Fille Fatale: From Little Red to Locked and Loaded

Today’s guest entry from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course comes from David Costello, who examines the transformation of a familiar girl in a red hood throughout the years.

By David Costello

Most people in American culture are familiar with the phrase “Femme Fatale.” Whether you are a Brittany Spears fan or are knowledgeable in the European literature where the term originated, the French phrase for “deadly woman” has become synonymous with the growing Feminist culture that has come to redefine modern day society. This gradual rise in feminine independence has been detailed in the historic changes of the classic school age fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.”

 Britney

You say seductive? I say sizing up ways to kill me.

 

The earliest examples of  “Little Red Riding Hood” portray the protagonist as the atypical female character. In his version of the tale Charles Perrault describes Little Red as “Pretty, well-bred, and genteel,” which is hardly comparable to the Little Red Riding Hood we see in a feminist conscious modern day society (13). Nonetheless, the legendary storyteller uses his moralistic tale as a metaphor: not to warn women of the dangers of wolves, but more so the dangers of men. He relates wolves to men by describing some wolves as, “perfectly charming,
Not loud, brutal, or angry,
But tame, pleasant, and gentle…But watch out if you haven’t learned that tame wolves Are the most dangerous of all.” While his tale does serve as a moral for women to be cautious of the devious duplicity of men, the protagonist still acts as only a cautionary character and must submit to her fate as an example.

 Red

The original poster girl for “Child Neglect”

 

Fast forward 285 years later to Roald Dahl’s depiction of this “damsel in distress” and the reader finds a much different tale. Rather than being eaten by the wolf as an example for her gender, Little Red empowers herself as she “whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead” (22). Therefore, if Dahl is adhering to the tale’s usual depiction of the wolf representing man, then in this instance the tables have turned. By the end of the 20th century the literary progression of the so called “classic” tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” acts as a literal “mirror mirror on the wall” for the society in which it is interpreted. The modern Little Red is a younger version of the deadly woman, a “fille fatale,” and this textual shift directly correlates to the societal shifts that define this time period. What I mean by this is that as society has progressed historically, it has also progressed in equality. While women are still expected to maintain the caring, kind stereotype that has been imposed on them for centuries, it is not surprising in present day to see a woman rebel against this stigma. In this regard, the changing versions Little Red Riding Hood serve as a chronological map of the growing Feminist Movement throughout history.

Red with Gun

David is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

Imitation and Invention: The Golden Age Classic in Contemporary Children’s Books

Today’s entry is another in our series of guest posts from Rebekah Fizsimmons’s Spring 2013 Golden Age of Children’s Literature class. Jess Ferro returns with another blog post that traces the threads of classic children’s books to the modern day.

By Jess Ferro

Recently, we have seen many children’s and YA book trends go viral, catching the attention of main stream media, from the vampire craze stemming from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series to an obsession with the dystopian novel enflamed by Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. However, over the past two to three years there has been a trend that has developed in the children’s book market, that seems to have gone unnoticed. Most likely because it hasn’t garnered the mass amount of readers that are characteristic of other literary phenomena for young readers. However this trend, is not made up of series, but stand alone texts which seem to be resurrecting the idea of the Golden Age classic (ie Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland). The texts that I’ll discuss below are calling back on the classic.

Interestingly, the trend has had two veins of creativity. On one side, we have what I would call an imitation of the classic while on the other side we have sparks of invention taking place that allude to the classic.

The imitation side of this trend is manifested with a plethora of “authorized sequels” such as Peter Pan in Scarlet, Return to the Hundred Acre Woods, and The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit.

peter

winnie

peter rabbit

Specifically in these authorized sequels, there is no invention taking place, meaning these authors are not creating new stories which recall the classic aethestic. Instead they are slipping back into the past, attempting to recreate the specific style, tone and feel of books that are recognized as classics. In 2009, NPR published an article looking at the authorized Winnie the Pooh sequel. It started out with the sentence: “It used to be that all good things would come to an end, but these days, at least in the world of books and movies, there is always ‘the sequel’.” It went on to discuss the new novel, and in writing the article they contacted children’s literature professor, Phil Nel. His opinion on the book was very telling and plays into what I believe is at the heart of the imitation vs. invention distinction at the heart of the classical style trend:

But Philip Nel, a professor of children’s literature at Kansas State University, says based on what he could glean from the first chapter, they may have played it too safe.
“It’s almost like reading someone else’s memory of A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard,” says Nel. “It’s a pleasant memory, but why wouldn’t you read the original? It’s not like they’ve disappeared.”
The result, says Nel, is a book that feels like an imitation: “They’ve got the characters down. Pooh is ruled by [his] tummy. Piglet is timid. Eeyore tends to be sarcastic and depressed.”

