LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Secret Garden

Distant Reading of The Secret Garden

Distant Reading of The Secret Garden

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Tiger Lily

I recently read a novel by Jodi Lynn Anderson titled Tiger Lily, which as I’m sure you can guess revolves around one of the more understated characters of J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter Pan and Wendy. Much like Barrie’s story, Anderson’s is also narrated, although in this retelling it is not an omniscient unnamed voice but instead Tinker Bell herself. In many ways Tinker Bell is all knowing and removed from the main action of the story. Anderson has made her mute, and for the most part an unrecognized character that follows Peter and Tiger Lily around. In fact, Peter himself never acknowledges her presence, and for much of the time neither does Tiger Lily.


The novel revolves around Tiger Lily, her village, and her relationship with Peter Pan. Barrie’s novel is often critiqued (and likewise so is Disney’s movie) for the two-dimensional portrayal of the Piccaninny tribe. In this way I think Anderson pursued a wonderful opportunity; she chose to follow a path Barrie had not explored and added depth and background to the characters of Neverland.

There is a certain romantic quality of Peter Pan and his inability to remember much from one adventure to the next. His short-term memory fits well with the Darling children’s flight to Neverland and their time there. Nothing existed before their arrival and nothing after. But because Anderson’s novel centers on Tiger Lily, she gets to give us more background and depth to Neverland and its inhabitants. We are given information about Tiger Lily, her family, her customs, and how she meets and falls in love with Peter Pan. Also, this Neverland is connected to the outside world. The pirates who come to Neverland are actual Englishman coming to port on an island. There is a certain loss that takes place as Tiger Lily goes on, and it is the loss of innocence. Outsiders discover Neverland and there is the feeling that Neverland will never really be the same. Soon Neverland will become just another island under a crown, the mermaids will disappear with the rest of the fairies and magic, and the house under the ground will collapse without a sound. This feeling mirrors the loss of innocence and childhood that the Peter Pan stories so clearly represent.

I would absolutely recommend reading this book. Although at times the inevitability of what would be the ending was depressing, Anderson gave a heartbreakingly cruel and compassionate story that spoke to the world and children Barrie created in the original Peter Pan and Wendy. Anderson presented the sad realities of Neverland without the breaks of clever dialogue that Barrie gave his audience. Anderson did not attempt to make any character more likeable; instead she gave them to you as if to say, ‘Here they are, take them or leave them, they aren’t perfect.’ Although her writing style and the tone of narration was much different than Barrie’s, her message and her depictions of the characters were very familiar. However, there is one character that Anderson treats differently. There is a judgment aimed towards Wendy that Anderson does not use against her other characters. I think in many ways Anderson is mirroring many of our own reactions when reading Peter Pan and Wendy (STOP DARNING SOCKS! PICK UP A SWORD OR SOMETHING!). I found this particularly interesting, and very telling of the modern times that Anderson’s story has been written in. The author and her audience applaud Tiger Lily’s refusal to bend her will to societal restrictions and expectations and we turn up our noses at Wendy’s refusal to want anything more.

Overall, Tiger Lily did a wonderful job at adding to a story we already love without tarnishing it. The novel is geared toward young adults, but it does not by any means get caught up in romantic or love-triangle pit falls or traps. The writing is superb and it really makes you think about childhood, moving on, and growing up.

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The Goblins: A Close Reading

“They had enough of affection left for each other to preserve them from being absolutely cruel for cruelty’s sake to those that came in their way; but still they so heartily cherished the ancestral grudge against those who occupied their former possessions and especially against the descendants of the king who had caused their expulsion, that they sought every opportunity of tormenting them in ways that were as odd as their inventors; and although dwarfed and misshapen, they had strength equal to their cunning.”

This passage is presented to the reader in the first chapter, eighty-four words that make up a single sentence, which explains the core motivation of the goblins and some of their traits. However, it is not the passage’s literal meaning that requires close attention, but rather its nature and construction, which are continuously used throughout the story. Indeed, the tone that is delivered in this one sentence is a poignant representation of the tone throughout the novel.
The sentence above from The Princess and the Goblin uses two semi-colons, which effectively breaks the one thought into three. Two of these thoughts use commas, but overall the amount of punctuation that breaks up the passage seems slight, or perhaps less than expected when looking at a block of eight-four words. The continuous nature of the passage requires you to slow down the pace of reading and let each word and idea truly sink into the mind of the reader. Likewise, this slowing in the pace is achieved by the word choice and phrasing of MacDonald. For example, “cruel for cruelty’s sake,” “heartily cherished,” and “former possessions,” repeat varying degrees of the “c” and “s” sounds. This repetition adds to the fairy tale and adds to the rhythm. Not only is the wording hypnotic in a way, but the diction is also challenging.

These elements, the syntax and the word choice, further drive the tone and intention of MacDonald’s tale: To tell a story to children. While MacDonald has been quoted to say that he writes for the child-like and not the child specifically, it is still reasonable to say that being aware of whom his story would be marketed towards and the fairy tale aspect of the story, that he would know the story would mainly end up in the hands of children. Many young people would be unfamiliar with several words in just this one passage. This represents MacDonald’s attitude towards children and his unwillingness to speak down to them. MacDonald is not of the school that children’s books should contain only things in them that children previously know.

