LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Can Pooh Influence Children to Binge Eat?

A. A. Milne’s characters of The World of Pooh, which include Christopher Robin and his animal toy friends, represent different disorders.  Can these disorders really be read into these characters and can they affect the children who read about them?

The book of Winnie-the-Pooh is structured in such a way that at points the narrator is talking to a Christopher Robin and then telling stories about Christopher Robin.  I thought this was interesting and imitative of real life—adults telling their children stories that include their children as characters.  However, is this potentially a way to prime schizophrenia and delusions in a child?

Christopher Robin lives a multi-faceted life in A. A. Milne’s book, and all of the talking animals have exaggerated traits.  Pooh is a bear who loves to eat and cannot control his habits.  In Chapter VI “Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents” Pooh plans to give Eeyore a pot of honey but gets hungry along the way to Eeyore so he eats it.  Then afterwards he realizes he ate Eeeyore’s present.  Pooh is constantly hungry, and he can’t control his habits surrounding food and hunger.  Is Pooh an allegory for an eating disorder?

The rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang also seem to exhibit other DSM-worthy diagnoses.   Piglet is constantly battling his own cowardice, stuttering, and afraid of many things.  Owl is always thinking of what story of his own to tell next, displaying his superiority of knowledge, and just talking over others and to others without caring if the listener even cares.  Eeyore is gloomy and pessimistic and hardly ever happy.  He can also be angry and sees all the faults in people and situations.  Rabbit expresses always needing to be in control of situations and being the leader.  He has to have things done in a certain way, and he tries to make other characters at time conform to what he wants them to be, such as when he didn’t want Kanga and Roo in the Hundred Acre Wood causing change or Tigger to be so bouncy.  Tigger himself bounces from one idea to the other and is quite energetic to the point where he can’t control it.  The animated versions of these characters also play on these exaggerated traits epitomizing them.

Christoper Robin.  Schizophrenia.  Pooh.  Eating Disorder.  Piglet.  General Anxiety Disorder.  Owl.  Narcissism.  Eeyore.  Depression.  Rabbit.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Tigger.  Attenion Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Do these characters represent these disorders and then influence children in a way that may prime them for the disorders and cause them to imitate them?

I believe that in literature and TV and all other forms of media, traits are normally exaggerated for entertainment’s sake.  It does not mean that the general masses will all of a sudden experience these disorders because a favorite character does.  Granted, children may imitate these disorders, but psychology has researched them enough to show that for most disorders a genetic priming is also a factor.  Environment is also a factor.  Eating disorders, for example, will not come about because of one instance of a bear character exhibiting it.  First, animal characters are not human characters, so children are less likely to want to “be” them, and second, one character from childhood is almost insignificant in the sea of parenting and media that may actually really cause an eating disorder.  A cute, fat, yellow bear’s influence is almost nothing when compared to the models in magazines and commercials and the advertisements that flood our children’s and our own vision everyday.

I also believe that creative works of art, such as literature, can be interpreted however the reader chooses to so if the reader does not notice or choose to see these characters as allegorical representations of mental disorders, then they will not influence the reader as such.  If parents do not present them as so to their children, then there is less of an opportunity for the children to see the characters that way.  I do not think that The World of Pooh and its characters are harmful to their child consumers.

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Origin Mythology in Children’s Stories

     I have always thought it was really interesting to read about the origin of the world or explanations of phenomena that does not match today’s scientific facts and theories.  In the Water-Babies, the reader was exposed to an alternate state of life and what life was like “under the sea.”  In Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens the explanation for where babies come is that they are born first as birds on an island of birds and then fly to their future homes to become babies.  This explanation is just as valid as the stork baby story when adults make up untrue explanations for children.  I’m not sure why adults seem keen on telling children more fantastical and unreal versions of the truth, as we have learned in class through reading Golden Age literature and specific cases like Lewis Carroll entertaining children with enchanting lies, but they do.  These lies become stories, and these stories go on to be published works.

