LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

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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Paper Thoughts: Imitation vs. Invention in Contemporary Children’s Books

For my final paper, I will be investigating the role of the classic aesthetic in contemporary children’s books. Over the past two to three years there has been a trend that has developed in the children’s book market. There has been a calling back on the classic, specifically the Golden Age classic. However, the trend has had two veins of creativity. On one side, we have what I would call an imitation of the classic while on the other side we have sparks of invention taking place that allude to the classic.

The imitation side of this trend is manifested with a plethora of “authorized sequels” such as Peter Pan in Scarlet, Return to the Hundred Acre Woods, and The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit.

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Specifically in these authorized sequels, there is no invention taking place, meaning these authors are not creating new stories which recall the classic aethestic. Instead they are slipping back into the past, attempting to recreate the specific style, tone and feel of books that are recognized as classics. In 2009, NPR published an article looking at the authorized Winnie the Pooh sequel. It started out with the sentence: “It used to be that all good things would come to an end, but these days, at least in the world of books and movies, there is always ‘the sequel’.” It went on to discuss the new novel, and in writing the article they contacted children’s literature professor, Phil Nel. His opinion on the book was very telling and plays into what I believe is at the heart of the imitation vs. invention distinction at the heart of the classical style trend:

But Philip Nel, a professor of children’s literature at Kansas State University, says based on what he could glean from the first chapter, they may have played it too safe.
“It’s almost like reading someone else’s memory of A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard,” says Nel. “It’s a pleasant memory, but why wouldn’t you read the original? It’s not like they’ve disappeared.”
The result, says Nel, is a book that feels like an imitation: “They’ve got the characters down. Pooh is ruled by [his] tummy. Piglet is timid. Eeyore tends to be sarcastic and depressed.”

Thus while you have these texts which attempt to actually imitate the classic and continue to keep an already written story alive, you have other authors that have been heavily inspired, have done their research on this period, but are creating inventive, unique and new worlds that recall the classic in style, tone and feel instead of imitating those three things. Some books that could be used as examples of this inventive vein in the trend are: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, and Splendors & Glooms.

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Let’s take Peter Nimble as our example to investigate here what this inventive strain is doing. Merely in its title we have the name Peter which may automatically bring to mind Peter Pan, and we start to impose his characteristics onto Peter Nimble. The cover art is interesting to look at as well. The cityscape recalls London (similar to these covers of Peter Pan, click here , here , here , here and here), with the clock tower and the smoke stacks that set it in a Industrial Revolution period. We realize from the cover that Peter is blind and he must also be a thief, so perhaps we start to think about Oliver Twist. Lastly the juxtaposition of the cityscape and the fantastical background remind me a bit of Arthur Rackham who often juxtaposed the mundane with the magical. This novel also utilizes the second person address for its narrative, which is a bit of a staple with Golden Age authors, as we’ve seen with Barrie and Carroll. Lastly, as you read the text you begin to pick up on so many allusions that the author, Jonathan Auxier, melds together with his story to bring it to life, allusions include Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, the figure of the knight, Don Quixote, the figure of the pirate but one that is midway between the realistic and stylized, Oliver Twist, and the biblical story of Moses.

Lastly, with these ideas of the distinction between imitation and invention, I will also be looking at the role that nostalgia plays in all of this. Specifically it’s been really interesting to find Svetlana Boym’s definition of the idea of nostalgia. She actually breaks it up into two forms, one called restorative nostalgia and the other reflective nostalgia. These two distinctions actually work perfectly with the imitation vs invention idea that I’m developing for this classical trend. Restorative nostalgia attempts to reach back in time and restore the past in the present, which is what the imitation, “authorized sequels” are doing. On the other hand, reflective nostalgia looks back on the past, but realizes that it is impossible to really recreate the past and in doing so it is critical of this longing and is interested in the “contradictions of modernity” (Boym xviii). Thus this reflective nostalgia correlates rather well with the inventive side, because these authors are indeed looking back, but they are not attempting to restore something that is past, but instead create something new that fuses together a past aesthetic with a modern sensibility.

Cited:

Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic, 2001.

Neary, Lynn. “Pooh Faithful Return To The Hundred Acre Wood.” NPR. NPR, 02 Oct. 2009. Web. < http://www.npr.org/2009/10/02/113406207/pooh-faithful- return-to-the-hundred-acre-wood >.

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Classics

In class we talked about if a novel could be considered a classic if there was a popular fan base and the book was enjoyable to read. Many people see The Wizard of Oz like Twilight or Harry Potter even, but I believe we should examine this further. What is a classic anyways? We read novels like Pride and Prejudice, Robinson Crusoe, or David Copperfield and think that because they might be somewhat dry or for an older audience that they embody the qualities that make a classic novel. But I believe that The Wizard of Oz fits into the category.

