LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

What is a Classic?

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An individual may ask what characteristics make up a “classic” when it comes to literature and the usual response would be the age of the book. A classic can be a novel that has been around for several decades and is still being read by both children and adults today. In fact, a classic tale can become immortalized as it is passed down through generations of readers as long as people are willing to keep the books alive when reading them to their children. Considering classic literature is very outdated, there are several occasions when the values in the stories are quite different from contemporary ones. Moreover, the language and writing style become a lot more difficult to comprehend over time, but fortunately some classics have been recreated in modern English, so that readers can understand according to how they speak today. There are also different ways the characters behave and talk in society. In other words, a classic can serve as representation of the time period it was written. However, despite the many changes throughout time, a classic always maintains consistent morals and a unique story for readers of any age and time period to enjoy for an eternity.

A book can be deemed a “classic” merely by how memorable it is to society. Time does not necessarily limit the “classic” label, but it does strengthen the credibility when someone picks up a book that is several years old. One could probably argue that it is the book’s popularity and the large sum of people who know of its existence and contents in the story that immediately makes the book a classic. Perhaps it is a little pretentious to consider a book a classic after being out for not even a decade, but it is really up to time to decide if a book should be considered a classic. If future generations are able to remember books of today then these contemporary books should indeed be considered classics, but we have to let time decide the future label of a book. Both adult and children’s books can both be evaluated equally in terms of being classified as classics; both adult and children’s literature have their fair share of renowned stories and, in most cases, are books that are kept alive by the educational system which requires these classics to be read.

Now how exactly would Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden, be considered a classic to contemporary readers? The first and most important thing in a classic novel is the universal appeal. Burnett uses the garden motif as an expression of life and its beauty. Moreover, the garden is a place where healing and magic occurs, a location where things are able to be at peace and grow. As readers, we can often relate to flawed characters like Mary Lennox and Collin who eventually overcome their problems and develop into strong and memorable characters. The lesson in this novel seems to lean to being positive and looking on the bright side which is often accentuated by the beauty in the garden. Mary begins as a spoiled and immature character, but by meeting Collin she becomes aware of her own flaws which are practically mirrored through her cousin. Mary learns to take responsibility and Collin, who was initially wheelchair bound, is soon able to walk. The characters play an important role in making the story survive for multiple generations, the morals and lessons taught through these characters can be relatable to many readers no matter what time period they live in.

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Extra Credit: Bat… Woman?!

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I attended the “Marginalized Women: Out  of the Margins and Onto the Page” panel for the Graduate Comics Organization on Sunday, March 17th and I learned quite a lot about the history of a super heroine known as Batwoman as well as queer theory in comics. The first speaker, Dianna Baldwin, had a very intriguing argument about the portrayal of the Batwoman character in the DC Comics universe and expanded on her development as well as her back story. Her initial argument of Batwoman’s creation is that she was used to quell rumors that the two renowned heroes of DC Comics, Batman and Robin, were in a homosexual relationship. In fact, Batwoman was used as a potential love interest to Batman  and throughout her very few appearances in the late 1950s she was often the one appearing in the nick of time to rescue the caped crusader.

Moreover, Baldwin’s first part of her presentation focused on emphasizing and pointing out the many feminine aspects of the character of Batwoman including her very bright and womanly attire with her long hair flowing in the back, her make-up inspired gadgets, and even some girly phrases that further accentuated the female stereotype she portrayed. In addition, Batwoman’s weapons consist of feminine products such as cosmetic compacts, bracelets, hairnets, and even lipstick that are literally used to attack her opponents. It is also interesting to note that Batwoman always seems to fight against male villains and, in some cases, rescued Batman and Robin from a pickle, most likely displaying a bit of female superiority and equality with a strong superhero like Batman.