An example of one of these quite interesting stories is the explanation for fossils in Five Children and It.  The Psammead, the wish-granting sand fairy, imparts a lot of “historical” knowledge to the children who find him.  The Psammead is several thousand years old and supposedly from the time of Pterodactyls and Megatheriums, the time of dinosaurs.  Apparently he used to grant wishes for Megatheriums to be eaten, but whatever of them was not eaten by sunset would turn to stone.  This applies for any wish that produces an object.  As soon as the sun sets, it turns to stone.  Thus, this story implies that the dinosaur remains, fossils, we find today are the results of, for lack of a better term, wish leftovers.

Megatherium

I delight in this kind of pseudo-mythology in literature, and I wonder why this form of fiction is popular and frequently embedded in novels and stories.  I mentioned before that I am not sure why adults enjoy these kinds of “re-tellings,” but they do provide a source of entertainment.  Adults constantly lie to children about life—babies coming from storks, fairies, the Boogie man, and most notorious, Santa Claus.  If we think back, a lot of these fantasy elements have been used over time to protect children and direct their behavior, such as Santa Claus watching over all children in order to reward the good ones with presents on Christmas, and this helps to make children behave properly more often.  However, what benefit or advantage does this fake history of fossils told by the Psammead have?

I believe that these fake histories provide background for the story.  If the Psammead had no “concrete” history and was just a mysterious being, it lops him into a group of flat characters.  Histories, even fake ones, flesh out characters and even if the genre is fiction, make the characters seem more genuine and real, with real not necessarily meaning as from our reality.

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Peter Pan as a Classic

I have never thought about the meaning of “classic” until this course. As I grew up, I would hear this term as when in the 1990s my mother bought Snow White when it first came out on VHS because it was a classic and when in school my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Kuwabara, recommended Harry Potter to me because she said it would become a classic. I learned to recognize and use this word without really knowing and understanding what it meant. Among friends, a phrase or an activity would be named a “classic” in jest, such as buying Doritos after school—Doritos are a classic snack food!



  Playing tag at recess would become a classic activity even though we only had been playing tag together for a few weeks. Daniel’s fat pet cat stories were classics. J.Lo’s latest song became a classic. These things were sentimental to us, and so they garnered the name “classic.”
The one trait all of these so-called “classics” shared was a sense of captivation. There was an alluring, captivating aspect to all these objects and activities. The act of eating Doritos after school became a nostalgic kind of captivation. Tag was an exhilarating type of captivation, and so on.

When deciding on what to discuss about Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, I decided to write about why it is considered a classic. It actually took a good couple of hours of wondering to try to pinpoint the reason or reasons why. I had always just known things to be classics but not necessarily why. Some books are classics because other people say they are, and some people say books are classics because of the attached sentimental feelings. Both these groups of people found something worthwhile and captivating about whatever they deem a classic, and I now know that’s what makes Peter Pan a classic.

     Peter Pan is a classic because


 of its captivating nature. The story includes magical and impossible things, but they are set in a very concrete and very real environment, which leads the reader to want to believe in the absurd and the magical because it’s more fun—more captivating. How wondrous it must be to play all night in whatever manner you choose, never know fear, and to see fairies dance! Both young and old can relate to some portion of this book. Who wants to grow up and grow old and have responsibilities truly? Peter Pan, the character, embodies the timelessness I feel most people desire, a happiness achievable only by children who do not know pain and fear. Aside from those self-identifications, the story is full of whimsy and the unreal. Fairies and birds-turned-babies, flying, wishes, and all manner of things born of the creative imagination are written down for our entertainment and enjoyment. Peter Pan is a classic because whether it’s understanding what it means to be happy or getting to read about mythical creatures, Peter Pan has something to offer to, something to captivate its readers with.

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Character Analysis of the White Knight

 

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, Alice encounters a White Knight in Chapter Eight, titled “It’s My Own Invention.”  Alice’s character is based on one of Carroll’s favorite child friends, Alice Liddell, so is too far-fetched to say that Carroll inserted himself in this second story about Alice, not as a Dodo this time, but as the White Knight?  There are many clues to this from the White Knight’s description to his actions that can point to this connection between the author and this character of the White Knight.

The White Knight is described as having “shaggy hair” (Carroll 207) and “mild blue eyes” (Carroll 214), and although this is minimal as anyone could have shaggy hair and blue eyes, Carroll did have these characteristics.  Also as discussed in class, it was brought up that the illustrator, Sir John Tenniel, decided to draw the White Knight in his image although that character was meant to be Carroll.  In the Introduction of the edition I read, this detail was mentioned in two places about Carroll writing himself into the story as the White Knight as an attempt at autobiography (Carroll xxiii) and about Tenniel substituting his image for Carroll’s (Carroll lxxix).

