Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Water Babies

Rate this book
Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls fast asleep, and becomes a water baby.

In this new life, he meets all sorts of aquatic creatures, including an engaging old lobster, other water babies, and at last reaches St Branden's Isle where he encounters the fierce Mrs Bedonbyasyoudid and the motherly Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. After a long and arduous quest to the Other-end-of-Nowhere young Tom achieves his heart's desire.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1863

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Charles Kingsley

534 books89 followers
Charles Kingsley was an English clergyman, university professor, historian, and novelist, particularly associated with the West Country and north-east Hampshire.

He was educated at Helston Grammar School before studying at King's College London, and the University of Cambridge. Charles entered Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1838, and graduated in 1842. He chose to pursue a ministry in the church. From 1844, he was rector of Eversley in Hampshire, and in 1860, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge.

His writing shows an impulse to reconfigure social realities into dream geographies through Christian idealism.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,890 (21%)
4 stars
2,148 (24%)
3 stars
2,781 (31%)
2 stars
1,354 (15%)
1 star
590 (6%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 650 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 28 books13.4k followers
February 1, 2016
Googling around to see if anyone knows who Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid are based on (I have often wondered about this), I discover by chance that the author invented the word 'cuddly', which first appeared in The Water-Babies.

Well, there's your useless fact for today.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,099 reviews44.1k followers
October 9, 2016
How many people can say that drowning was the best thing that’s ever happened to them?


Life is terrible for Tom. He’s an ordinary boy and he’s in an ordinary situation. Granted, it’s a tough situation but it’s still rather ordinary for the time. His master beats him and overworks him. This is the only life Tom knows; thus, when he grows old he will follow the same path. It’s not his fault; he hasn’t known any different. For him, his master is the embodiment of manliness: it’s what Tom thinks he has to be. So he’s on a dangerous path, and then he drowns.

The real word is escape because Tom gets turned into a Waterbaby and goes on an adventure of discovery. He sees things that many though were mere fictions and in the process learns a little about life in the process. And that’s the key here, learning. This is a children’s book and all children’s books are full of didacticism of some variety. This one is full of Christian dogma and Victorian world values. Tom gets to experience the meaning of life, at least from the perspective of Kingsley and the imperialistic attitude that went with him.

So we have a children’s book, an enjoyable book, but there are a few derogatory jibes on a gender and racial level. This book is a product of its time, and it’s an excellent text to study, though I can clearly see why it has fallen out of favour with contemporary audiences. I wouldn’t hand this to a child today.
Profile Image for Almeta.
620 reviews68 followers
July 8, 2016
I have no idea what edition I read as a child, but I do know that I harbor huge nostalgia about the book's weird adventures and pen and ink illustrations. Every time I see the title at a used book sale, I reflect on my childhood.

Now as an adult, having read Goodreads reviews, I wonder what I would think of it. The implied tone of bigotry and morialist snake oil makes me pause about my rating.

For now it gets my best. When I re-read it, I will likely be angry and ashamed!

ETA: What I believe was designed to be an allegory for his son, was also a treatise of progressive thoughts of the day.

I am so pleased to have re-read this book. I was afraid that I would come to dislike it because of the criticism it receives for prejudices and moralizing. I think this aspect of the book is a good reflection of nineteenth century philosophical thought. However, Kingsley's scientific references make me believe that he was a progressive thinker for his time.

"The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see."

I took lots of notes during this read. There are so many good little moral lessons to reflect upon. I wonder how this little boy actually turned out when he became a man? I could't just write them all down. It would be like writing the book over again in long-hand.

Guess I'll just have to read it again, perhaps an annotated version!

My rating still stands at five stars!

Profile Image for wrench.
73 reviews4 followers
April 3, 2015
I literally drop kicked this book into a bin.
Profile Image for Debra.
1,910 reviews109 followers
February 6, 2012
I know this book is pretty controversial, but I enjoyed it in spite of that. As accepted during that time in history, there is definitely some prejudice against other races and nationalities, especially the Irish. The Englishman rules and all others are inferior. But, I just took this as British pride... of course, and Englishman would think his nationality is the best, back in the day. Also, if you aren't Christian, then you are a heathen. No news here, either. However, I was amazed at Kingsley forward-thinking regarding the environment and pollution, and the raising of children in a kind and forgiving manner. No "spare the rod, spoil the child" sentiment here. He doesn't believe in physical, psychological, verbal punishment. It's cute how he talks directly to his 4-year-old, for whom he wrote the book. I can't believe I went this long without reading this lovely little classic. The edition I read had lovely illustrations, too!
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,810 reviews348 followers
November 13, 2019
What a weird little book. I owned a copy of this book as a child and never read it. Now I know why--lots of it is just so much babble to a child. Without the historical notes in this copy of the work, I wouldn’t have had a clue about a lot of the details included in it. I have to wonder who gave it to me way back when, and whether they had ever read it themselves? I certainly wouldn’t hand it to a contemporary child.

