LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Mary and her garden

The Secret Garden is a magical tale that deals with the healing powers inherent in having a good soul and a good attitude.  Mary’s transformation from a sour puss to a sweet young girl is just one example of the magic she experienced from the goodness of the people around her like Martha and Dickon.  Colin undergoes a similar experience when Mary and Dickon treat him with love and respect and share their secrets with him.

The novel revolves around the transformation of the two children as much as it revolves around the secret garden.  I believe the secret garden could act as a metaphor for Mary’s change into a good little girl.

When Mary finds the garden, she is already starting to become a nicer child.  Her fascination with the robin and her conversations with Ben Weatherstaff have softened a very small part of her.  When she finds the garden, it is overrun with weeds and dead branches, but at the same time, she sees the beauty that’s hiding under all of that and imagines the way it could be if someone would just take the time to take care of it.

As Mary weeds the garden, color comes to her face and she looks more like a natural child instead of her cold, frigid self.  She pulls out the grass and gives the sprouts space to breathe, much as the fresh air from the moor gives Mary more room to breathe and the fresh air does her good.

As Dickon enters the situation, the garden begins to come to life just as Mary begins to become a real child with a real friend her own age.  She becomes enraptured by Dickon and Dickon is obsessed with nature, content to prune it and make it come alive, just as Mary comes alive around him.

Spring comes and the garden blooms completely, but not before Mary has her ultimate transformation and that comes at the hands of Colin.  Mary’s love for him changes her into a good person with a good soul.  Her sympathy for him and her concern for his illness and her faith that he can become strong and healthy all coalesce to make her become a sweet young girl.  Understanding the ways that Colin is selfish and spoiled helps cure her of her own spoiled nature.  When the garden comes into full bloom, Mary, too, comes into herself completely and becomes the sweet little girl she always could’ve been, and the girl the garden helped her to become.

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I attended the Marxist Reading Group presentation “Rethinking Work,” for the last panel presentation.  While the topics introduced were all interesting in their own way, I had a hard time seeing a cohesive theme between the three.  One dealt with Indians, one dealt with New Wave Feminism, and one dealt with the Stieg Larsson “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy.  Each paper was an entirely new world onto itself and the environment of the panel changed with each paper.

The first paper about Indians was interesting in that it brought up the native laws and Indian casinos as well as species of rare orchids and a funny little story about a man attempting to steal them, but she chose to make her point by describing a movie called Adaptation which I have never seen, and I doubt anyone else had really seen either because it seemed to be just a weird Nicholas Cage film, and I, at least, had never even heard of it before she introduced it.  A lot of her paper was just summarizing the film which, admittedly, sounded interesting in a completely different and weird way, but not something I can see myself watching any time soon.  She was a good speaker though and seemed to know her material well, not reading directly from the paper for the majority of the time.

The second presentation was about Second Wave Feminism and although she seemed like a really nice person, she read directly from her paper without very many natural pauses and she just seemed a little uncomfortable the whole time.

The third presentation really made the whole night. He started with a speech about how he was going to capitalize on the coveted last spot by using all of the allotted time, and then proceeded to go about twenty or thirty minutes over the time I was made to understand the panel would be over.  He was a good speaker and interacted well with the audience, including taking a little poll at the beginning to figure out how many people had actually read the books he was going to be talking about, and his love for Swedish crime fiction was made really apparent, but I just found myself checking the time repeatedly and waiting to leave.  The moderator eventually had to cut him off.

During the questioning, the final speaker, Phil Wegner, made a big production of it again and spent about ten minutes answering each question so that the other two women had a hard time getting a word in edgewise.  I honestly didn’t understand much of what the questions were about, it was kind of just a weird dialogue/argument between Phil and the audience members with everyone adding on more to the conversation and leaving the poor women without anything to do or ad.

For the most part, what I learned is that the better speakers are more conversational rather than just reading from their papers.  It’s good to take pauses and the more specific the examples, the better the presentation.  It also helps to reference things that people have actually seen/read because then they have something to relate to. It’s also important to give other people a chance to speak because if you’re seen as dominating the floor, it’s a little obnoxious to the people watching.  Overall, it was a good panel and it wasn’t a completely excruciating experience, I just felt that Phil Wegner’s personality was a little much and really overshadowed the other two speakers.

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The Role of the Man in The Wizard of Oz

I wanted to expand upon a comment I wrote about gender roles in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As I said, I think that the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man all have a duality to their nature.  The Scarecrow is on a masculine search, the search for brains.  He proves his worth to the group time and time again by coming up with schemes and ideas to get them across rivers or across canyons.  When Oz is in need of a new leader, he is the first choice, represented as the smartest, the best, and the most capable.

The Lion is also on a manly search for courage, but initially, he is shy and scared.  Throughout the story he comes into his manliness, becoming stronger and more brave, and able to protect the group.  He has a moment of weakness in the field of poppies and requires the help of little field mice to help him out, but his bulk and his weight which makes it a bit of a more difficult process assert his inherent masculinity.