Furthermore, Baldwin also included the deterioration of the Batwoman role which included the character giving up her life as a vigilante because a man advised her to stop. In addition, she spoke about how the term “Women in Refrigerator Syndrome” fit so well to Batwoman as she is “depowered” by the masculine figure, Batman in this case, that discovers her secret identity. Batman warns her that she may be in danger considering any villain may discover her identity if he was easily able to uncover it. Baldwin also talks about the “Bechdel Test” used to identify the gender bias in the Batwoman comics. The test usually consists of following rules: the comic should have two or more women, the woman must converse with one another, and they are to talk about something other than men.

The second half of Baldwin’s presentation expands on the Batwoman character over the years as she began appearing less until she completely disappeared from the DC Comics issues. Baldwin asserts that there was really no use for her character and found it difficult to use her. However, in 2006, the Batwoman character returned and had apparently become a lesbian super heroine. In this iteration, she is more independent and strong willed. She no longer fits in with the typical female stereotype and has become a more masculine character that fights crime without the presence of Batman. She has a romantic relationship with another female and her character seems to be completely rewritten to appease a broader audience.

Overall, Baldwin organized her presentation really well and a lot of people were very attentive to her analysis of Batwoman. It was interesting to see the transition from a character that was practically the epitome of the stereotypical female of the Golden Age comics to a tough, independent, and well-rounded super heroine in the 2000s. Her presentation was perfect, in my opinion, and elaborated a lot on a character with a very limited background. Not only did she include the developmental history of Batwoman, but her argument was consistent with the facts she included on her presentation. All in all, this was a very interesting experience and would love to attend another panel like this in the future.

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Peter Pan: Appropriate for Children Today?

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J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan or Peter Pan and Wendy has been classified as a children’s novel during its initial release, however, for contemporary readers it can be read by young adults. Most children would recognize the character of Peter Pan through the animated Disney films and the wide variety of film adaptations of the novel. The novel during the time was undoubtedly considered a novel for children despite the violent scenes and dark undertones. For children today it may be a little too much for them to handle, especially with the rise of parental concern and censorship. Children ranging for ages 5-9 would probably be better off watching the interactive animated show, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, which is based on the Peter Pan franchise. Once a child is a little older and less sheltered they may be allowed to read the original novel considering it still provides elements and themes a child would love.

Some portions in the novel that may concern some parents may include the actions and personalities of some of the characters. For example, there is a location in Never Land known as Mermaid’s Lagoon where mermaids sing songs to entice and attract potential victims in which they then drown for their own amusement. Then we have the notorious Captain Hook, who dedicates his life to get revenge on Peter Pan for literally cutting his right hand off and feeding it to a crocodile. To a child today, they would most likely view Hook as the obligatory antagonist whose sole purpose is to oppose the hero, Peter Pan. However, there is more to Hook than just the character with the role of the dastardly villain, in fact he can be interpreted as an intimidating adult who is obsessed with finding and killing a mere child. If the hook for a right hand was not enough, the pirate seems to have psychopathic tendencies throughout the novel. Although it may be an exaggeration, Hook may be too scary of a character for young children considering he is not a comedic buffoon as his Disney animated film counterpart. He even attempts to kill Peter Pan by switching his medicine with poison. Moreover, if Hook is not a nightmare inducing character for a young child then perhaps being devoured alive by a crocodile would seal the deal.

Aside from some dark moments in the novel, the overall story is perfect for any child who has a sense of adventure. Considering Peter Pan and Wendy was initially in the form of a play, the novel incorporates some interaction between the characters and the readers. Children are able to relate to these characters or at times even look up to them as possible influences. Barrie’s writing style compliments the interests of many young readers and it can be certain that contemporary young readers would get the same feel from the novel as children did throughout the early 20th century. In fact, the novel can be read by both male and female readers as it includes elements of action, adventure, and a small hint of romance. Overall, Peter Pan and Wendy can be an interesting read for a contemporary younger audience; however, perhaps those under the age of 8 may have to wait a little longer to get a better grasp of the novel and handle some of the dark themes that were acceptable during the Golden Age of literature.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Silver Shoes

As we have discussed in class, there are several reoccurring themes when it comes to children’s literature. L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is no exception considering it consists of a child protagonist, talking animals, self-sufficiency, virtue and a the battle between good and evil. In the case of Baum’s novel, the importance of a journey would be the most significant theme. The characters all strive to reach their goals by relying on the companionship of their traveling partners throughout their journey. Dorothy’s initial goal is to return home with her dog Toto. She is given magical, silver shoes that are acknowledged by most of the inhabitants of the Land of Oz. Interestingly enough, the silver shoes she is given in the beginning is the tool that would lead to the simplest solution for her to return to Kansas; however, she had no knowledge of the shoes’ abilities from the start.