I found it interesting that the clergyman author was so easily able to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution. Beliefs weren’t quite so cut and dried at that time apparently. I also have to think that Kingsley had read Gulliver’s Travels and may have aspired to produce something similar. His comments on contemporary events, seemingly scattered at random through the text, suggest those aspirations. It was also a strange mix of mythology, fairy tales, and Christianity. Very, very odd.
Profile Image for Adam Floridia.
582 reviews30 followers
January 13, 2014
In this book, the reader gets to accompany young Tom on a fantastic journey. As the journey progresses, the book gets worse.

First fifty pages or so: 4-5 stars. I'm enjoying this for what it is--a fairy tale ostensibly for children. There's a little chimney sweep, the aforementioned Tom, who works for a cruel master. He encounters a beautiful--and clean--young lady but due to a misunderstanding is chased off her property.

Next fifty or so pages: 3 stars. Okay, so this has taken an odd turn and seems to no longer have anything to do with the first part. Tom's a water-baby. I knew this was a fairy tale, so maybe this is will be the main/best part and it just took a while to get here. However I need to look up the year this was written because for a children's story it's getting a bit racist: "So you must not trust Dennis, because he is in the habit of [lying]: but, instead of being angry with him, you must remember that he is a poor Paddy, and knows no better...and then he will burst out laughing too, and slave for you...and wonder all the while why poor ould Ireland does not prosper line England and Scotland" (73-4); "The seal put his head and shoulders out of the water, and stared at him, exactly like a fat old greasy Negro with a gray pate" (86); "Being quite comfortable is a very good thing, but it does not make people good. Indeed, it sometimes makes them naughty, as it has made the people in America" (135); "when people live on poor vegetables instead of roast beef and plum-pudding, their jaws grow large, and their lips grow coarse, like the poor Paddies who eat potatoes" (149).

Next fifty odd pages: 2 stars. My god this is starting to just be the most random string of events. Even the blithe narrative voice is wearing on me. I'm still trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. Remember, it's for kids. It does remind me of telling a story to Jameson when he just wants me to keep going on and on and the ideas get more and more ridiculous and completely unconnected because I'm basically rambling randomly. Another thing that reminded me of Jameson, "And he thought of nothing but lollipops by day, and dreamt of nothing else by night" (135).

Final 50 something pages: 1 star. I simply can't take it anymore. I can barely read two pages without completely zoning out, which wouldn't matter since I could jump ahead ten pages and still not be lost in this aimless plot. I'm also getting angry because this was supposed to be my very fast end of 2013 read just to reach 50 books and instead it's already putting me behind on my 2014 challenge!

A thought: I've never read Alice in Wonderland, but when I think of the children's movie I recall it being a string of one fantastical event after another. Would I have the same reaction reading that? Or are the worlds and characters created therein enough to carry a haphazard plot?

A Favorite Quotation:

"When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away!
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.

When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among;
God grant you find one face there,
16 You loved when all was young" (52-3).
Profile Image for Courtney.
735 reviews157 followers
July 20, 2015
written 1862-1863.

Reading this once was enough. Future self, if you ever forget what reading it was like and consider giving it another go? Don't.

A young chimney sweep, who is mistreated by his master accidentally frightens a young girl in the house they are working in. He runs off, fearing he'll be in trouble, and ends up drowning.

I enjoyed it up until this point. It was apparently meant to be a lesson on, amongst other things, child labor and the treatment of the boy by his master would be a good argument against. It actually seemed like it might have been better if the story ended here.

But it doesn't.

So for the next however many pages, we have to follow the kid around as he apparently turns into a baby newt and explores a river, and later an ocean, tormenting the wildlife as he goes. It's also got a pretty heavy-handed focus on him learning to be a good person, and redeeming himself by good behaviour...

Kind of interesting as a look at British attitudes towards the rest of the world during this time period. Would not have wanted to be Irish in England at this time. The English didn't like Americans much either from a couple passages I remember (which was a little funny, just because it seems so odd).

Profile Image for Kyriakos Sorokkou.
Author 6 books190 followers
August 2, 2019
Μιας και το να αναζητήσεις τον συγγραφέα στα ελληνικά δεν φέρνει αποτελέσματα πόσο μάλλον να υπάρχει το βιβλίο του αυτό μεταφρασμένο, θα πω ό,τι έχω να πω ελληνικά.

ο συγγραφέας
Τσαρλς Κίνγκσλεϊ: συγγραφέας, αγγλικανός κληρικός, καθηγητής ιστορίας στο Κέιμπριτζ, γνώστης ελληνικής μυθολογίας (σε αντίθεση με τον Σαιξπηρ του οποίου η μυθολογία που ήξερε ήταν ένα αμάλγαμα ρωμαιοελληνοβρετανικής μυθολογίας πάντα σε δεύτερο χέρι) φίλος του Δαρβίνου, φυσιοδίφης που είχε δεχτεί τη θεωρία της εξέλιξης των ειδών, μανιακός ψαράς. Η όλη του προσωπικότητα ένα οξύμωρο σχήμα, συν τοις άλλοις μοιάζει αρκετά στον Φάσμπεντερ.