The Tin Man is lovesick and on a journey for a new heart, so it’s reasonable to suggest that he would be more of an effeminate character, but throughout the novel he proves his manliness time and time again by cutting down trees, constructing rafts, and killing attackers to keep the group safe and sound on their journey to see Oz.

Both the Lion and the Scarecrow’s journey is a quest to become more masculine and even though the Tin Man’s desire for a heart is more effeminate, he too goes through a transformation into a stronger, more capable man.

Through these examples, Baum explores the idea that to be a man is to be in a position of power.  It requires cunning and bravery and strength.  Men are the leaders and the protectors of his world.

The only women in power are the witches, who are represented as either good or evil.  The good witches are ladylike and good and pure who bestow kisses on lost little girls to protect them, and the evil ones are simply easily destroyed, or cast away characters.  The only way to survive as a woman in the land of Oz is to be good and innocent like Dorothy and the good witches.

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Peter and Wendy Bibliography

“10 Disney Characters Who Stirred Up Controversy.” Graphic Design Degrees. N.p., 2013. <http://graphicdesigndegrees.org/10-disney-characters-who-stirred-up-controversy/&gt;.

“AWN | Animation World Network.” Peter Pan: Hook, Line and Tinker. Animation World Network. VFX World. 15 Jan. 2004. Web. <http://www.awn.com/articles/ipeter-pani-hook-line-and-tinker&gt;.

Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy. New York: Oxford, 2008. Print. Oxford World’s Classics.

“Crowther, Bosley. “The Screen: Disney’s ‘Peter Pan’ Bows.” The New York Times. 12 Feb. 1953. Web. <http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?_r=1&res=940CE3DF1F3AE23BBC4A52DFB4668388649EDE&gt;.

Hanson, Bruce K. Peter Pan on Stage and Screen, 1904-2010, McFarland (2011), pp. 151–53. Print.

“J.M. Barrie’s Boy Castaways”. Beinecke Library. Acessed March 22, 2013. Web. <http://beinecke.library.yale.edu&gt;

McGavock, Karen. “The Riddle of His Being: An Exploration of Peter Pan’s Perpetually Altering State” Peter Pan in and Out of Time: A Children’s Classic at 100. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2006. 195-215. Print.

 

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A children’s story?

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been known since its publication as a children’s book, but is that really appropriate in today’s society?  While children are inundated with violence and death every day through video games and TV shows, when it comes to books, adults remain a little puritanical.  Where are the banned video game lists or the banned movies?  And yet the list of banned books grows larger every day, so how does something like The Wizard of Oz stay off it?  Pure sentimentalism?

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a little girl is ripped from her home in a tornado and her house falls on top of a witch, effectively killing her.  In the very introduction of the novel we have a murder.  Later on in the book, Oz refuses to give anyone what they want unless they conspire together to commit another act of murder.  And then, of course, we have the herds of angry wolves, a murder of crows, and a swarm of bees whose sole mission is to attempt to murder Dorothy and her band of friends.  The book is riddled with stories of slavery and murder.

With all this torture and attempted murder, can this really be a book for children?  The violence, when looked at objectively, is enough to turn more than a few heads.  Dorothy remains the unsuspecting, innocent, simple child, but by the end of the novel she has killed two people.

All the same, can this simple story really be called something for adults or even teens to  read?  Dorothy’s simple logic and childish actions make it so this book couldn’t possibly be something targeted for older readers.  At her most wicked, Dorothy simply throws a bucket of water on the witch, having no idea that it would be the thing to kill her.  The language and the setup of the story are also very childlike– leaning more towards a fairy tale than an novel.

The only thing left to wonder is if maybe the times have just changed.  If it were not for the movie and the sentimentalism behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, would it still be a book we give our children to read?  What age group is it really appropriate for?

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Alice in Wonderland Close Reading

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

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This quote is originally introduced after the caterpillar asks Alice who she is.  Although Alice has gone through many size and perspective changes throughout the day, most people would still have a firm grasp on who they are as a person.  When Carroll introduces this idea, it’s a very childish one.  It speaks to when Alice contemplates whether or not she has turned into another person, namely Mabel.  This idea is the kind of twisted take on reality that Carroll utilizes throughout the entire novel, one that children can relate to and find meaning in that may go over most adults’ heads.
Alice’s confusion is partly due to the warped sense of reality that is present in Wonderland.  If she can change sizes and travel from wonderful place to place easily, then why could she not change who she is as a person?  At the same time, she uses the words “at present,” acknowledging that later on she may have  a better grasp on her situation and her idea of self.  She goes on to say later in the passage that she cannot explain herself because she isn’t herself.  This idea suggests that she not only feels different, but actually IS an entirely different person, be it Mabel or anyone else.
She compares this transformation to that of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.  This comparison shows that her change is not just negligible, it is an actual evolution from one state to another.  This idea suggests that maybe when she leaves Wonderland, she will have transformed into her next stage of life, that of an adult.  As long as she is in and believes in a Wonderland, she can remain a child, but the more that things seem ridiculous to her and the more that she desires to get out of Wonderland, the more mature she gets and the further she gets into her ultimate transformation.