Even though Baum was ahead of his time with his series by making memorabilia, he is no different than say Jane Austen. She might not have advertised like Baum did, but today her novels are immensely popular, there are hundreds of book clubs and societies in her name; so does this make her work any less credible? Absolutely not. Thus, I believe that Baum’s work in The Wizard of Oz is definitely a classic! When reading the novel, the world created was incredible! He might have drawn from Carroll, but his ideas were inventive. One of the largest characters in the novel, the Wizard, was in fact only a con man tricking the people into thinking he was granting their wishes. I believe that Baum was genius for coming up with a back story like that.

All in all, the novel allows children to explore new worlds and expand their creativity. There is a large following of the book, but it is appropriate because the book deserves recognition. Even though he profited greatly from the novels, he is not unlike many of his predecessors before him who became very wealthy off of their works; and many of those books are considered classics today.

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There’s No Place Like Home

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

This quote from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reveals on of the major ideals of his novel: the importance of home and family. Although Dorothy’s home setting is gray and dull, what matters most is being in a place of love, warmth, and family. Many people would not like to call Kansas their home. It is a place filled with cyclones, cracked land, and colorless skies. Yet at the same time, it is also an area filled with love, caring, and happiness.

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When Dorothy is transported to the land of Oz, she is immediately amazed by the bright colors, beautiful flowers, and friendly little people. She meets new comrades along the way who provide for and protect her from the various dangers. Although Dorothy makes loyal friends and enjoys the beauty of Oz, she still dearly longs to return home to her family. The beauties and wonders of Oz are not as important to Dorothy as is being back with Aunt Em even though Kansas is gray and colorless.

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Through Dorothy’s desire to return home, Baum teaches readers a very significant lesson – simply being with family and loved ones is more important than materialistic ideas, such as beauty and splendor. Children learn that being in an environment of kindness and concern is what matters most in life. In addition, Baum also incorporates the dangers of a strange land to teach children that what may seem like a better life in a new world may in fact present more dangers and harm. I definitely that Baum’s theme of the importance of home permeates among children. The movie version successfully incorporates this theme. As a young girl, I remember dressing as Dorothy on Halloween and reenacting the clicking of the ruby slippers scene. The phrase, “There’s no place like home,” as stuck with me ever since and I still recognize the significance of my being with my family.

Here is a video of the scene from the movie.

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Motivations in Writing Children’s Literature

The agendas that author’s have when writing their works of fiction are very interesting.  They cover an array of motives and serve a purpose that is ultimately for the author.  The authors may have a strong moral code that they believe all others should also have and so they write stories where one can learn and see how following these morals will lead them to having the best life they can have.  Another motive could be political agendas.  Many texts are written in a time of political turmoil and some authors incorporate this into their works.  Authors also tend to put much of themselves into their stories.  The reasons can vary; perhaps it is a way to immortalize themselves or, a way for them to work through insecurities or problems in their lives.  Most likely, it is a way for the authors to write something that they know personally and feel a connection to.

images    Charles Kingsley inserts his belief in religion and duty within his tale of The Water Babies.  Kingsley was a very religious man and had a set idea about how “good” people lived.  Therefore, he chose to push these beliefs onto others by instructing children how one was meant to behave through his tale of Tom and Ellie.  Even within classic fairy tales there are lessons and morals to be gained from reading these stories.   Do not disobey your husband, marry whomever you are intended to and maybe you will fall in love with him anyway, be a good child and listen to your elders and remain sweet and pure.  These are all lessons, which can be obtained through the readings of fairy tales from all over the world.

Political agendas can be inferred within at least a few of the texts that we have read during this course.  Both Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books and Frank L.  Baum’s The Wizard of Oz have different social and political issues within them. Within Kipling’s books about Mowgli and his animal comrades we see a social hierarchy that is very reflective of British governed India.  Many historians view the Baum’s The Wizard of Oz as a political text.  They have assumed that Baum used very strategically certain characteristics and colors within the novel to represent political America.  For instance, some historian’s have stated that the Cowardly Lion could be the politician William Jennings Bryan who had the reputation of being indecisive.  Others have inferred that the Yellow Brick Road is symbolic of gold and the silver shoes are representative of currency.  images-1

Finally, I would like to visit the concept, which leaves me with the most questions, the motive of putting oneself within one’s own fictional story.  Lewis Carroll inserted himself in both of his Alice tales.  In Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland we see a tale that Lewis wrote entirely for the children he was very fond of from his own life.  Alice Liddell is the Alice whom Carroll both wrote the story and created the character around.  In his follow up, Through the Looking Glass, Carroll inserts himself into the text as The White Knight.  He gives his mannerisms and other qualities to this character.  Carroll is not the only author to do this though and we see a similar story within J.M. Barrie’s stories about Peter Pan.  Much like Carroll, Barrie was also very close to a family with young children that were not his own. Instead of the children being all girls this family was made up of five young boys whom Barrie created his tales for.  He even names his characters within his works after these boys.  Barrie also gives a part of himself to the character of Peter, and put his own dog Porthos within his earlier drafts.