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Baum most likely used these silver shoes to reassure his readers that Dorothy was safe from danger the whole time and her answer was literally under her nose. Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, even states in the end, “If you had known their power you could have gone back to your Aunt Em the very first day you came to this country” (Baum 51). Undoubtedly, the mystery of the silver shoes’ power did prolong Dorothy’s journey back to Kansas, but through her travels she encounters traveling companions and learns several lessons in life. The silver shoes motif was used to accentuate Dorothy’s importance in Oz. A rich Munchkin by the name of Boq acknowledges Dorothy as a powerful sorceress for defeating a Wicked Witch due to the fact that she was wearing the silver shoes. She is noticed by several characters because of her silver shoes which give her the motivation to continue traveling and, in turn, gave her more insight on how to navigate throughout the Land of Oz.

Dorothy’s silver shoes were used as an important plot device that were with Dorothy from beginning to end which allowed the story to progress. In addition, the shoes were items the Wicked Witch of the West longed for and obsessed over. The shoes were tools for Dorothy’s use only and aside from being magical objects, the silver shoes are appealing to the Wicked Witch which she strives to steal from Dorothy. The Wicked Witch meets with her demise when she steals one shoe from Dorothy which in turn causes Dorothy to splash her with water and watch her melt. This desire for the shoes leads to dire consequences for the unfortunate witch.

It can be inferred that these shoes were given to Dorothy to lead her to a simpler path, but she chooses to help her companions reach their goals first as well as free several residents from their tyrannical rulers. The silver shoes symbolize her role in the story, without the silver shoes she would probably not be acknowledged by the other characters or targeted by the Wicked Witch. By putting on the shoes, Dorothy establishes her place in the Land of Oz and, although they would become the tool to return her home, she is sent on a lengthy journey and assists others along the way. In fact, the theme of Dorothy’s journey was required to help the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion reach their own goals. The journey theme was required to make Dorothy grow as a character and to eventually learn of the power of the silver shoes as soon as her role in Oz was complete.

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Alice’s Existence in Wonderland

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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 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 infer 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 rapidly. After a “narrow escape” she finds herself still in existence after shrinking to a miniature size.

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Like Alice, children often want to feel like their opinion matters and at least belong to a group. Unfortunately, like most characters in Wonderland’s responses to Alice, she is shrugged off and ignored which in turn makes her feel like they do not belong. 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. Eventually, Alice is finally acknowledged by the White Rabbit and is given a mission. He practically orders her to fetch him a pair of white gloves and a fan from his house, but this notion allows Alice have a role in Wonderland.

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 way of being. If Alice truly wanted to exist among the people of Wonderland she would most likely accept their customs and perhaps act more like them. However, one can argue that Alice’s purpose in Wonderland is not to become one of them, but to show the nonsensical world through the eyes of an average little girl. Therefore, it can be inferred that once Alice acknowledges that she does not belong in Wonderland, she is wakes up in her own world. The conclusion of the novel, Alice returns to the average life where she will one day grow to become a woman with a loving heart.

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Novel VS. Film: The Princess and The Goblin

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After watching the trailer to the 1991 animated film adaptation of George Macdonald’s The Princess and The Goblin in class, I was interested in seeing how close of an adaptation the film was to the original novel. The European animated film was directed by József Gémes and released in the United States on June 1994, which coincidentally was in direct competition with Disney’s The Lion King. One could imagine the reception The Princess and The Goblin received when it first came out in the states, but beside the point. The film’s portrayal of the wide variety of characters from the classic tale is surprisingly left intact with a few minor alterations to entertain the modern audience. In order to appease the younger demographic, the antagonists have been toned down quite a bit to incorporate some comic relief. In addition, the movie includes a few musical segments in which the novel had placed a big importance on in terms of singing when confronting the goblins. There was also the use of symbols, such as the roses that represented Irene’s Great Great Grandmother.