Thus while you have these texts which attempt to actually imitate the classic and continue to keep an already written story alive, you have other authors that have been heavily inspired, have done their research on this period, but are creating inventive, unique and new worlds that recall the classic in style, tone and feel instead of imitating those three things. Some books that could be used as examples of this inventive vein in the trend are: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, and Splendors & Glooms.

incorrigibles

Let’s take Peter Nimble as our example to investigate here what this inventive strain is doing. Merely in its title we have the name Peter which may automatically bring to mind Peter Pan, and we start to impose his characteristics onto Peter Nimble. The cover art is interesting to look at as well. The cityscape recalls London (similar to these covers of Peter Pan, click here , here , here , here and here), with the clock tower and the smoke stacks that set it in a Industrial Revolution period. We realize from the cover that Peter is blind and he must also be a thief, so perhaps we start to think about Oliver Twist. Lastly the juxtaposition of the cityscape and the fantastical background remind me a bit of Arthur Rackham who often juxtaposed the mundane with the magical. This novel also utilizes the second person address for its narrative, which is a bit of a staple with Golden Age authors, as we’ve seen with Barrie and Carroll. Lastly, as you read the text you begin to pick up on so many allusions that the author, Jonathan Auxier, melds together with his story to bring it to life, allusions include Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, the figure of the knight, Don Quixote, the figure of the pirate but one that is midway between the realistic and stylized, Oliver Twist, and the biblical story of Moses.

Lastly, it is interesting to view these ideas of the distinction between imitation and invention, in relation to the role that nostalgia plays in all of this, specifically Svetlana Boym’s definition of the idea of nostalgia. She actually breaks it up into two forms, one called restorative nostalgia and the other reflective nostalgia. These two distinctions actually work perfectly with the imitation vs invention idea that I’ve seen developing for this classical trend. Restorative nostalgia attempts to reach back in time and restore the past in the present, which is what the imitation, “authorized sequels” are doing. On the other hand, reflective nostalgia looks back on the past, but realizes that it is impossible to really recreate the past and in doing so it is critical of this longing and is interested in the “contradictions of modernity” (Boym xviii). Thus this reflective nostalgia correlates rather well with the inventive side, because these authors are indeed looking back, but they are not attempting to restore something that is past, but instead create something new that fuses together a past aesthetic with a modern sensibility.

Cited:

Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic, 2001.

Neary, Lynn. “Pooh Faithful Return To The Hundred Acre Wood.” NPR. NPR, 02 Oct. 2009. Web. < http://www.npr.org/2009/10/02/113406207/pooh-faithful- return-to-the-hundred-acre-wood >.

Jess is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

Peter Pan and the Replacement Child

Today’s entry is another in our series of guest posts from Rebekah Fizsimmons’s Spring 2013 Golden Age of Children’s Literature class. Heather Halak takes another look at J.M. Barrie’s life to see what we can learn about Peter Pan in the process.

By Heather Halak

Man and Child

When one reads any Peter Pan works by J.M. Barrie, one may note dark undertones for a tale that is depicted as lighthearted and encouraging of the free spirit. Much of Barrie’s own experiences contributed to the work and it is said this is the reason for any of his works’ peculiarities. Barrie was described as childlike, no taller than 5’4” and almost incapable of real adult relationships. This fixation on childhood may be in part due to the loss of his brother David, who died two days shy of his 14th birthday in an ice skating accident. David was his mother’s favorite child (or so we think), and Barrie spent much of his childhood dressing in David’s clothing and trying to console his mother of her loss. Barrie began to fill the shoes of what is known as a “replacement child.” In most cases, a replacement child is a child born after the death of a sibling, however, when David died, expectations for his life and future fell onto Barrie.