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Let me start off by saying I am a diehard Disney fan.  There are people who will say that he was an anti-Semite or that he hated children, and to that I say, there are a lot of people who do good things for the world who didn’t necessary have great personal lives.

So that being said, the article “Breaking the Disney Spell” by Jack Zipes made me absolutely angry.  Down to the very rhetoric he uses, referring to Disney’s “stranglehold” over the fairy tale, and his “capitalization of American innocence”.  This is obviously a man with a vendetta.  I don’t know what Walt Disney did to make Jack Zipes so angry, but it definitely comes out in this article.

At one point, he writes, “Throughout the entire production of this film, Disney had to be consulted and give his approval for each stage of development”.  But then he goes onto write, “As we know, Disney never liked to give credit to the animators who worked with him, and they had to fight for acknowledgment. Disney always made it clear that he was the boss and owned total rights to his products.”

Already, I have an immediate problem with this statement because if it’s really true that Disney had a hand in every aspect of the production of the film, doesn’t that entitle him the label of “boss” and doesn’t he truly own total rights to the product?  He even makes a strong point about how his re-telling of Snow White is truly his Americanized version that just totally strips the Grimm brothers of the traditional meeting.  If he totally remade the story in an entirely new way, doesn’t that make him the owner of the product more than if he had just adapted the story directly to film?

And as for the other assertion, that his animators had to fight for acknowledgment, I give you this, displayed in the opening seconds of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:
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Enough said.

Jack Zipes honestly has some huge problem with Disney and his style of bringing traditional fairy tales to life.  I don’t see the problem in adapting the stories, because isn’t that how we are left with the versions we have today?  From a variety of different people in different places passing the stories on to their children where they get altered a little or sometimes even a lot?  Disney is just another one of those story tellers who chose to adapt the story to his own taste.  Whether that taste is “Americanized” or not really isn’t the point.  He gives our children a story to watch on screen and relate to.  Would you rather read your child a story about a mermaid who cuts out her tongue, is in constant pain, and then almost stabs the object of her affection, or would you rather give them a happy ending?

I see absolutely nothing wrong with Disney’s adaptions and I’d really like to know what Jack Zipe’s beef is.  He didn’t die a billionaire for nothing.

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A Modern Day Cinderella Story

To be considered a traditional Cinderella story, unlike the Catskin or Donkeyskin fatherly incestual drama, it must meet a few important qualities.

  1. There must be a wicked stepmother and two wicked stepsisters
  2. There must be a ball
  3. Cinderella must leave something behind for the prince to find and
  4. The prince must not know who she is until the missing object is restored to its owner

I give you, Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray

In this modern spin-off, there is a significant cellphone, left behind by Hilary Duff at the Halloween dance (ball?) and which it falls on Chad Michael Murray, to return.  He searches in vain for his Cinderella while every girl in the high school stakes a claim to cellphone, including Hilary’s two evil stepsisters.  Meanwhile, Hilary toils away in her step-mother’s diner, dreaming of her prince but refusing to reveal herself to him.

In this retelling, like many other Cinderella tales, the prince is conflicted.  In the classic tales, the prince is lovesick over his future bride, refusing to eat, refusing to see anybody, and driving his poor mother, the queen, insane with worry.  In this tale, Chad’s father wants him to be a big football star, but all the unlikely prince wants is to run off to Princeton with his girl.  He’s portrayed a sensitive guy who just wants to be understood by his family and his classmates, but is constantly pestered by shallow, vain girls who all want his hand in a committed relationship– the high school equivalent of ‘happily ever after’.

Hilary, in her portrayal of the classic Cinderella, plays one of the more shrewd and careful princesses.  She works hard in the diner, but all her money is stolen by her stepmother and stepsisters.  She’s sarcastic and witty and holds her own in conversations with the queen bee of the school.  However, in her online conversations with Chad, she shows herself as a sensitive and introspective princess as well.  When all is said and done, it is through Hilary’s strong sense of self and pride that she discovers her late father’s will and is able to restore the power to herself, and consequently deal with her wicked step family.  While the sister’s eyes weren’t plucked out by birds, they were put in their place and made to work off all the money they stole in the diner while the evil stepmother found herself in jail for denying ever having seen the will which she herself had witnessed for.

While this movie is teeny and a little bit ridiculous, it really does have all the elements of a traditional Cinderella story.  Working at a diner is not really on the same level as picking up lentils out of ashes, but neither does Hilary have the help of some magical birds.  This modern day Cinderella story doesn’t rely so much on the idea of magic as it does on the ingenuity of the characters and the harsh realities of life.

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