Sir John TennielLewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson

The White Knight by Sir John Tenniel

As for the White Knight’s behavior, he frequently falls off his horse and onto his head, which I interpret to be a representation of Carroll’s stuttering in real life.  In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he writes himself and the Liddell family into the book as various animals Alice encounters down the rabbit hole.  Carroll was the Dodo, whose name came from the form of his real last name when he experienced his chronic stammer—“Do-Do-Dodgson” (Carroll xvi).  Thus, it would not be surprising if Carroll made an appearance again in his second volume based on Alice.  Another one of the White Knight’s habits is inventing new, albeit dysfunctional, objects, which is suggestive of Carroll’s own career of writing the first stories of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and his hobby from which these novels came from of telling tales to the Liddell siblings (Carroll xxxi-xxxiv).  Additionally, Carroll was rumored to have been obsessed or very attached to the real Alice Liddell (Carroll xxi-xxii, xxxv, xxxvii), and so it seems appropriate that the White Knight would try to take fictional Alice as “prisoner” (Carroll 205-207).

Dodo by Sir John Tenniel

In Through the Looking-Glass the White Knight guides Alice to queendom.  He cannot follow her across the brook to where she will become queen, and this can be seen as a metaphor for Carroll being unable to follow Alice as she grows up and leaves childhood especially after his breakup with the Liddell family (Carroll xxi-xxii, xxxv, xxxvii).  He wanted to keep Alice as his prisoner in both the story and in reality as Carroll was losing his child friend to the aging process and the rift with her family.  However, the White Knight cannot follow Alice as she matures as his character states twice (Carroll 207, 218).  Carroll creates scenes where Alice doesn’t follow the White Knight’s illogical inventions just as she did in real life when she no longer believed in Carroll’s made-up stories (Bjork & Eriksson 74).  Eventually, Alice in real life grows up and gets married and never interacts with Carroll again, and her becoming a queen and acquiring a “golden crown” (Carroll 219), which is an allegory for maturing and marriage (as a golden crown is to a golden ring, symbolic of matrimony), is an allegorical event for this.

This entire eighth chapter is almost an autobiographical mourning story as Carroll expresses his grief for Alice’s growing up and growing disinterest in what used to be their shared imaginary world.  This chapter allows the author to literally close the Alice chapter in his life so he could move on.  He does express his sadness at this seemingly one-sided relationship since the fictional character Alice does not cry and is not moved by the White Knight’s poem, which disheartens the White Knight (Carroll 218) just as the real Alice no longer took interest in Carroll’s stories disheartening him as well.  Yet, as the White Knight leaves, he tumbles off of his horse again.  Then Alice comments, “However, he gets on pretty easily” (Carroll 218), which could be taken to mean that the author has written Alice to feel sympathetic for him, and it also implies that he will be fine without Alice.

 

Bjork, Christina, and Inga-Karin Eriksson. The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland. 1st. ed. Stockholm: Raven and Sjorgren, 1993. Print.

Carrol, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Ed. Hugh Haughton. Centenary ed. London: Penguin Group, 1998. Print. Penguin Classics.

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Lying and Nose Growth

In Walt Disney’s animated film Pinocchio, supposedly every time Pinocchio lies, his nose becomes longer per lie, which puts forward a moral for this film’s intended child audience.  Pinocchio is depicted as naïve and a bit naughty, but he learns that lying is wrong due to the lie-detecting and –revealing functions of his nose.  However, in the original written work, Pinocchio is definitely a naughty and rambunctious “child” puppet, and in Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, there is a lot of wooden nose growing and lying on the part of this puppet protagonist, but it is not all as consistent as in the Disney version.