One can draw a few parallels between Peter Pan and David, as Peter does not grow up and David is barred from adulthood in his death. Peter & Wendy opens with the famous line, “Every child grows up, except one.” David, who died at 14, is frozen at that age in childhood. He will never be thought of as a grown man or adult, but forever as an individual untouched by the experiences of adulthood. Many people often ask why or how Peter gains the ability to fly, and one may argue that he is in fact a ghost thus having the ability to fly to “other worlds” such as Neverland. Peter Pan also buries young children in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and leads the lost souls of children in Peter & Wendy. These roles have very much to do with the dead and perhaps Peter performs these duties because he feels partial to dead children, as he is one.

Peter Pan is a mysterious figure in children’s literature that has intrigued and fascinated people always. We all experience a sense of never wanting to grow up and this has allowed Peter to remain such a prevalent character in literature, movies, and other works. Though his origins are unknown, one thing is certain: Peter and his stories are peculiar. Peter Pan works have a few minor creepy details such as the mention of Peter burying dead children in Kensington Gardens and this may be attributed to Barrie’s childhood experiences especially given the loss of David and having to replace him in order to console his unstable mother.

Peter Pan and Wendy

Heather is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

Breaking Down Peter Pan: Parallels between Peter and J.M. Barrie

Today’s entry is another in our series of guest posts from Rebekah Fizsimmons’s Spring 2013 Golden Age of Children’s Literature class. Megan Pak looks to J.M. Barrie’s life to see what drove the eternally young Peter.

By Megan Pak

Peter StatueIn J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Peter Pan is portrayed as a young boy who never ages or grows up.  He never has a birthday, nor does he ever plan on having one.  He escaped from being a human boy when he flew, without wings mind you, out of his own bedroom window when he was just a baby.  Peter Pan flew to Kensington Gardens and resided there permanently; Barrie described the escape as a “youthful desire” to escape to the treetops, showing us, the readers, that it is a natural and youthful characteristic to want to escape.  It is in Kensington Gardens that readers are able to see the way Peter interacts with other characters and his environment, thus explaining a great deal about his character.  The first time he arrived in Kensington Gardens was Lock-out time, when all the fairies and Nature’s creations came to life.  Every living thing in the garden shunned him at the sight of him, and Peter cried.  This shows readers that Peter may be emotionally weak or weak-minded or even the type of character who seeks out companionship; most importantly, however, it reminds us that he is still just a baby when he first escapes and arrives in the garden.

Also, Peter meets the head of the birds on the island, Solomon Caw, and he respects him very much because he is old and wise.  Solomon Caw calls him a “betwixt-and-between,” meaning that he is neither fully bird nor human, and Peter believes him as he takes on the title (Barrie 17).  Solomon Caw’s description of Peter shows us that Peter experiences an identity crisis; he does not know who or what he is or where he belongs.  This idea is further emphasized when we see his memories of his human life fading and as all the birds never get used to his presence on the island.  Peter felt out of place and never fit in.  To the reader, Peter may seem like an innocent, adventurous boy.  Barrie even encourages this image of Peter when he says, “But you must not think that Peter Pan was a boy to pity rather than to admire; if Maimie began by thinking this, she soon found she was very much mistaken” (Barrie 58).  Barrie praises Peter and encourages readers to admire him instead of pity him.  However, when one closely analyzes his actions and his interaction with other characters and his environment, one can see that Peter is actually a young child who needs to be pitied.  He feels out of place and experiences an identity crisis at a very young age.  Furthermore, he feels neglected, which becomes especially apparent when he returns home for the second time to find that his window has been closed and barred with his mother inside with another replacement boy.

Peter Pan is the archetype of children who are forced to grow up in the shadows of their siblings while feeling neglected by their mothers, just as Barrie did in his own childhood.

Barrie

Barrie was one of seven children.  Two of his older brothers were esteemed academics, one of them, David, being the most favored by their mother, Margaret Ogilvy.  Barrie was the youngest and was, arguably, “another mouth to feed” in Margaret’s eyes.  His mother favored David and much of her attention was on him, even when he died tragically in a skating accident.  Even then, her attention was still focused on David through her mourning.  Barrie went so far as to emulate David in order to gain some affection and attention from his own mother.  Barrie is like Peter Pan in these ways.  The most pivotal moment in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is when Peter says, “It isn’t fair to take you [Maimie] with me if you think you can go back!  Your mother […] you don’t know them as well as I do” (Barrie 61).  Peter says this in response to Maimie’s utter confidence in the notion that her mother would want her and would wait for her forever.  Peter disagrees with Maimie and says that all mothers are the same, because they do not want their children, therefore they will not wait for them to return.  These ill feelings towards mothers can be directly related to Barrie’s personal life.