Τα μωρά-του-νερού
Γράφτηκε ως σάτιρα υπεράσπισης του έργου του Δαρβίνου, γράφτηκε για το μικρό του γιο, γράφτηκε για όλα τα παιδιά. Όλα είναι πιθανά.
Ο Τομ δέκα χρονών καπνοδοχοκαθαριστής πέφτει στον ποταμό και πνίγεται, (γίνεται στο πρώτο κεφάλαιο όποτε δεν είναι μεγάλο σπόιλερ) και μεταμορφώνεται σε νερο-μωρό και εδώ ξεκινά η περιπέτειά του. Από ρυάκι, σε ποτάμι, σε θάλασσα, σε ωκεανό όπου θα μάθει πολλά, θα μάθει τη συγχώρεση θα σταματήσει τις κακές συνήθειες θα έρθει στη λύτρωση και στην τελική εξιλεωση. Συναντά και άλλα νερομωρά που πέθαναν από ατύχημα ή από αμέλεια γονιών, παραμάνων κλπ. (παρόμοιο με τα χαμένα αγόρια στο Πίτερ Παν που εκδόθηκε περίπου 40 χρόνια αργότερα)


Η ιστορία ακούγεται απλή αλλά ο συγγραφέας κάθε λίγο με την ιδιότητα του αφηγητή σταματά την αφήγηση για να σου μιλήσει κατευθείαν στα μούτρα, να κάνει εμβόλιμη κριτική για οτιδήποτε τον ενοχλεί στην εποχή του, άχρηστοι δάσκαλοι, παιδική εργασία, την κατάντια της εποχής του, καθώς και επιστημονικά ερωτήματα, μαθήματα ιχθυολογίας, σωστή καθαριότητα, και πολλά άλλα.


Πολλοί βαθμολόγησαν το βιβλίο χαμηλά επειδή χρησιμοποιεί προκατειλημμένους όρους για τους Ιρλανδούς (φτωχοί πατατοφάγοι) τους Αμερικάνους (άτακτοι) τους μαύρους (χορεύουν με φασαρία) τους Εβραίους(πλούσιοι), τους καθολικούς (μπαμπούλες). Τι περιμένατε δηλαδή από ένα βικτοριανό συγγραφέα κληρικό να γράψει 150 τόσα χρόνια πριν; Εξάλλου 1-2 αναφορές το καθένα έχουν οι οποίες χάνονται πίσω από τη μαγική εμπειρία της περιπέτειας του Τομ. Μήπως γίναμε υπεραντιδραστικοί/υπερευαίσθητοι τελευταίως και όλα μας φταίνε; και βαθμολογούμε με τα κριτήρια της εποχής μας. Το οποίο το βρίσκω λάθος.
Σε αυτό το βιβλίο δεν βρήκα κάτι να με ενοχλήσει σε τόσο μεγάλο βαθμό που να μειωθεί η βαθμολογία όπως συνέβηκε με το Το λημέρι του Λευκού Σκουληκιού του Στόουκερ. Από τα πιο κουλά βιβλία που διάβασα.


Ήταν μια παράξενη εκκεντρική ιστορία με (χριστιανικό) ηθικό δίδαγμα που καθόλου παράλογο δε μου φάνηκε.
«Μην πειράζετε και μην σκοτώνετε τα μικρά ζωάκια του νερού χωρίς λόγο, να είστε πάντα καθαροί, να διαβάζετε, και να ευχαριστήστε το θεό που έχετε καθαρό νερό να πλένεστε.»
Εγώ δεν είδα κανένα φασιστικό ή φαρισαϊκό τόνο στο βιβλίο όπως τόσοι ρηβιούερς ανέφεραν.


Δύο χρονιά μετά γράφτηκε Η Αλίκη στη χώρα των Θαυμάτων, το οποίο σαν βιβλίο είναι πιο ενδιαφέρον αλλά όχι λιγότερο τρελό, παράλογο, και αλλόκοτα μαγικό όπως αυτό, με χαρακτήρες όπως την Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby (Κάνεαυτοπουθεσνασουκανουν), την Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid (Πάθεαυτοπουεκανες), μια στρατιά από είδη ψαριών, πουλιών, οστρακόδερμων, αμφιβίων, πετρωμάτων, που πρέπει να έχεις ανοικτό ένα λεξικό ζωολογίας/γεωλογίας για να καταλάβεις τι είναι. Παράξενα επαγγέλματα όπως Δρ. Βλττσσγλς (Βάλτε τους σε γυάλες) καθηγητής νεκροβιονεοπαλαιουδροχθονανθρωποπιθηκολογίας
και άλλα πολλά. Αν σας άρεσε το παράξενο και σουρεαλιστικό στην Αλίκη τότε πιθανόν να σας αρέσει κι αυτό, αν όμως όχι προχωρήστε με προσοχή ή απλά throw in the towel που λένε και στα μέρη μου.
3,6 έτσι για να πάρει 4 αστέρια.
Profile Image for Nicole.
42 reviews6 followers
July 27, 2014
Why must you torture the children, Charles?

