Imaginary Penguins

Oliver Jeffers’ book ‘Lost and Found’ depicts a little boy finding a penguin and setting about returning him to the South Pole. But is that what the penguin wants?

This raises the question of the meaning behind books – especially children’s’ pictures: is this penguin, with its symbolism of friendship and loneliness, simply imaginary?

To begin with, what does this mean? We know something as imaginary as not physically existing – one might argue that fairies are not real because we do not see them – in the context of the book, the boy may see the penguin, but other people in his world may not. (Of course, theists raise these questions of God Himself, that He exists without being seen.)

Thus, the penguin is an imaginary entity created by himself to satisfy the missing pieces of the boy.

If the penguin is simply imaginary, that is, in itself, one has to take a great leap of a priori faith to believe in the existence of something not verifiable by empirical evidence. The book suggests there is a penguin – how do we, ‘real-lifers’, use science and observation to prove that, outside of the boy, the penguin is in existence?

To us, the concept of penguin exists (and we apply this to the context of the book automatically); I, personally, would argue that this penguin is imaginary, but not simply imaginary. This penguin has a chance of existing – we see that via the picture-prose – but does so only in the boy’s mind in the context of the story. Elsewhere, for instance in a story about a zoo, the same penguin may well exist.

Certainly, whilst the statement is non-cognitive and doesn’t require proof to its being spoken, the statement is meaningful. I know what I have asked – both in the context of the real world (that is: this is a picture book with an imaginary boy and an imaginary penguin and an imaginary journey to the Pole, but I am aware of that, outside the temporality of this created world) and in the inner context of the imaginary world: that is, this physical boy may be conjuring up an imaginary penguin to serve his lonely aspirations.

Is the penguin imaginary? That depends on opinion and how far one is willing to extend into the realm of the fiction. 

The End

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