This reading of the character of Peter Pan shows us the effects of negligence from parental love and affection.  Experiencing negligence at a young age not only affects the child, but it is also psychologically harmful to the adults he or she becomes, as seen in Peter Pan and in J.M. Barrie’s life.

Megan is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

Alice’s Existence in Wonderland

We continue our series of guest posts from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s Golden Age of Children’s Literature class with a post from Alexander Broatch. Alexander traces Alice’s attempts to make meaning out of the nonsense of Wonderland.

By Alexander Broatch

Alice

The world known as Wonderland created by Lewis Carroll for his novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is a place where many things do not make sense. Wonderland is a fantasy world that is completely different from our own, where nonsense actually makes plenty of sense and animals have the ability to speak. Undoubtedly, the average person setting foot in such a place would be absolutely baffled by its inhabitants and their surroundings. Thus, the average person would be considered an outsider or out of place if they were one day pulled out of their own world and thrown into Wonderland. Alice is a perfect example of a character that does not belong in Wonderland. She is constantly confused by the new customs introduced to her with every Wonderland inhabitant she meets and she often tries to “correct” them by incorporating her own customs. Therefore, in order to understand the absurdity in this eccentric world, the reader needs a guide or, more specifically, a character that should not exist in Wonderland.

Although one can assume that Alice is aware that she does not belong in Wonderland, she still attempts to fit in by communicating with the inhabitants of Wonderland. Unfortunately for Alice, most of the times she tries to talk with the Wonderland inhabitants they ignore her or are too focused on something else to pay any attention to her. One could make a direct connection of Alice’s attempts to communicate with the Wonderland characters to a child attempting to speak to her parents, sit amongst adults, or try to join in on a conversation with a group. Alice fears losing her existence and, in one instance, literally believes she would disappear by shrinking after consuming the food of Wonderland. However, her existence remains intact after she narrowly escapes vanishing by simply shrinking to a miniature size.

Like Alice, children often put an effort to make their opinion matter and struggle to belong to a group. However, like most characters in Wonderland, they respond to Alice’s approaches by shrugging her off and focus on their own activities. Therefore, Alice’s role in Wonderland becomes meaningless as she is constantly shunned by the Wonderland inhabitants. For example, the White Rabbit is the first character Alice encounters and the one who constantly ignores her because being punctual is way more important than talking to a strange little girl. The White Rabbit eventually acknowledges Alice, only to confuse her for its maid, Mary Ann. Despite the mix-up, she complies and obediently follows the rabbit’s orders to fetch its white gloves and a fan from its house. Although, her role as “Alice” is not established and she is referred to as “Mary Ann” by the White Rabbit, Alice believes she had gained a role in Wonderland by running this errand.

In addition, her encounter with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare made it quite clear that Alice was not needed. As the scene is established, Carroll makes it blatantly obvious that the “table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it,” yet despite the fact that there is plenty of chairs for Alice to sit, the Hatter and the Hare cry out that there is no room (18). Despite the initial rejection, Alice decides to sit in the large arm-chair and attempts to gain a role in the tea party. Unfortunately, the Hatter and Hare are everything but nice to Alice. The Hatter and Hare are rude, sarcastic, and even confuse Alice with their words and actions. Finally, they bluntly point out that she is an unwelcome guest which compels Alice to leave in disgust. Their claim that she is not invited seems to expand to more than just their mad tea party and may indicate that she’s an unwanted guest in Wonderland as well.

The customs introduced in Wonderland are more than absurd and ridiculous to Alice who has already grown habituated to the customs of her own world. She attempts to accentuate her role in Wonderland by pointing out the flaws in their customs and makes attempts to teach them the “right way” to do it. There really is not much of a debate when it comes to imploring your argument, but the Wonderland characters tend to ignore or at times find an absurd excuse to justify their personalities. If Alice truly wanted to exist among the people of Wonderland, she would most likely accept their customs and act more like them. However, one can argue that Alice’s purpose in Wonderland is not to become a Wonderland inhabitant, but to show the nonsensical world through the eyes of an average little girl. It can be inferred that once Alice acknowledges that she does not belong in Wonderland, she wakes up in her own world. A world she belongs in.