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Though motives may vary it is easy to assume that these author’s felt a need to write about the beliefs, world occurrences, and things going on in their lives.  Especially interesting is that these are texts that are geared for children.  The need to impress morality, hint a political issues, and offer a personal vulnerability that children may not grasp quite fully at first but later in life when they are older and pick back up these classics that is very likely to change.

*Geer, John G.; Rochon, Thomas R. (2004). “William Jennings Bryan on the Yellow Brick Road”. The Journal of American Culture 16 (4): 59–63. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.1993.00059.x.

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Big Brother Oz

America invades Oz: close analysis of the Wizard

The Wizard of Oz himself is a conman who just happened to arrive in a new land surrounded by good circumstance. He rose to power because of the people’s desires to believe in someone, and not because of his own skill set. Oz is clearly commentary on government and how capitalism and greed transforms governing powers, but I wanted to shift this commentary from the Emerald City as a whole and focus solely on the mastermind behind the transformation in Oz.

ImageIn the popular 1939 film adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, the conman predicting Dorothy’s future in the beginning of the film is the same man who plays the Wizard at the end of the film. I did not see this parallel until I was older, but once I noticed I also saw the parallels between their actions. Despite the characters’ means of achieving his goals, he typically had good intentions. The conman at the beginning of the film wanted to get Dorothy to go home and tricked her into doing so. The Wizard wanted Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion to emulate the qualities they desired instead of being handed them. He also wanted Oz to flourish, and did so in the only way he knew how: introduce the people to money. These actions remind me of government protection. The whole “we are doing this for your own good” mantra that gives purpose to the idea of Big Brother in this country.

ImageWicked is a popular Broadway musical that tells the story of the witches of Oz. The story follows Glinda, a good witch, and Elphaba, who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. In this version of the tale, the Wizard is responsible for stripping animals of their rights, but the biggest twist not seen in the original tale is that he plans to use Elphaba’s power to keep up his allusion of wizardry to the people. This technique, again, ties to the Big Brother idea of government in the U.S. Who and what exactly is controlling us? One of the problems with our government is the limited amount of transparency. The play Wicked as well as the other adaptations of Oz criticize the need for transparency in government to not only create a sense of mutual trust between citizens and those in power, but also to avoid abuse of power.

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Gay Theory and The Wizard of Oz

In Clark’s essay, “The Case of American Fantasy,” she mentions the popular idea, in LGBT sub-culture, that Dorothy’s companions are potentially homosexual, or at least not the stereotypical heterosexual man. There is a sense that the lion is ‘born to be a sissy,’ expressing that he is an effeminate male figure. This is obvious, perhaps, from his sensitive claws, upon touching the tin man’s body.
Within the sphere of gay culture, there are numerous types of gay men, include the term ‘Bears’, which are composed of a group of muscular, many looking men, who often possess quite a lot of chest hair, but tend to be quite tender at heart. It is not far fetched to claim that, if one were to look at The Wizard of Oz under such a lens, that the cowardly lion might fit into such a category.
Certainly, the idea of the tin man and the scarecrow, both men desiring what the other apparently has no need for, might be considered a good pair. To desire a mind, one might say is quite masculine; whereas to desire a heart is more effeminate. One could imagine a new family, with the tin man and the scarecrow as the parents, with the lion as perhaps the protective older brother.
Having not studied Baum’s life, it is difficult to discern whether or not he, himself, could have intended such a portrayal, but, regardless of whether or not it was intended, the fact that this vision is shared by many, is powerful in and of itself. It expresses the potential for such a family to exist, and raises social awareness of this homosexuality, and the homosexual family, in a non-threatening and pleasing manner, which can raise hope of acceptance.
Regardless of Baum’s intentions, in terms of homosexuality, his message about masculinity is clear. You do not have to be a handsome prince, of flesh and striking features, charm, wit, and courage to save the heroine; for even a tin man, a lion, and a scarecrow are worthy heroes.

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The Gateway as a Trope

In much of Children’s fiction, the Child is transported to a fantastic land by means of a gateway of some kind.  C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” possesses one of the most literal and iconic of these gateways: the wardrobe.  narnia-wardrobe_1112147726

The rest of the series also possesses such portals or gateways:  a magic ring in “The Magician’s Nephew,” and a portrait in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”   C.S. Lewis was not the first to use this mechanism, though.

In L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” the twister transports Dorothy from Kansas to Munchkinland.