When I read that Charles Kingsley and Charles Darwin had been friends, I was so disappointed. Why? Why didn't dear Mr. D pull aside Mr. K and gently offer a sort of "I say old boy! This is bananas!" You know. Like they do. Or should have.

I started listening to a librivox recording while I was painting the room that is to become my new office-library. I had read about this author and had seen the title and knew, vaguely, that Mr. K was writing at about the same time as Edith Nesbit and George MacDonald, and I have been aware of their influence on contemporary fiction for children. So why not give it a whirl? The reader's voice was pleasing, which is not always the case, and, heck, it's free!

Chapter One: Social reform on the menu, the old chimney sweep noble poor trope... got it. Chapter Two: I remember a WHAT HECK moment at the very *end* of At the Back of the North Wind, so I was a little bit prepared for some whackadoodle, but I did not expect Babies to go off the rails so quickly.

Even though it just went from bad to worse from there, I kept listening in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome haze. There are a few chuckle-worthy lines in those early chapters, and I could see that there was a religion-science theme going that was moderately interesting, insofar as it gives an idea of the struggle at that time to reconcile new ideas about the world. But mostly, I felt I was seeing for the first time the primary source material that must have had a great influence on my father when he was a child, and that gave me a sense of morbid fascination. So I pressed onward.

But then I had to listen to chapter five twice, because I was thinking of other things, and by that time I was finished with the second coat of paint, and the weekend was over and listening time, too. I didn't so much feel compelled to finish the book because I was wrapped up in the story; I merely wanted to say I'd finished it. So I nipped over to the library to pick up a print copy, thinking I could read-skim to the end. I found not one but two copies! One version, very old, no publication date, had only been checked out once, in 1926. And the other, a critical edition edited by Richard Kelly, 2008, had never been checked out at all. (Hint.)

Guess what? In print, still not compelling! The appendices, with critical essays, were interesting, but the text itself? I just couldn't do it.

I may never finish those last chapters. If I were writing a dissertation, yes. For pleasure, no. Absolutely not.

On the whole, it's a strange combination of bizarre and tediously morally superior with a dash of charm thrown in now and again. Why would you subject a child to this? Or anyone? Just don't.
Profile Image for Mike Horne.
524 reviews13 followers
March 27, 2008
Wow, that was bad! In college I went through a Charles Kingsley phase (Westward Ho, Hypatia, Alton Locke). I remember reading this and thinking it was good. Probably the most wrong opinion I have ever held. The tone is so smarmy, you just want to slap the author (who is rabidly anti-irish). Here is probably the best quote of the book-which gives you a taste--

"Now you may fancy that Tom was quite good, when he had everything that he could want or wish: but you would be very much mistaken. Being quite comfortable is a very good thing; but it does not make people good. Indeed, it sometimes makes them naughty, as it has made the people in America; and as it made the people in the Bible, who waxed fat and kicked, like horses overfed and underworked."

Lewis Carrol or George MacDonald is so much better.
Profile Image for Raymond Elmo.
Author 14 books137 followers
May 23, 2019
Caritas and Empire; the two do not sit well together in the soul. What can a man do to resolve the debate within? He can tell a story that resolves the conflict; for him, at least.

Kingsley reviewed an advance copy of 'Origin of Species'. The concept provided his key to reconciling contradictions of 19th century morality. Evolution allowed him to declare that a man may preach 'do as you would be done by', and yet happily dismiss the mechanical cruelties of industrial and cultural empire.

He frames this strange declaration as a child’s fairy tale. Therein, existence is shown to be ruled by two magical beings. The kind and beautiful Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, and her stern, ugly sister, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid. They represent karmic moral law. Do well, and the pretty fairy shall reward you. Do ill, the stern fairy shall punish you. Kingsley’s genius is to integrate that into biological law and come out with something better than pre-Nazi sausage. For “Water Babies” is unique, imaginative and moving. A wonder of Victorian fantasy equal to Alice and Back of the North Wind.

“Did not learned men, too, hold, till within the last twenty-five years, that a flying dragon was an impossible monster? And do we not now know that there are hundreds of them found fossil up and down the world? People call them Pterodactyls: but that is only because they are ashamed to call them flying dragons, after denying so long that flying dragons could exist.”
--The Water Babies

Kingsley’s reconciliation of Empire and Caritas is a fairy tale biology sermon. It is also a wonder of a fantasy novel. Half forgotten, for all its former fame. Not surprising. It is over-spiked with insults to peoples whose sufferings do not need a clever man’s contempt.

There is a repeated declaration in Water Babies, first stated when poor soot-covered Tom wishes he could wash: “Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be foul, foul they will be. Remember.”

Make that the saving grace. In Charles Kingsley’ s ‘Water Babies’, the wish to affirm Caritas is stronger, greater, louder than the desire to justify Empire.
Profile Image for Ivan.
702 reviews15 followers
October 4, 2015
Beautifully written morality tale. The adventures of young Tom the chimney sweep is a classic written in the 1860s. This is fast paced and filled with one memorable scene after another.
Profile Image for Peter.
582 reviews80 followers
March 6, 2022
"The most wonderful and the strongest of things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see.'