Alexander is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

John Tenniel and the World of Alice in Wonderland

Today’s guest post from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” class comes from Bethany Gugliemino, who looks at the man behind the most famous illustrations of Alice in Wonderland.

By Bethany Gugliemino

Alice 1

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired vast numbers of illustrations over the years by all kinds of artists, from Arthur Rackham to Salvador Dalí. However, the most well-known illustrations are those by John Tenniel, who worked closely with Carroll and whose illustrations accompanied the novel upon its original publication.

Alice 2

John Tenniel was born in London in February 1820. He studied at the Royal Academy, but as an illustrator and cartoonist he was primarily self-taught. He exhibited (and sold) a painting at the Society of British Artists at the age of 16, and he later exhibited at the Royal Academy as well. He worked on illustrations for several books, including Thomas James’sAesop’s Fables and Charles Dickens’s The Haunted Man. Tenniel is also well-known for his cartoon work for Punch, a Victorian humor magazine begun in 1841. He contributed many illustrations to the magazine, becoming chief artist in 1846 and keeping the position until his retirement in 1901. In 1864, Tenniel agreed to work with Carroll on the illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, creating 42 wood engravings to accompany the story. Tenniel was knighted in 1893, and he died nine years later in February 1914.

Alice 3

Tenniel’s illustrations provide a detailed mirror of the events in Carroll’s text. The first illustration of the story, depicting the White Rabbit, helps to ease the reader into Alice’s fantasy world as seamlessly as Carroll accomplishes this transition in the text. In the story, Alice notices a “white rabbit with pink eyes” who becomes remarkable not when he speaks but when he takes a watch from his waistcoat-pocket. Tenniel’s illustration likewise combines elements of the natural and familiar to create a new and unusual scene. The rabbit is depicted naturalistically and is placed in a realistic field of grass and dandelions. His clothes and pocket-watch are familiar objects as well. However, the combination of these elements, in addition to his upright posture and human hands (a feature shared by many of the animals in the illustrations), creates something unexpected and signals the entrance into a world of fantasy. As the story continues, Tenniel’s illustrations capture the nonsense and peculiarity of the world that Alice travels through, reflecting Carroll’s story and creating an enduring appeal for readers today.

For more information on John Tenniel and his work, visit the links on this page: http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/tenniel/index.html

For a gallery of all the Alice illustrations, visit this page: http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/tenniel/alice/gallery1.html

Bethany is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

Peter Pan in Popular Culture: An Icon for Children and Adults

This week’s guest entry from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” class comes from Christina Paik, who considers the legacy of Peter Pan in like of his lesser-known origins.

By Christina Paik

Undoubtedly, the story of Peter Pan exploring Neverland with Wendy and her brothers is a childhood tale that most hold dear to their hearts. However, the story that preceded this tale and is often overlooked is called Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Published in 1906, just a few short years before the classic Peter and Wendy became a novel in 1911, this novel tells explains the origins of the character Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie explains that all babies, including Peter Pan, are first born as birds. Within the week it takes to become a human baby, these infants attempt to fly away, back to the island of the birds in Kensington Gardens. Peter Pan is the only baby to actually fly back to the gardens and stay there, not fully a human and not fully a bird, but “Betwixt-and-Between.” Because of this, he stays eternally seven days old. The remainder of the story involves how Peter cannot return to being a normal boy because his mother has replaced him with a new child, how he meets Maimie, the female heroine who cannot stay with him but returns to her childhood, and finally explains how Peter Pan buries all the children who are lost in the garden or stay past the Lock-Out time and perish in the cold. Many of the typical fairy tale elements aren’t present yet, but Barrie does include detailed accounts of fairies. Though rough around the edges, this story set the stage for the fantastical stories of the character of Peter Pan to come.

Though many children and adults may not be familiar with the exact story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, most are definitely aware of the character of Peter Pan. Regardless of what inspired J. M. Barrie to create this ageless boy, it is clear that Peter Pan has become a popular figure worldwide.