 

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Peter Pan and Wendy fly to the second star to the right.  Alice gets to Wonderland through means of the rabbit hole, and even in “The Water Babies,” Tom is transported when he falls in the river.

In modern times, the gateway has become a ubiquitous means of transporting the protagonist into a fantastic world, and has even departed the realm of Children’s Literature.  A machine turns a paraplegic into a nine foot tall blue man with a hair tail.  A girl travels through a tree in the middle of a labyrinth in Spain.  An entire team travels through an alien portal to various other worlds.  A man is transported by a church bell to 1920’s Paris.  Neo takes the red pill.

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Why has the portal to another world become so ubiquitous?  Perhaps it is because it is a simple way to show a distinct change between the real world and the fantastic one.  But perhaps it is because the  portal allows for the suspension of disbelief–once you go through the portal, anything can happen.

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Final Paper thoughts, Any suggestions?

For my final paper I am hoping to focus on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and whether it is truly a feminist novel as many people believe it to be. I also have some questions about whether the female characters are powerful because of their magic or if the males have the “true” power through their wit, bravery and prowess. I’m still of course working on this idea and I’m still trying to find appropriate research but I really like the topic! Suggestions for research anyone?

That’s just weird..

So as of now my main focus will be the whether The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a feminist novel and how gender roles are exhibited in it. Does this seem like a good idea to you guys? When I was first reading the book I was struck by how everyone kept saying Dorothy was saving them or that she was their reason for succeeding when really it was her merry band of men, to use our teachers phrase. While Dorothy does initially save the 3 males from their poor beginnings (the lion in my own opinion didn’t need saving, he really just was being ridiculous) but then they are the true heroes who come up with the solutions to save the day(s).  The Scarecrow actually almost becomes a parent to Dorothy, finding food for her and covering her with dry leaves at night so she’ll stay warm. He is also the brains of the operation as seen when they had to cross the great ditch.  He was the one who came up with the idea for the Lion to carry them all across. Thus his plan and the Lion’s brawn saved them. Later he again saved them by coming up with the idea to use a tall tree to cross an even greater ditch and this led the Tin Woodman to play his part in their survival. To me it seems as if Dorothy isn’t the hero of the story but just the lucky protagonist.  She does the initial “saving” but when push comes to shove it is the male members of their troop that get them through the rough patches. Perhaps I am expecting too much of a young girl of an ambiguous age but I do not think she is the feminist hero that I was led to believe existed in this book.

The next question is why are the males so powerful in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Is it because that instead of using magic or sorcery or even magic hats to get the job done they use their own skills? Even the great and powerful Oz, who seems to be a crackpot, has a power in his charismatic swindling control over the Emerald City.  But then you might ask aren’t the witches within this world just as powerful? After all, they all rule over kingdoms and exhibit at least some amount of power. However is this power through magic seen as on the same level as the males’ innate cleverness and skill? Yes the good witch in Munchkin land gives Dorothy a mark on her forehead that gives her some protection but I feel as if this could have been just a trained expectation if you will within Oz. Like they were told so many times that her kiss has power that they believed it. So maybe she is on the same trickster level as Oz.

Witchy women…

As you all can see I still have a lot to work through, even in just my own basic thought process, but this is my general idea for my paper. What do you all think? Is there anything here worth discussing? Thanks!

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Dumbing Down Dorothy

Like any book-to-movie adaptation, there were significant differences between L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. One of these differences is the characterization of the heroine and main character, Dorothy.

In Baum’s novel, though sweet and somewhat naïve, Dorothy seems to really have it together for someone of the young age that she seems to be presented as being. She is self-reliant, or at least becomes so by the time she returns to Kansas. She manages a band of outcasts. She stands up to the Wicked Witch, and responds to her wickedness with a flash of anger, ultimately leading to the witch’s demise. She rids the world of her wickedness, and indirectly improves the lives of all its inhabitants, especially her three close friends. She cultivates a type of independence and conviction that she can take back to Kansas, apply, and become a strong woman one day.

As a child watching The Wizard of Oz, I was not very partial to Dorothy’s character. Looking back on the movie now after reading the book, my feelings toward MGM’s Dorothy feel even more concrete. She was a typical American farm girl: sweet, innocent and somewhat mindless. She seems older than Baum’s Dorothy, yet acts less maturely. She cries and sings much more often than speaking her intelligent thoughts. Even when she defeats the witch, it is less out of anger and conviction than a reflex to the witch’s holding fire so close to the scarecrow.

I am not sure if the movie characterized Dorothy so differently, or if the choice of actress (though I do love Judy Garland) just made her seem so much older than in the book that her innocence became annoying. Either way, I think that MGM did not do the character of Dorothy justice. They took an entertaining and somewhat inspiring young girl, and turned her into an overly naïve, immature teen.

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