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In terms of the characters being portrayed in the movie, the film version did an excellent job bringing to life an animated version of Princess Irene and Curdie. Both protagonists could easily relate to their respective audience. For instance, Curdie’s character is a young boy with a sense of adventure and bravery and, like his novel counterpart, is a hardworking young man who would go out of his way to battle goblins to protect the princess. To a young boy, Curdie could be viewed as a very influential figure and a good influence to all boys. Princess Irene, on the other hand, is portrayed as an elegant and very intelligent girl. Although she appears to be a little older and had a different design than her novel counterpart, she goes through a form of quest to mature and gain a sense of independence with the help from her great great grandmother.

The adults are portrayed as wise and responsible individuals that are often present to support the two children protagonists, with the exception of Lootie who seems to have gone through a complete personality shift compared to the Lootie in the novel. She is not as dedicated to her work and paranoid about losing her job like her novel counterpart. Specifically, Lootie in this film is portrayed as careless, absentminded, and clumsy. For instance, in the beginning of the film, Lootie falls asleep instead of keeping watch over Irene and thus leaves Irene to fend for herself when she is being chased by the goblin creatures. Undoubtedly, she is still the character who scolds Irene and shows no interest in locating or believing in Irene’s grandmother, but one can conclude that she was given a more comedic personality. Another interesting thing to note is that most of the adults in the castle are completely unaware of the existence of goblins and believe that goblins only originated from miner’s tales. This contrasts with the novel as Irene was the only one left in the dark about goblins. Therefore, the adult soldiers and guards are constantly questioning what exactly they would be fighting against since they do not know how goblins look like and at one point mistake Curdie for a goblin.

The goblins in the film are not as intimidating or menacing as the ones portrayed in the novel, in fact, they serve as comedic antagonists. The primary antagonist in the animated film version is perhaps the only character to have his name changed. Originally Prince Harelip in the novel, he is known as Prince Froglip in the film version and is shown as a spoiled and childish goblin with an exaggerated and slobbery lisp. The Goblin Queen is illustrated as an overweight goblin with hilarious big lips and a bossy and petulant attitude to complete the set. Interestingly enough, the film version decided to leave out the fact that the Goblin Queen was a stepmother. Then there is the Goblin King who is constantly sneezing as emphasized by his huge runny nose. He seems to be very submissive to his wife’s wishes and is usually just present to make announcements to his people while his wife makes all the decisions for him. With that, the goblin family could be seen as “the three stooges” of the film as they do not pose much of a threat to the protagonists. To modern viewers, the antagonists were given these characteristics to keep the lighthearted aura within the film and, of course, make the kids laugh at their antics.

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Finally, the animated film added an extra character known as Turnip the Cat or as one would call it “the mascot of the film.” Although the cat made no appearances in the novel, in the film it serves as a plot device. The cat led Irene to the attic where she found her great great grandmother and also helped lead Irene in some cases.

Spoiler Alert: Also, in the end, Curdie does not get his kiss on the mouth like in the novel.
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Character Analysis: The Pig King

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The Beast character in Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s 1756 version of Beauty and the Beast is the most common and notable to an individual with general knowledge of fairy tales. He is depicted as a creature with an intimidating appearance, but a kind and gentle personality. Beaumont’s Beast is portrayed as a hero when he rescues Beauty’s father, a gentleman by actually taking the time to prepare a room for Beauty, and perhaps even a needy and clingy man in which Beauty’s departure of more than 2 weeks causes him to become ill to the point of being at the brink of death towards the end of the story. In contrast, we have an alternative version of the Beast known as the Pig Prince from Giovanni Francesco Straparola’s story The Pig King. This “Beast” takes the form of a pig and is actually born as one in the beginning of the story. Despite his appearance, the pig was overconfident, demanding, and mirrored a very witty and mischievous monarch. The Pig Prince became the protagonist of his own story and his “Beauty,” Meldina, only served as the woman who would appease his wishes of getting married.