Perhaps most importantly, this passage illustrates the author’s strong use of the narrative voice. The long sentences, the challenging vocabulary, and almost poetic semblance of the phrases portray a tone of story telling that almost begs to be read aloud. This speaks greatly to the time and also to the nature of the children’s literature, which is delivered from the parent to the child. Many of the sections that I myself read in preparing for this week’s class I read over again, more slowly, imagining myself doing so aloud to my younger brother who is only six. It is in this slowed down version that the tale came more alive and more vibrant. The very nature of the book brings you back to childhood and inserts you into the fantastical atmosphere of the story, making this tale of young Princess Irene both classical and necessary.

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The Little Mermaid’s Character Quest for Immortality


In Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Little Mermaid, we are given a poignant portrayal of a young girl’s superficial search for love and freedom, juxtaposed with an intrinsic quest for an immortal soul. It is this quest, Anderson suggests, which is an internal need and hope for our heroine. On the surface, the story is an aching narrative of silent despair and unrequited love. The little mermaid sacrifices her family and the only home she has ever known, to obtain only the friendship of the prince and have to mutely watch him sign her death warrant as he marries someone else.

The little mermaid (it is taking serious restraint for me not to call her Ariel) is a character of conflicting traits. Largely, the girl beneath the sea is completely different than the girl above the sea. The implications of her actions down below tell us certain things about her character: For years she pines for her fifteenth birthday so that she can see the world above- passionate; she puts herself in substantial danger by saving the prince from the shipwreck- brave; she leaves her entire family and her home for an unknown land where her very existence hangs in the balance- daring, and perhaps a little foolish; she thinks nothing of how her departure will affect her family- not wrong by any means, but definitely a selfish characteristic . The picture that these details conjure in our heads, a modern heroine’s illustration to be sure, are proved time and time again to be wrong once she reaches the land. The little mermaid makes no gestures to win over the prince. She is devoted to him, but any traces of her passions are gone. She seems content to watch him look at her as simply a friend, and to marry someone else. Logic seems to suggest she would find another means to communicate with him yet no measures are taken. She is as thoughtful as she always was, yet now she is selfless and a figure of quiet suffering and pain. In the end, she sacrifices her own life and saves her prince who ignorantly ruined her life. The passionate daring child of the sea is gone, replaced by a young woman who has experienced great heartbreak.

This journey of character, and the very end of the Anderson’s story, suggests greatly that the little mermaid’s life has been a quest for an immortal soul.. The trials she experiences as a human—her tongue being cut out by the sea witch, the pain and mutilation of her tail into legs, that each steps she takes will feel as if she is walking on knife points—these experiences are the quintessential example of obstacles set before a hero on a quest. And it is these obstacles that prompt the question For what? The answer to this is not the humanly reward of love or earthly happiness, but instead the heavenly hope of an afterlife. She is given three hundred years to become pure, with the eventual pay off, if she works hard enough, being the obtainment of a soul. If she is virtuous, she can achieve a fate greater than becoming sea foam, thoughtlessly floating on the waves. This, I believe, is what Anderson is attempting to relay to children. That the little mermaid was a soulless creature who cast aside passion and selfishness to live a life of piety and quiet self-sacrifice so that she may gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven. And most importantly—she did not obtain this opportunity by snaring a husband, but instead by self-sacrifice and silent devotion to virtue. Attempting to find a happy motivation in this story is impossible and I am at a loss as to why Anderson would inflict the idea of such quiet suffering on children. But it is clear through his writing that the little mermaid’s journey from the sea to the land, and ultimately to the sky and heaven, is one of great depth and religious meaning.




Hi, my name is Kenna Galloway! I’m a second year English major and have no idea what I want to focus on, so I’m just taking as many diverse English classes as I possibly can. Although I have to admit, children’s literature holds a special place in my heart.

In this class, I’m hoping to once again do something I thoroughly enjoy—look over and analyze works that I once read simply for entertainment. Last semester this involved dystopian young adult novels, and this semester it will be books I enjoyed as a child. My grandmother was a teacher and instructor of teachers for many years; she filled my childhood with books and stories and introduced me to a love of books that I still have today. Winnie the Pooh was one of the first chapter books I read on my own in elementary school. So, if I had to pick I would say I am most excited for the week we read this. The Pooh books by A.A. Milne are also, not surprisingly, my favorite children’s books. When I was eight I had the opportunity to see the real stuffed animal inspirations that belonged to Milne’s son, Christopher. You can see what they look like in an article about the exhibit at the New York Public Library here. Nothing on the syllabus worries me, but I am less excited about The Water Babies, The Princess and the Goblin, and Five Children and It, simply because I have not read them before.

To me, children’s literature is simply literature that is written for and read by children. Although I have not yet taken a class in children’s literature, I am taking two this semester. Along with this class I am also taking ENL2930 Children’s Literature, which is a much more general overview of children’s literature, past and present. It will be interesting for me to compare these two classes and compare the information I learn from them. The “Golden Age” to which this class refers quite obviously refers to a golden or plentiful time in which children’s literature was being produced, in quantity and quality. I’m very excited to learn more about this, how the state of the world in this “Golden Age” affected children’s literature, and how it provoked a growth of the genre.

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