Natalie Babbitt, whose young adult classic Tuck Everlasting explored the concept of immortality, leading many young readers to reflect (perhaps for the first time) on the nature of death and their place in a cyclical universe, died on Monday at the age of 84 at her home in Hamden, Connecticut.
The Associated Press reports that Babbitt was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Publisher’s Weekly says in their obituary for Babbitt she laid her love of writing and education at the feet of her mother, who was herself discouraged from seeking a master’s degree by other women in her church. “She was a woman of great intelligence and energy and talent, with nowhere to put it all,” Babbitt said, “So she turned the intense searchlight of her ambition onto my sister and me. We grew up with the idea firmly implanted that we could, should, and would have it all—a first-class education, a strong marriage, a family, and an active career.”
Babbitt was an artist as well as a writer, and illustrated her first book in 1966, written by her husband Samuel Fisher Babbitt. The publisher encouraged Natalie Babbitt to keep working on her own stuff. In 1971 she won the Newberry Honor for her 1971 book Knee-Knock Rise. In 1975, Tuck Everlasting was published, and was named an American Library Association notable book. It was adapted twice for film (though she allegedly disliked the 2002 Disney version starring Alexis Bledel and Jonathan Jackson) and once for Broadway. Of his wife, Samuel Babbitt said, “She once said that her ambition was just to leave a little scratch on the rock...I think she did that with Tuck Everlasting.”
In an article published for the 40th anniversary of her most famous book, Babbitt spoke of how she was inspired to write it by her daughter Lucy’s questions about death:
“My youngest, Lucy, had a scary time wondering what it would be like to die...I had long before that made up my mind about what was going to happen when I died. But I wrote Tuck to help Lucy understand what life is all about – that we all get born and we all have to die. It’s a subject I never thought I’d write about, but there it was. I wanted to be sure Lucy would not grow up scared.”
And as she wrote in Tuck Everlasting, “Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”