Old Joe trying to carve down Pinocchio's growing nose.            In Chapter 3 of Collodi’s published novel, Pinocchio is carved out of wood, and as soon as Old Joe got to work on the nose, it started to grow longer and longer.  At this point he had not carved out Pinocchio’s mouth yet, and so the reason for the growth in this first appearance is not lying.  However, when Pinocchio has recovered at the Fairy’s house in Chapter 17, he lies to the Fairy about the location of his gold coins, and with each lie, his nose grows to an obscene length.  He cannot even turn in the room without harm.  The title of this chapter even bluntly describes his nose lengthening as the resulting negative consequence for lying: “How Pinocchio … tells a lie and as a punishment his nose grows long.”  Here are two cases of nose growth in the book, which do not consistently link lying and nose growth.

Pinocchio also lies many times throughout the novel, and not on all occasions does his nose react the way it does in the Disney film version of the story.  In Chapter 32, Pinocchio has started to transform into a Donkey in The Land of Toys and has acquired ears.  He then visits Candle-Wick, and the two boys share lies about why they are wearing night caps:

“‘… my dear Pinocchio, why are you wearing this cotton nightcap pulled down to your nose?’

‘The doctor prescribed it because I’ve got a sore foot.’  (Collodi 133)

Although the reader knows that Pinocchio is plainly lying, there is not the expected consequence.  Then again in Chapter 36 Pinocchio lies to his father about going into town to buy himself nice clothes.  He did not buy clothes because he gave his earnings to the Fairy’s snail in order to help financially support his Fairy mother/sister who is then poor and sick in the hospital unable to feed herself.  After this encounter between the wooden puppet and the Snail, Pinocchio returns home and tells his inquiring father that he could not find clothes that “suited” him (Collodi 167).  Once again, Pinocchio is not punished for lying.  In fact, we could even classify this lie he told Old Joe as a white lie since Pinocchio’s lie does not hurt anyone but only hides his kind act, but it is still a lie left without the expected consequence if one is thinking about the widely popular Disney movie version.

In Collodi’s Pinocchio there is an instance of nose growth that isn’t preceded by a lie, and there is an instance where Pinocchio tells lies and then his wooden nose’s length increases.  Then to contrast this latter scene of lying, there are at least two notable scenes where Pinocchio lies but with no elongation of his nose.  Is there anything to this?  It is understandable why Walt Disney’s version of the story consistently and reliably links lying and nose growth to teach the audience not to lie.  The moral it imparts is that lying is bad and will be punished.  However, due to the inconsistencies in the original, was it Collodi’s intention to impart the same lesson?

            I do believe that Collodi did intend to teach children not to lie if one were to look at Chapter 17 by itself.  Pinocchio was initially serialized, meaning that the readers got to read each chapter singly as each chapter was published in a weekly reader.  Thus, the inconsistencies regarding lying and nose growth are most likely not planned and a result of a serialized and episodic format.  Despite that, I feel that this may more accurately represent reality.  In reality, sometime we feel negative effects, like Pinocchio’s first nose growth, without understanding the reasoning behind it or without ever having done something to deserve it.  Sometimes, we do get punished for our naughty actions like Pinocchio does in Chapter 17 at the Fairy’s house, and sometimes, we get away with lying, like Pinocchio did in the Land of Toys.  White lies are usually not seen as punishable acts because they hide good intentions, and so, usually we are not punished for a lie that causes no harm, such as in the last example of Pinocchio’s lie to his father about not buying clothes.  I feel that creating this interpretation may not have been Collodi’s intent, but due to the episodic nature of the story and the episodic, anecdotal nature of human lives, I do feel that it is not a wrong interpretation.  People lie, and sometimes they feel the negative consequences for it and sometimes not as Pinocchio experienced himself.

Collodi, Carlo. Pinocchio. Trans. Ann Lawson Lucas. New York: Oxford, 2009. Print.

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Everyone has a Chance for Redemption: Exploring the Afterlife in The Water-Babies

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           In The Water-Babies there are extremes in pureness of characters, like Grimes, that master chimney sweep representing almost an absolute evil and, at the other end, Ellie, a child of pure innocence.  Then we have Tom, who is somewhere in the middle as he is a child who has not had any guidance for what is right and wrong morally according to the Christian beliefs of that time.  All of these initially-human characters, despite their innate purity or lack of it, have a chance of redemption once they die, which is quite contrary to the normal Christian belief that only the good and free-of-sin can enter the afterlife.