However, a comparison between how the original character is described with how he is depicted in popular culture today suggests that Peter Pan has taken a completely different role in modern society. Barrie writes that the original Peter “escaped from being a human when he was seven days old” and that the reason he stopped being able to fly was because “he had lost faith.”  This is quite different from modern depictions of Peter Pan, who is famously seen in the 1953 Disney movie Peter Pan as forever twelve, wearing the hallmark green outfit, and being able to fly thanks to his trusty fairy sidekick, Tinkerbell. Though these are considerable differences, the real question to answer is how Disney’s Peter Pan has become a completely different character with different meanings in modern society.

Peter

Illustration

Though the increased popularity of the Peter Pan clad in green may be attributed to the availability and novelty of the animated film, I believe that his role as an icon can be credited to several other factors. The infant Peter Pan in Barrie’s novel was a realistic portrayal of the devilish side of children that the Victorian era denied. Being a rough and rowdy boy with the only intention of playing, having fun, and staying young forever was a testament to how real young boys acted and a hallmark of the Edwardian era. Nevertheless, the Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens can be most favorably directed to exact that: young boys.

The modern day idea of Peter Pan taken from popular culture’s Disney film encompasses a much broader audience with present day themes. Specifically, both children and adults, male and female, find themselves associating with this Peter Pan icon. First of all, most can agree that it is easier to relate to a twelve year old on the brink of puberty than an infant of seven days. Second, he is actively portrayed as a lovable boy and a symbol of the younger years where adult responsibilities had not yet taken over. He is used as an icon of the freedom of childhood, and even commercialized for children. This can be seen in the popular brand of peanut butter named after this character. Furthermore, while Barrie’s original story contains themes of gender roles, popular culture expresses the character of Peter Pan with more acceptance to all children. These features are what make the modern character of Peter Pan more available to everyone, and also the icon of childhood.

PB

Illustration 2

Altogether, Barrie’s character Peter Pan has become an icon of childhood in the modern day. His portrayal is often linked to freedom, fun, and a nostalgic glimpse of childhood but is definitely remembered for these positive elements and not for the truth behind Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens where Peter would have liked to become a real boy again but was replaced and so was exiled to childhood forever. While some could argue if the modern day Peter Pan icon is a sign of disrespect to the author, the only concrete truth is that Peter Pan is kept alive in the minds of young and old as the boy who will never grow up.

Christina is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

Why Alice is with us for the long haul

As the title may have made clear, today’s guest entry from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course looks at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Abigail Davis explains how it has found its way into two very important canons.

By Abigail Davis

What is it about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that has entranced people for hundreds of years? It is considered a classic of the children’s literature genre by practically anyone you meet, whether they’ve read the book or just seen an adaptation of it. Another way people may be familiar with Alice is through its inclusion in the canon for the Golden Age of children’s literature and the sentimental canon. The canon is a way literature is classified and if a book has been canonized then a reader can usually assume that it is of some literary merit. The canon is created by various people, including influential literary critics and scholars but also publishers and librarians, who work to make sure the books within the canon are worthy or literary study and respect. The sentimental canon is different from the general canon because rather than just depending on a group of scholars and other influential people in the literary field to decide whether a book is worthy public opinion is also taken into account. A book that may not qualify based off its literary quality can be carried into the sentimental cannon based on public devotion and sponsorship of the book.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland certainly has all of these stipulations in spades; even now, years and years after its publication, the story continues to be read, both for its literary merit and from nostalgic love. Whether it’s from the influence of parents, other relatives passing the book down to the next generation or if one of the many adaptations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland inspires a reader to pick up a copy, the love for this book has never died out. And why is that? I think it is because of, despite or maybe resulting from the overwhelming amount of sheer nonsense, the book on a whole is very relatable, even hundreds of years after its publication.

When your imagination runs wild.

When your imagination goes rogue.

As a child I would imagine my very own fantasy world with its own special creatures and other fantastic inhabitants where I would explore, play, and for once be in charge. I think this is a fairly common practice among kids, and adults too, so Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland provides us with the delicious question: what if we were dropped into our imaginary world but we were no longer pulling the strings? Everything that before was your creation now acts on its own accord, and sometimes against you. And isn’t that delightful, scary and wonderfully strange? The reader can delve into this complex world of Wonderland with Alice and imagine themselves in her shoes; we feel her frustrations and delights. We can revel in the wonderful nonsense that is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while still being able to relate it to our own lives.