First published in 1862 Reverend Charles Kingsley’s classic novel about a young chimney sweep who after falling into a river finds himself transformed in to an aquatic creature, a 'Water Baby'. The tale begins relatively realistically, and when Tom plunges into the water in becomes a mix of social and scientific satire.

This story is far more than a simple fairy tale, in parts it's a political tract. Kingsley was appalled by the plight of the young sweeps, condemned by their brutal masters to a life of misery and, often, early deaths, if not from falls then from lung disease or cancer. This book so horrified its readers, young and old alike, that it was instrumental in a new law reforming the working conditions of countless young boys forced to crawl up inside chimneys in order to clean them.

Initially written for Kingsley’s four-year-old son and published just three years after Darwin's ' On the Origin the Species', which shook Victorian Christian beliefs. Like Darwin, Kingsley took a keen interest in nature and science, some would even argue that this novel mirrors Darwin's theories on evolution, only in this case in the afterlife. Tom evolves due to education by his elders and experience. However, this is also a Christian parable that warns against the dangers of not being baptised in the Christian faith and the merits of treating others as you would want to be treated and the notion of eye for an eye.

This book is undoubtedly an important piece of social history but it's also an uncomfortable read. It's littered with archaic phrases and bloated sentences but most worryingly of all is the almost nonchalant use of sexist and racist (especially against the Irish) undertones throughout that simply would not be acceptable today. I personally would never recommend it being read to youngsters, hence the lowly mark.
Profile Image for David Gregg.
95 reviews45 followers
February 4, 2015
Summary: The audiobook narration is truly one of the finest that can be found -- really superb. The book itself is particularly good, and educational, though some caveats must be made.

The Book: Just absolutely delightful! Keenly imaginative, clever, and funny. Interwoven naturally with charming little lessons (which don't feel like lessons) about wildlife, biology, even geology and meteorology. Really very excellent morals throughout the whole tale. Keep Wikipedia and Google near at hand in order to look up all the interesting real-life creatures (some of whose popular or scientific names have changed since 1863), and historical or literary figures. This would make a great book to read along with a child, and will not only fascinate them but spark quite a number of good discussions. That said, I read this for the first time as an adult, and without a child to read it to, and I loved it as well.

Disclaimer: You must remember the era in which this was written, and the subsequent changes in the attitudes of society, or you may be taken aback by an occasional comment which we may feel is rather too comfortable with racial and national stereotypes -- the most malicious being one or two to the effect that the Irish tend to lie or be poorly educated. Others include: Jews are rich, blacks know how to dance, and Americans are spoiled due to their comforts. Still -- good occasions for discussion and another good reason to read this along with your children. It is worth it.

The Editions I Read: I listened to the Simon Vance audiobook, which turned out to be, to my surprise, one of the best narrations I've ever had the pleasure to hear (and I listen to lots and lots of audiobooks, many by Simon Vance in fact). I also read along in an illustrated Kindle ebook (though the illustrations appears to be out of sequence), in order to look up the words and make highlights. This method worked very well. But the audiobook really brought the whole thing to life, giving it a vibrant and contextualized character I'm not sure I would have succeeded in matching on my own. I've heard Simon Vance on a number of occasions before, and he's always wonderful, but he really outdid himself this time. It feels as though he really loved the book personally (perhaps from his own childhood) and so gave more of himself to the narration than usual.
Profile Image for Bob.
825 reviews66 followers
January 17, 2011
Humphrey Carpenter's "Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature" sounds like something I ought to have read. The period it describes runs from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, placing The Water-Babies right near its start and certainly an influence on everything from "Alice In Wonderland", a few years later, to "Peter Pan". It is also one of those children's books which contains "much that is unintelligible to children", as one reviewer put it; Kingsley was an Anglican minister who was nonetheless a follower of Darwin and, it is said, spent much of his intellectual life reconciling the two.
The overwhelming multiplicity of the natural world and the persistence of wonder is the dominant theme (as well as a very Anglican kind of moralism). The swirling, rapidly-changing surrealism of the underwater environment and the number of fantastic creatures would make a good subject for the animator Hayao Miyazaki. Alasdair Gray lists it as an influence on Lanark.
The depiction of most non-English peoples (with particular attention to the Irish) as somewhere between uncivilized and subhuman may have contributed to this no longer being part of the canon - apparently a sanitized Puffin edition was brought out in the early 80s.
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,238 reviews2,206 followers
February 1, 2016
A childhood favourite. I don't know what I'd make of it now.

This was a gift to me by one of my favourite aunts, a highly intellectual lady and an alumnus of the JNU (she is no more, sadly). It gathered dust on my shelf for quite a long time before I picked it up one day and devoured it in a single sitting.

I cannot remember much of the story. The part involving child labour distressed me a lot, even though I wanted to try my hand at chimney-sweeping; also, I loved the part about the water babies and their carefree lifestyle. I remember that towards the end the villain got some kind of retribution, and that the protagonist forgave him - I forget the details.

There was a comic strip in one of our local weeklies which was a mix of this story and Pinocchio. I remember that vividly. It was called "Mannunni".
Profile Image for Peter.
777 reviews114 followers
November 29, 2020
This took some time to read due to work and other things, however it was a good read.

