LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

An Afterthought

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After the production of Peter Pan, J.M Barrie began receiving questions about what happens to Wendy after her encounter with Peter and Neverland. He decided to include “An Afterthought,” to satisfy the curiosity readers, and followers of the beloved characters had about what was to come for the boy who never grows up, and his female friend.

In the epilogue, Barrie brings the story full circle and explains how the passing of time means his  young companions will age, and soon forget the wonders they shared in the fantastical world of Neverland. But with this aging also brings new daughters, and therefore new generations for Peter to influence.

Many view this alternate ending as a bittersweet way to bring the story to a close. Upon Peter’s initial return to the Darling house, after many years, he is greeted by an adult Wendy putting her own daughter Jane to bed. Wendy must break the news that she has grown past the age of flying capabilities because she has “forgotten.” This is heartbreaking for Peter because he is being forced to face the reality that everyone he loves and has emotional attachments to will  advance him temporally and eventually forget his existence. This is precisely why he must start over every few years with a new child–a fresh imagination, ready to be taken away to a land only their wildest dreams could’ve conceived.

This entire sequence is commonly left out of later adaptations of the story, which seems unusual considering the initial interest in the afterthought was the reason Barrie included an epilogue to the story in the first place. Perhaps it is to spare the audience of having to accept the truth that Peter and Wendy can never be together, and if this is true, the story is being deprived a perfect connecting thread to the beginning of the story.

“If you ask your grandmother if she’s heard of Peter Pan…”

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Humpty Dumpty’s Meta-Narrative

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As per our discussion in class, Lewis Carroll–through the agent of his characters–was able to insert a philosophy of language and literary comprehension. Humpty Dumpty most explicitly demonstrates this throughout his interaction with Alice, when she reveals her confusion and the difficulty of understanding the poem “Jabberwocky” presents her. Humpty Dumpty swiftly informs her that he deconstruct the ambiguity of the words (and of course goes on to translate an entire stanza).

Humpty Dumpty is actually discussing the linguistic side to Alice’s encounter with the surreal. Her wonderland/looking-glass world does exist under the same conditions as “the real world,” therefore, the semantics and pragmatics of language there would not follow the same rules.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master      that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

I brought up the point that perhaps Carroll was trying to illustrate that meaning is subjective to the individual, and that when reading the text, the reader should also be applying their own meaning, unadulterated by others opinions. Carroll deliberately wrote “Jabberwocky” to be an interactive work, so that readers wouldn’t be subjected to a poem that already had an abundant amount of interpretations (which it still does), but by using nonsensical words instead, no one could fully claim they knew what the intended meaning was.

The conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty also address the connection between language and reality. Throughout Alice’s adventure, she confronts the problem of existence and the true nature of things as a result of the altered label she is no longer familiar with. Conceptually she is able to conjure an image of whatever is being discussed, but she is consistently disoriented by the skewed definitions, and the arbitrary nature of the conversations she finds herself participating in.

Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice that he makes up the definitions of the words he uses, which would indicate a complete irrelevancy to any message he was trying to convey–except the message Carroll is conveying through Dumpty, which is (in part) an understanding of human expression through language.

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Pinocchio’s Existential Crisis

When the class was informed that Carlo Collodi’s original ending to his classic children’s tale involved the death of Pinocchio, sans resurrection, I believe I heard a subtle, yet collective gasp under the breath of everyone present. We had all grown up on the somewhat scarring Disney version of the children’s tale, but upon reading Collodi’s version, were faced with many inconsistencies that threw us off the image we could all conjure by memory. Pinocchio dying and never having the chance to be reincarnated as a fleshy human child–it’s absurd to think that Italian children everywhere were almost subjected to such an unsettling idea.

Pinocchio’s sardonic wit and dark humor is already hard enough for children to swallow, but the thought of introducing a main character that dies (and isn’t transformed into something religiously or morally symbolic). Pinocchio’s death would’ve been the ultimate sucker punch to the Italian children. It may have had a greater impact influencing children to obey their parents and resist running away from home, but undoubtedly there would be an epidemic of juvenile anxiety disorders.