Another aspect of Alice that we enjoy is when Alice is continually confronted with beings that simply will not explain themselves. We can all understand the frustration she feels, having experienced similar frustration in our own lives. We have all experienced this exasperation as a child, and sometimes even now, for individuals who refuse to help us make sense of their actions. I’m looking at you elementary school teachers and soccer coaches! This theme of Alice is universally friendly and successful because all children can understand Alice’s struggle and indeed delight in it even as it comforts them.

This ability for the book to not only invite the reader in but to also draw on their own past imaginings and experiences is what, in my opinion, makes it so powerful.  It transcends it’s time period to remain readable and kid friendly, unlike a few of the other books within the Golden Age, such as The Water Babies which was very heavy with obscure references to the time period it was written in.  This continued sponsorship, if you will, of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a large part of what has made it a classic. It is so well written that despite its age it is still amazingly readable by the average child and adult and their love for the book continues its publication and secures its spot in the cannon.

Basically me as a child, with fewer jazz instruments.

Basically me as a child, with fewer jazz instruments.

Abigail is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

Pinocchio: Characterizations in Book and Disney Film

For this week’s guest post from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “The Golden Age of Children’s Literature”, Cody Smith takes us back to Pinocchio to consider the differences between Collodi’s book and Disney’s film, and why those differences might matter.
By Cody Smith
pinocchio
When the media behemoth Disney decides to adapt a story for modern audiences, the staff involved usually edits the material to make it more accessible and child-friendly. In the case of the classic book The Adventures of Pinocchio, Walt Disney and his crew changed the presentations of the characters in a number of ways. Although many people may take these changes at face value, I find it more interesting to analyze the reasons why certain changes in particular characters exist, most notably in our titular protagonist.
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Collodi’s and Disney’s characterizations of Pinocchio differ in subtle ways. In the classic novel, Pinocchio can be see as the quintessential  petulant child in that he constantly makes mistakes, diverges from his instructions, and treats his authority figures with indirect contempt. Even though he affirms to himself that he will follow the instructions of his father and the blue fairy, he almost always gives into temptation and disobeys them. This character trait parallels the Disney version of Pinocchio, who succumbs to the same temptations; however, the Disney Pinocchio displays much more innocence than the book version. Disney’s Pinocchio lacks basic knowledge of human nature and is fooled repeatedly by the fox and the cat, which can be attributed to his naivety. Collodi’s Pinocchio, although also lacking knowledge, disobeys his superiors much more often than the Disney Pinocchio and even treats his father badly at time. When Pinocchio first meets his father in the book, he insults him and gives little respect for the fact that he created him. This lack of respect becomes a recurring theme early in the book, especially when Pinocchio sells the ABC book his father gave to him, which he paid for by selling off his only coat. The Disney Pinocchio loves his father tremendously and never purposely insults him nor abuses him, which adds more to Disney’s characterization of an innocent but naive Pinocchio. On a more aesthetic level, the book Pinocchio is often presented in a creepy, realistic fashion in illustrations, while the Disney Pinocchio is much more anthropomorphized and looks almost like a normal little boy.
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Why does Disney characterize Pinocchio as an innocent, naive boy while the original character displays much more insensitivity? I think the answer lies in a cultural shift. When the book was published, nearly almost all of books for children were created primarily to teach lessons and give children examples of morality. Parents were much more concerned with having children’s books teach rather entertain, which is clearly evident in the novel. The novel also arguably depicts a much more authentic child as well. By attempting to replicate a child’s immaturity and tendency to disobey a parent, Collodi directly appeals to parents and their pursuit to teach and discipline their children. Although Disney’s film still recognizes and demonstrates the same basic lessons, the idea of entertaining the audience is much more prevalent. If Pinocchio had remained as rude as he was in the novel, audiences probably would not have responded well and ignored the film. By giving Pinocchio a more child-like innocence and cuteness, Disney has not only given children a character to relate to but also one that parents can sympathize with and adore. Some may argue that the Disney film does not accomplish the task of teaching children how to respect their parents as well as the original novel; however, I think the Disney film actually balances the various elements of a children’s work much  more aptly than Collodi attempted to do in the novel. The last thing children want to read in their books is constant lecturing and condescension and the Disney film injects the moral of the story naturally among the entertainment. Although Collodi’s message may be subdued, Disney’s adaptation reflects a much better understanding of what appeals to both parents and children.
Cody is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.
Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

Our Feral Child Obsession

This week’s guest entry from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “The Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course comes from Jess Ferro, who has written for us before. This week, she looks at our enduring fascination with stories about the feral child, and what it means that they happen so often within the context of children’s literature.