What I found with this was a need to understand the way of life in the time it was penned. There were a number of times that I stopped to check a comment here and there against a book on victorian politics, way of life etc. which made the book far more readable. One obvious reference is made with regards to the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria.

A book that starts off like a typical dickensian story ends up the most bizzarre and weirdest travalogue ever.

Sadly a lot 1 star complainers do not seem to have a knowledge of the era.

Good fun!
Profile Image for Sarah.
724 reviews25 followers
August 22, 2014
It's like a terrible 19th-century version of The Phantom Tollbooth. Smarmy, racist, didactic, and everything that was crappy about Victorian attitudes, all rolled up into one boring, overlong waste of time.

Feel offended that goodreads recommended this to me. I deserve better.
Profile Image for D.M. Dutcher .
Author 1 book49 followers
January 23, 2012
Wow, this is horrible.

Tom, a chimney-sweep under the drunk, foul-tempered Mr. Grimes, one day goes with him to do a job at the local lord's manor. He by mistake enters the room of a young girl, who is startled by his soot-covered appearance, and raises a fuss. Everyone chases him, and he flees only to die ("changed by a fairy") and be transformed into a water-baby. He then has to become a real man again.

It's just a mess of a book. Apparently, daughters of rich people are naturally perfect and become fairies, while abused chimney sweeps have to do herculean labors to get redemption. Also, the language is horribly treacly and cloying. Kingsley is fond of endless lists of single words, nonsense words, overt racism (especially towards the Irish-a good drinking game is to take a shot when you see the words "Poor Paddy") and endless diatribes against scientists. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a good anti-scientist diatribe, but a smart 6 year old could eviscerate the things he does. "Hippopotamus in the brain" indeed.

The world is inconsistent. The water baby starts out in the sea, but then starts traveling through pure allegorical lands out of pilgrim's progress. He doesn't seem to have any real unifying moral vision that makes sense, and what weird moralizing comes through is syrupy and thick. And I'm some one not opposed to this, enjoying At the Back of the North Wind! Which is a far, far superior book, by the way.

It's even horrific at times. A poor, exhausted Tom is led to a stream and transformed into a water-baby by the fairies, feverish and feeling he needs to wash himself to be clean. Mr Grimes is rescued from a fate in his afterlife, but the solution is just as bad if not worse. The fairies drive one kindhearted professor who didn't believe in him near insane. There's a very distasteful undercurrent even beyond the overt things. For good fairies, they do an awful lot of bad things.

So really, pass on this unless you want to read it as a historical curiosity. Even as short as it is, it's a chore to read and an embarrassment to kid's literature and the entire Victorian era.
Profile Image for Omaira .
324 reviews140 followers
December 21, 2019

Los niños del agua (The Water Babies; 1863) de Charles Kingsley es una novela infanti-juvenil fantástica en la línea satírica y bizarra de las narraciones escatológicas de autores como Lewis Carroll y Edward Lear.

Se han de tener algunas consideraciones presentes antes de hablar sobre la obra de Kingsley. Para empezar, este caballero británico de pura cepa publicó dos años antes que Lewis Carroll su Alicia, por lo que se trata de un precursor del sinsentido y no de un influenciado. Aunque el viaje del deshollinador de Kingsley puede traernos ecos de las aventuras de Alicia, Kingsley no tuvo un delirio artístico tras leer a Carroll ni tampoco trató de imitar o superar a Lewis Carroll. A no ser que fuera un viajero en el tiempo, claro.

Fuera bromas, la verdad es que se percibe que el sinsentido de Kingsley procedía de poemitas infantiles tontos y canciones de cuna con tintes grotescos y misteriosos. Leyendo Los niños del agua podemos observar numerosos ejemplos de poemas, tanto autoría de Kingsley como de otros autores, que refuerzan la teoría de que este tipo de textos fueron una influencia decisiva en la historia y en su trabajo artístico.

De nuevo, recalco su posición de precedente del sinsentido para trazar, bajo mi punto de vista, una adecuada crítica de diversos aspectos de la obra del señor Charles Kingsley.

Charles Kingsley se vale de la historia de Tom, un crío victoriano obligado a trabajar como deshollinador desde una temprana edad para un tal Grimes, para narrar una historia infantil llena de moralejas pero sin moraleja (incomprensible, lo sé) y realizar diversas críticas sociales; la esclavitud infantil, el sistema educativo de la época, la teoría de la evolución de Charles Darwin y la racionalización del mundo fantástico llevada, según Kingsley, por la sociedad estadounidense. También subyace una simplona crítica hacia los irlandeses y el catolicismo, pero creo que esta última viene más por la profesión del propio Kingsley y su orgullo británico y temperamento flemático que por un odio real hacia los irlandeses y el catolicismo.

Mi principal problema con este libro es que no tiene una intención muy clara. El absurdo carece de intención, pero este libro parece que tiene alguna clase de pretensión. Además, la historia tiene tres tonos que no terminan de fusionarse bien: el fantástico, el crítico y el pedante.

