LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Five Children and It: Have the Narrators of Children Literature Evolved with the Characters?

on April 3, 2013 6:21pm

The 1902 novel, “Five Children and It” by Edith Nesbit, is filled with extremely amusing and interesting characters, all of whom are worth examining.  However, one of the characters that sparked my interest more than the most was that of the narrator.  Throughout our course exploring the Golden Age of Children’s literature we have read books with varying narrators that have moved from being omnipotent and moralistic observers who pause the story from time to time to deliver, in a didactic manner, the ‘lesson’ to the child, to the narrator we find in “Five Children and It”.  The move of Children’s literature from the Victorian era which was defined by principled and disciplined, good little boys and girls with rosy cheeks and angelic eyes to the children of Panther, Squirrel, Bobs, Pussy, and Lamb who celebrate how “nice and ugly” they look, was a move that I found to be a vast improvement and much more realistic. (pg. 25)  Along with this evolvement of the representation of children’s in literature, from being moral examples to celebrating the mischievousness, naive innocence, and natural whimsy of children, I believe that the narrator’s tones and role in the story has evolved too.  I think the the third person, omnipotent narrator found in “Five Children and It” helps to drive home Nesbit’s full appreciation of the naughtiness and imaginations of children that proves to be the backbone of the story.  The narrator has a dialogue with the reader, presumably a child, that is a far cry from the narrator that wove the story of “Water Babies”, when Nesbit’s narrator pauses to talk to the reader it is not to provide moralistic instruction, it is usually to do quite the opposite.  When the four older children steal the “necessities of life” to eat atop the church roof, one of these necessities being a full soda-water bottle, the narrator goes so far as to encourage the children readers to follow the messy and misguided footsteps of the four children and their comical interaction with trying to drink out of the soda bottle.

“But on thing you can’t imagine, and that is how soda-water behaves when you try to drink it straight out of a siphon…But if imagination will not help you, experience will, and you can easily try it for yourself if you can get a grown up to give you a siphon.  If you want to have a really through experience, put the tube in your mouth and press the handle very suddenly and very hard.” (pg. 104)

Furthering my assertion that the narrator has become just as playful as the children this story appreciates, and has moved very far away from the instructive narrator of the Victorian era, I found quite often throughout the novel that the obvious mistakes the children made in the story went not only unnoticed but sometimes, encouraged, by the narrator.  When Cyril confuses the term germ with “germans…little waggly things you see with microscopes” the narrator continues the story with niter acknowledgement or correction, much to the amusement of the readers whom are old enough to catch it.  The narrator is more than happy to allow for faulty, childish reasoning to be absorbed by the readers such as the justification that if “a country won’t sell you provisions” it is perfectly acceptable to “take them”. (pg. 99)  There are many more instances throughout “Five Children and It” where the narrator shows through his/her voice in the story, or lack thereof, how far children’s literature has truly come since the older eras, wherein not just the children are creatures of the Edwardian ears, but the storytellers are too.  Even going as far too say, after mentioning mathematics, Roman times, and Shakespeare all in one passage, “…but I fear I am getting too instructive.” (pg. 59)

*I have tagged this blog as both Prompt 4 (Character Analysis) and Prompt 10 (Free Choice) because I feel it’s kind of a mixture of both!*


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