Starting from the extreme of evil, Grimes is a hateful man who definitely is portrayed as quite the sinner from the very first chapter through his behaviors noted by Tom and the abuse received by Tom, and he is warned by the Irishwoman, who is actually Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, about his “foul” nature (Kingsley 8).  When Grimes falls into the water and is taken by fairies to where he belongs, I assume that this means that he died and was taken either a purgatory or hell because later, he is found by Tom in the Other-end-of Nowhere in a place called Leaveheavenalone, which is definitely not heaven but definitely an afterlife.  Once Tom and Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid help Grimes to realize some of the pain he’s caused, he is freed from that place but only to work in a crater to “work out [his] time” (Kingsley 184).  He has a chance at redemption, but he must first work to earn it after realizing his sins.

Conversely, Ellie is the picturesque angel (and the image is more obvious later when she is given wings), and as an innocent child, it seems like she could just enter into heaven, no problem.  However, even she must pass a sort of pre-heaven trial of a purgatory-like nature before being able to enter.  She had to commit good deeds by first going where did not like to go and help someone who she did not like (Kingsley 127).  After helping Tom become a better person and Christian, she was redeemed and her soul allowed to enter heaven.

Now Tom, a more middle character between good and evil, also had to follow a path similar to Ellie’s in order to be able to be saved.  As a human, Tom did not know right from wrong and committed sins, but he was given a second chance when he desired to be clean and was transformed into a water-baby (like a baptism to start anew).  After being taught to be a good Christian by Ellie and the fairies, he desired entrance to heaven, and so he, too, had to help someone he didn’t like in a place he wouldn’t like.  It was after a long and arduous journey and his reaching out to help Grimes, his abuser, that he completed this quest and was redeemed and allowed to enter heaven.

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            All three characters of varying degrees of “innocence” have a chance in the afterlife to achieve redemption.  This is contrary to mainstream Christian belief in that one should have repented all sins before dying in order to ascend into heaven, but this portrayal of saved souls after death reveal what are possibly the author’s thoughts on that matter — everyone has a chance at redemption whether in life or in the afterlife.

Citation:
Kingsley, Charles. The Water-Babies : A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. Print.

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Hi, I’m Sandra.

Hi, everybody.  My name is Sandra M. Mejia.  I am a 5th year student majoring in Psychology and Japanese with a minor in English and a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate.  I am a New Yorker at the core since I moved to Florida during high school.  My hope is to go back to the north after finishing schooling here in Florida and teach high school English. Also, due to my interests and having studied abroad in Japan, I want stop in Asia to teach at some point in the near future, but we’ll see what happens.

from January 2011

Here is a picture of me.  Be warned: my hair color changes often.  🙂

Now onto why I am taking this class.  As I said before, I want to teach high school so I thought a course on Children’s Literature would be relevant.  Now that I’ve seen the list of books we’re reading, they are definitely quite relevant, and I think it’s interesting that we’ll be analyzing them.  I’m looking forward to reading everything on the list, especially the books I’ve never even heard of like The Water Babies and The Princess and the Goblin.  I am a little worried that we have spent too much time talking about whether or not it is valid to study children’s literature or not and why it matters, so I hope we don’t come back to this topic.  Why would we have the class if it wasn’t valid, you know?  I think it’s completely valid as a field of study, and I don’t see why studying the Harry Potter series would be any different from analyzing the content and meaning of Moby Dick.  If you look at literature studies in general, it’s basically a bunch of bookworms who love to read and study what they read.  You could almost say that about any field of study in higher education.  They are full of people who are really interested in a topic and just want to share it with the rest of the world, so why not?

As for what I think defines “Children’s Literature,” I’m not sure what else to say besides children’s literature is made up of the books written with children as the intended audience and any books children themselves actually pick up to read.  I’ve never thought about trying to define what kinds of books children’s literature is comprised of, and when I was child (baby age to about 8th grade), I was quite the bookworm and read all kinds of things.  I actually don’t really care which books are defined to be children’s literature because every child is different, and how quickly they develop and age don’t always match whatever is considered “normal” or “average” so I think whatever list that would be is irrelevant when considering what a child will actually read.  However, a list would be useful to help parents in choosing books for their children when they might not know what to pick up themselves.

Anyways, I’m excited to read all the books assigned for this class and to gain new perspectives on the ones I read when I was younger.  🙂

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