Al tono fantástico le pongo un diez, del crítico diría que es mejorable y del pedante, que lo considero casi un subtono del segundo, diría que es horrible. Para empezar, Tom realiza todo un viaje personal hacia la máxima virtud, es decir, convertirse en un niño bueno cristiano que antepone los buenos deseos ajenos a los deseos personales. Ese viaje está lleno de magia, imaginación y elementos dispares que unidos crean una historia perfecta a la que le hubiera puesto cinco estrellas de cabeza. Sin embargo, como la historia está repleta de comentarios críticos, más dirigidos a un público adulto que al infantil, la fantasía es interrumpida en decenas de ocasiones y, finalmente, opacada por temas mundanos y muy concretos de la época. Que si un tal Samuel Griswold (Primo Cramchild) dijo que la magia no existe en una ponencia, que si la gente sigue la moda y por eso se ponen esos horribles spoon-bonnets, que si Jane Marcet (Tía Agigate) dijo no se qué…Se centra en hechos muy específicos de la era victoriana que desde la mirada actual solo nos provocan indiferencia pues, aunque podemos entender el modo de proceder de los citados y del propio Kingsley, el comentario concreto y la crítica nos es indiferente.

La necesidad del autor de justificar que existen los niños del agua no me pareció del todo mal, pero la forma de proceder no me gustó nada. Su crítica estaba llena de comentarios despectivos y pedantes hacia los racionalistas o aquellos que se abisman en la fantasía sabiendo que son una ficción. Esta humilde pagana cristiana debe confesarle, señor Kingsley, que ve completamente lícito abismarse en una ficción conociendo su naturaleza irreal. ¿O es que acaso es menos valioso el objeto que nace de mi mente que el que es obra de la Naturaleza?

Los personajes no están muy desarrollados, pero realmente eso no importa en este cuento de hadas victoriano. El peso de la trama lo adquiere el sinsentido una vez la fantasía queda en segundo plano. La consecución de temas escatológicos culmina en una escena en la que Tom ha de reencontrarse con su mayor miedo y ayudarlo.

No es una mala obra, pero no creo que pudiera recomendarla a cualquier persona. Incluso si el interesado disfruta el humor absurdo tendría serias dudas de si recomendarla o no. Creo que su público específico serían aquellos lectores que quieran ver la evolución histórica del absurdo y los que no tuvieron suficientes idas de olla con las obras de Carroll.

Los lectores que busquen fantasía saldrán de la narración decepcionados; los que busquen una crítica a la sociedad victoriana encontrarán discursos simplones y emocionales; a los que busquen el sinsentido encontrarán una narración que podrán calificar entretenida, pero no memorable.

En cualquier caso, la tríada Kingsley-Carroll-Lear constituye para mí el perfecto precedente del género “absurdo” que se desarrollaría con propiedad a lo largo del siglo XX en la prosa, la poesía y en el teatro y merecen ser leídos los tres si se tiene un verdadero interés por el tema, que en mi caso es afirmativo.
Profile Image for BookSweetie.
815 reviews20 followers
August 12, 2012
Last line: "But remember always, as I told you at first, that this is all a fairy tale, and only fun and pretence: and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true."

THE WATER BABIES by the Reverend Charles Kingsley, a Victorian era children's novel first published in book form in England in 1863, achieved a level of popularity for decades in its day that spurred me as an adult to read it a hundred and fifty years later.

Although it occupied a familiar place in British children's literary history, a modern day reader might find parts of the book surprising fare for children -- then or now.

In fact, an adult might appreciate an annotated version of this book about Tom, the chimney sweep who dies and is turned into a water baby, given that the author does more than simply sprinkle into the story philosophical and scientific points and issues, including swirling debates such as that let loose in the late 1850's in Darwin's Origin of Species.

Here's a key section from the book that gives a flavor of the writing:

"A water-baby? You never heard of a water-baby. Perhaps not. That is the very reason why this story was written. There are a great many things in the world which you never heard of; and a great many more which nobody ever heard of; and a great many things, too, which nobody will ever hear of, at least until the coming of the Cocqcigrues, when man shall be the measure of all things.

'But there are no such things as water-babies.'

How do you know that? Have you been there to see? And if you had been there to see, and had seen none, that would not prove that there were none. If Mr. Garth does not find a fox in Eversley Wood—as folks sometimes fear he never will—that does not prove that there are no such things as foxes.

And as is Eversley Wood to all the woods in England, so are the waters we know to all the waters in the world. And no one has a right to say that no water-babies exist, till they have seen no water-babies existing; which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water-babies; and a thing which nobody ever did, or perhaps ever will do."

In brief: An important English children's literature example with its didactic-style moral fable... but dated and not particularly recommended for children any longer given some of its weaknesses. Although children do have a way of skipping over parts that interrupt the story pacing to get on with the plot -- which would be necessary with WATER BABIES--, in my opinion, many other better books exist to share with children.
Profile Image for Raj.
1,359 reviews29 followers
June 22, 2010
This is a book that I tried to read many times as a child but could never get through the first chapter. Seeing it on the shelf while visiting my parents I was determined to give it another shot. Although I got through it, to be honest it really wasn't worth it.