By Jessica Ferro

What is a feral child? The dictionary defines this as a child who is in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication. Now while there are unfortunate real life examples of children who have been believed to exhibit feral qualities as we discussed in class, I will not be going into that here. Instead I’d like to ask the question, why have we as humans had such a cultural, and ultimately literary obsession, with the idea of the feral child?

If you really think about it, this fantastical idea of the feral child goes back many centuries, with one of the earliest examples being the legend of twin babies Romulus and Remus. These brothers were abandoned in the wild, but rescued, fed and raised by a she-wolf. These brothers went on to supposedly found the city of Rome. Moreover, this specific legend made its way into the cultural imagination, especially through art but also through literature.

Examples from the Fine Arts:

This is a piece of Etruscan sculpture of a she wolf, “The Capitoline Wolf”, however the small babies were actually added centuries later during the Renaissance.

In an illuminated manuscript

Romulus and Remus being given shelter by Faustulus the Shepherd, painted by Pietro da Cortona

Another depiction, this time from Peter Paul Rubens

These artistic depictions fall right into place with Rousseau’s ideas of the “natural child” and the Victorian obsession with the feral child, in that they depict these utterly angelic children, pure, clean and out in the wild as though it was the most natural thing for them to be doing; in fact as though this was actually the healthiest for them. Of course, in reality, if in fact Romulus and Remus did exist, and were raised by a wolf, these depictions would have been very far from the truth, they would have most likely been very dirty, covered with scratches, and far from pure angelic forms. It is interesting to note, that in each of these images where the shepherd is actually depicted, there is always slight tension created, either through shading and lighting, or in bodily movement, that creates an uneasiness in the viewer as if we should be questioning whether their “rescue” by the shepherd is indeed not a horrible event taking them away from the tranquility and beauty of nature.

And just as this story infused itself into the artistic imagination, this legend, and the idea of the feral child raised by wolves, has evolved and progressed through history, melting it’s way into all sorts of stories, flooding the literary imagination. This topic was explored last summer, at the Children’s Literature Association Conference, during one of the talks that I really found intriguing by Professor Debra Mitts-Smith titled: Raising the Man’s Cubs: The Slipperiness of Otherness in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mowgli Stories”, Angela Carter’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Maryrose Wood’s The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. Professor Mitts-Smith drew on the ideas of the feral child and how they have manifested themselves in literature, especially in children’s literature. She explored the way that the feral child raised by wolves manifests itself in the four texts from her talk’s title, stemming from the traditional and idealized Victorian feral child in the figure of Mowgli to the parody like quality of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place* to the updated and postmodern feel of The Graveyard Book **, and finally with one text that is not actually for children, but which takes the complete opposite approach coming from a more raw, grotestque and utlimately realistic look at the feral child in Carter’s short story Peter and the Wolf.

Jerry Pinkney’s cover for The Jungle Book

(Second book in the series, but I just thought this one was perfect what with the children climbing over soldiers and biting his leg)

Thus, the feral child proves to be a fascinating trope to look at culturally throughout history, especially as it manifests itself in art, but perhaps even more curiously in children’s books, where the lines between human and animal are sometimes blurred and can be taken in sometimes fascinating, sometimes humorous and sometimes horrendous directions.

I’ll end with asking you to watch the book trailers for The Graveyard Book and The Incorrigible Children, enjoy!

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*This book, actually series, is new with the next installment coming out this September, and it plays on the tropes and voice of classic Victorian children’s books and centers on the mishaps a young governess faces in dealing with three siblings that were found in the woods, presumed to be raised by wolves, and the books are just wondeful, hilarious and beautifully written. (Here’s a link to my review of the audiobooks, click here . I definitely recommend these books!)

**Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, is specifically inspired by The Jungle Book, and involves a child that is orphaned after his family is murdered and then he wanders (actually crawls) into a cemetery and is raised by the ghosts that “live” there.

Jess is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

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