One could argue that the Pig Prince could have gained his spoiled and arrogant mindset by the way he was raised. His mother never once gave up on him and, as a piglet, was raised like royalty. He grew accustomed to his pig-like self and was taught to not be ashamed of his outer appearance since he was still a prince on the inside. Despite the fact that he grew older, his nasty habits of wallowing in the mud or dirt and rubbing “his sides against [his parents’] garments” never once receded and seemed to accentuate the pig persona he had developed over the years of his life. In contrast to Beaumont’s Beast who seems to be ashamed of his appearance, the Pig Prince is raised to accept his appearance and perhaps lives in a delusional world that a prince with the appearance of a pig was actually considered normal.

Overlooking the pig related impulses the prince has in the story, he still acts like royalty and demands that he be wed to a beautiful girl of his choosing. When he gets the opportunity to meet his betrothed, his interactions with her may be interpreted as abnormal to the average person, but if one takes a closer look, his nuzzling and dirtying of his betrothed’s garments is a sign of affection. In his own way, the Pig Prince shows his affection through his pig-like persona which has been accepted by his parents. When this love is rejected and he overhears his betrothed planning to murder him, the prince is quick to murder the woman he had once loved. Although it may difficult to sympathize with a murderer, the Pig Prince is experiencing insecurity from a judgmental person for the first time and one cannot help but wonder the pain in his heart when he discovers that his betrothed is plotting to kill him. Coincidentally enough, he is judged again by the second sister and murders her as well. Could it be that the Pig Prince is so prideful that any sign of being judged will put him into a fit of murderous rage?

Now we all know the common routine of fairy tales such as “third time is a charm” and the moral of not judging a book by its cover, but what exactly can a reader call the Pig Prince in this story? Beaumont’s Beast asks Beauty to marry him and it is only until the third time that he gets his wish, on the other hand, the pig prince murders two sisters to get to the third and youngest sister, who willingly accepts his proposal. Moreover, judging a book by its cover should really be considered when discussing Straparola’s murderous pig prince. Towards the end of the story we discover a pivotal point in which he has apparently been wearing a pig skin the whole time. Now why would he wear a pig skin? One could assert that he was merely testing his wife candidates. Of course, we have to overlook the fact that he murdered two girls and tip our hats off to him for being so conniving to be able to come up with such a genius plan. What can we call this character? A villain, an anti-hero, perhaps even an evil genius! We do not encounter these kinds of protagonists that often in fairy tales and it is interesting to note that he may be symbolizing the reward a daughter gets when she accepts her husband for who they are… because if they do not, then death is the only option.

“Surely you jest!” you may interject, but I kid you not! Let us not forget the time period this was written in and how arranged marriages went accordingly. To the contemporary mind, a woman should choose the man she wishes to spend the rest of her life with, but back then it was not the woman’s decision. In fact, our lovable prince pig handpicked his ideal wife and demanded their hand in marriage. He was a jerk, but an intelligent and sneaky one at that. A woman who willingly accepts the man selected for them by their parents would most likely be rewarded, in this story’s case a handsome prince who has a bad habit of dressing up as a pig. The action of murdering the two sisters who rejected his love showed the consequences of going against their parents’ wishes. Undoubtedly, one should probably not take this literally as it can be inferred that murder and whatnot in fairy tales were meant to deter a child from doing something bad that was against their parents’ wishes.

Finally, this character is very important to the story seeing as he is the protagonist of the story. Perhaps if we replaced him with Beaumont’s Beast here would be less “casualties” and more of Beast’s self-loathing and moping for being rejected by the first sister. I do not think Beaumont’s Beast would be able to handle rejection twice like the pig prince.

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