Tom is a young chimney sweep who, through a series of improbable events, becomes a water-baby and goes thorough all sorts of adventures, all of which have morals to teach, before becoming a creature of the land again, as a grown man. It is a Victorian moral fable and although it's stated that it's aimed at children, and has a fairly simplistic style, it is interspersed with philosophical tracts and concepts that would go right above the head of most children.

It also has a very dismissive attitude towards Americans, Jews and (particularly) the Irish (although seems keen on the Scots) which makes for some unpleasant reading.

I just couldn't really engage with this book at all, and only its short length got me through it, although my edition does have some fantastic illustrations by Lindsey Sambourne. There's enough other good Victorian literature for children that you don't have to read this one.
Profile Image for Kerry.
541 reviews62 followers
April 6, 2013
I read this book when I was in primary school but can't remember much about it. I read it again as I'm working my way through classics I've always wanted to read or read when I was young & want to reread. The Water Babies overall is a magical book about fairies & magic. However it is a bit depressing as there are many deaths & a theme of being punished for what you have done to others. I think for the era it's set in this would probably have been used as a story to teach children to be well behaved & show kindness to everyone, big or small, human or animal, etc... However today it seems a bit outdated in its teachings & the author has a tendency to ramble on in places. I feel the story as a whole would flow better without these ramblings. Overall a good read but I'd be reluctant to read it to young children due to its maudlin feel. There are moments of beautiful poetic writing which make up for the rambling parts.
Profile Image for Shirley Revill.
1,197 reviews236 followers
February 26, 2018
I read this book many years ago but what is really nice is that my children and grandchildren loved this book too.
There are some beautiful plates in the book that make the book very appealing.
Pure nostalgia. Storytelling at it's best. Recommended.
Profile Image for Summer.
1,337 reviews15 followers
February 3, 2023
Read-aloud with the boys. I really enjoyed it. Loved the themes of cleanliness (a mama can try 🤣) and the adventures in the sea and the themes of how to treat others.
Profile Image for Arukiyomi.
382 reviews71 followers
April 17, 2015
This was not for me. Yes, I understand the importance of the book at time, how it was a satire on Darwin’s classic and the fact that it predates Alice in Wonderland did impress me when I compared their publication dates. But it just got on my nerves after about chapter three and from then on right until the end where, confronted with the most ridiculous last line in the history of literature, my patience gave way entirely.

So what irritated me? Well, the awful patronising tone of Kingsley the narrator who writes as if everyone is a) male and b) white Caucasian and c) wealthy, educated, clean and morally superior. It’s patronising and prejudiced in the extreme and pulls no punches in its portrayal of the Scots, the Irish, the Jews, etc.

There’s this kid Tom who ends up going up one chimney and coming down the wrong one in some massive house which just happens to border some land which contains a stream where, for fear of his life, he flees and, somehow, becomes a Water Baby, some kind of waterbound fairy.

He then undertakes, for reasons not apprent to me, some epic quest to get to the Back End of Somewhere or the Bottom Side of Everywhere or somesuch meaningless location. Along the way, he meets a range of fantastic beings who are loosely based on magical interpretations of real life beings. Most are as patronisingly moralising as Kingsley himself so there’s really no let up. The story’s really not that interesting actually. You certainly don’t really care what happens to Tom. If he’d been eaten by a pike, I don’t think I would have noticed actually.

Of course, he achieves his aim, but this is by means of passing some kind of moral litmus test of doing something right even though it’s not something he wants to do. The implication is that our highest moral deeds are those which are done in the face of extreme distaste.

That’s a great shame for people like Mother Theresa whose entire life’s work count for nothing because they actually love people and want to help them. Bummer. Yep, next time I actually want to inconvenience myself for the sake of others, I’ll think twice before doing so and wait until I really, really, deep, deep down in my heart don’t want to at all. Then it will count.

But, count for what exactly? For nothing at all of course. Kingsley seems to have believed that you attain some kind of moral status by piling up good actions one after another (all without wanting to of course). What a sad fallacy for such an intelligent man to propound. No matter what we do in this life, we’re all so far short of moral perfection that we all pretty much look the same from the viewpoint of moral purity.

Anyway, all loose ends are neatly tied up and put to bed with a kiss and a warm glass of milk. Then, after having said repeatedly every other paragraph that just because someone says something is not true, that doesn’t mean it isn’t, the epilogue tells you not to bother believing a word of anything you’ve just read even if it is true. Great. Thanks.

Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are so, so much better at giving us a satirical insight into ourselves and our lives than The Water Babies there’s hardly any comparison between them. Lewis Carrol was a genius who took Kingsley’s timebound witterings and made them into a timeless literary classic which both children and adults will treasure for hundreds of years to come, long after the last person has read that pointless last line of The Water Babies for the last time in human history.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,781 reviews4,986 followers
September 12, 2007
Even as a kid I thought this story was pretty heavy on the sanctimonious didacticism, but it still has great imagery. And my version had very pretty illustrations.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 650 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.