. Those that aren't may no longer be well. Terry Pratchett, for instance, is in the early stages of a type of Alzheimer's disease. It is sobering to realize this. Authors seem, somehow, so alive: in spending time with their thoughts, on the page, it never occurs to one, that they are as fragile as all other humans and will one day pass away.

It is true to say that having children makes one more aware of the way life passes by - people mature and grow old and this happens at quite a fearful pace. Yet, I cannot help but think that the wholesale death of the authors of one's childhood is, in some ways, a stronger reminder of mortality. All those who created the culture of my childhood are dead. Even though their works live on and can still be enjoyed by contemporary readers that doesn't change the fact that there will be no more books written by these people. They are, now, forever silent. Yet, their silence is a strange silence, for it is still possible to revisit the old "conversations" one had with them, by re-reading an old book.

Authors die, but in another sense, they never do. They still populate the libraries of the world and all those that I once read, can still be found in Singapore's libraries. Somehow, that connects my childhood to the adult world I now live in, half a world away from my European origins. The same childhood culture is available here, in Singapore, to be read. Thus it is that, though Singapore could not, in many ways, be more different from the places of my youth, Singapore's children may very well enjoy some of the very same cultural experiences that populated my childhood. Their youthful memories may contain many of the same experiences as my own. Thus, not only do the works of authors of linger on, beyond their lives, but those works tend to diffuse across the world and reach places the authors themselves never visited and never knew.

I don't have the time to read, that I did, as a child. Too many responsibilities intrude on the time that I once had for such things. Yet, it feels comforting to know that parts of my childhood are only a book away. I could, if I wished, re-experience what once I felt, by re-reading some of the authors of my youth. I could sit down, again, with those antique thoughts, and recreate those literary experiences again. At the turning of a page, the decades would fall away, and I would be, once more, an enchanted child, entering a strange imagined world. However, of course, I have changed, and I would read the book differently from the way in which it was first read. I would think the work less polished, for instance. I would see flaws in its construction. I would, perhaps, argue with the way it was written. Yet, if I could set aside that awareness of words, and just read, I may, again, feel as once I felt.

I wonder what those dead authors would feel to know that others still read them, many years after they are gone. Does it warm them to know, that though they die, as all humans do, that their thoughts live on, to be spoken, again, at the reading of their words? Perhaps, they draw comfort in that, when their time comes. Perhaps they understand that part of them will never truly die. Perhaps, in fact, that is why some of them write books in the first place.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:19 PM 


Blogger Christine said...

I remember going to the library a lot as a child. I used to love reading books by popular children's authors like Beatrix Potter, Mercer Mayer, and Leo Leonni. I found that I haven't forgotten those books even though I haven't picked those up in years. I feel that if I ever have my own children, I want to get copies of those same books.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Christine, by giving them the books you best enjoyed in childhood, you would, in a sense, be giving your own children, fragments of enjoyable parts of your own childhood. There is a certain poetry in that.

I hope you do have kids one day!

10:42 AM  

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