Collodi, rather, focused on the satire and the farce within the story, avoided the sentimentality that Disney painted over the story with. It seems, then, that Glauco Cambon’s essay on Pinocchio holds true to the fact the Collodi’s tale may not be as appropriate for children as we like to think it is. Pinocchio is an unscrupulous renegade, ready to chase after his most visceral desires–at any cost. He is both at the command and mercy of his pleasures. Cambon recognizes that beneath the surface of Pinocchio, Collodi inserted political and philosophical satire. Perhaps originally, Pinocchio was so overwhelmed with nihilistic angst and existential grief, that Collodi had no other choice but to have him die (again, not to “kid friendly,” in my opinion).

Since the ending was changed, and Pinocchio survives and becomes a real boy, I guess we’ll never know.

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Caution Kids: Dancing in Red Shoes May Cause Death (or psychosis).

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At the end of a comment I made on a blog post from last week, I happened to mention that Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Red Shoes (1845) was adapted into a horror film by South Korean director Kim Yong-gyun, who was inspired by Andersen’s tale. After I posted the comment, I actually watched the film and realized that this reimagining encapsulated a lot of the same themes as the fairy tale, and even subtly included moral messages.

The film revolves around a recently separated wife and her daughter. The mother (Sun-Jae) stumbles upon a pair of cursed pink high heels, which are so intriguing that she snatches them off of the subway platform and runs home with them. She soon comes to find out that her daughter (Tae-Soo) has become frighteningly obsessive over the shoes, which leads her mother to do some investigation of the cause of the shoes power. She then discovers that although the original owner of the shoes escape from harm, the person who takes them will die with their feet chopped off.

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Throughout the film, there is a lot of conflict between the mother and daughter. Tae-Soo knew about her father’s infidelity and immediately began to disobey her mother. The shoes, acting as a catalyst for Tae-Soo’s erratic behavior, push things farther (and add an essential horrifying element). The shoes also affect the character’s normal psyche by compelling them to act outside of their nature. The mother becomes more and more aggressive with her increasingly rebellious child.

Morality comes along after the shoes do the bidding. The shoes act in revenge against the “thief,” and forces them to repent for their sin (via payment by bloodshed). This is not too far from Andersen’s tale, which ends with young Karen having her feet chopped off by the executioner. Towards the end of the film, the mother realizes that this–in theory–inanimate object has warped her sense of priority: as a mother, as a friend, and as a human being.

Sun-jae: [Angry] Mommy loves Tae-soo very much… But mommy really hates when Tae-soo lies.
Tae-su: [Crying] It’s not a lie! Daddy really came! He said he’s too cold and to take him out!
Sun-jae: [Angry] Don’t lie to me!… I told you that daddy couldn’t come here. How can he? I told you he can’t come here, so how could he? How can he?… Why did you lie? Why did you lie?

I was overall impressed with how the film combined elements from a child’s fairy tale into a more adult themed movie. Although both versions can be considered “horror,” the familial themes and morals faced are still relevant today.

 

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Lauren Leshansky: An Introduction

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Salutations fellow literature lovers,

My name is Lauren Leshansky and I am an English major currently finishing my 4th year of undergraduate. I transferred from Miami-Dade Honors College with an Associate of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communications, however, after reporting for two years (and simultaneously taking creative writing classes) I realized studying literature and writing poetry was what I truly enjoyed doing. Upon entering UF, I swiftly changed my major to English and applied for a spot in an upper division advanced writing seminar.

Although I haven’t taken a children’s literature course prior to this one, I am eager to delve into the fantastical world, which intrigues and fascinates so many children. I hope that analyzing children’s literature will help my future aspiration to write a children’s book in collaboration with my brother, who is an extremely talented illustrator. Also, I am excited to revisit stories I have forgotten about over time. The Little Prince is one book that impacted my childhood greatly, and although it’s not part of the curriculum, reading other “classics” will undoubtedly invigorate my love for children’s literature.

Outside of the literary realm, I am a lover of music. I play guitar, bass, and drums, and am currently attempting to start an all girl electro-pop punk band. I also started a basketball crew this past summer called, “The Creepy Brawlers.” If anyone is interested in joining either of these, let me know!

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