LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Winnie-the-Pooh and Disney’s Influence

A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh has definitely been largely incorporated into popular culture. From television shows, films, video games, plays, and of course, the Disney adaption, millions of people around the world love Winnie and his friends of Hundred Acre Wood. Milne’s story has been translated into many languages. In fact, the Latin translation, Winnie ille Pu, became the only Latin book to have ever been placed on the New York Times Best Seller List. The work remains a very important piece of children’s literature, and Pooh really is an iconic, fictional character loved by both little kids and adults internationally.

What undoubtedly plays a huge role in the popularity and success of Winnie-the-Pooh today is Walt Disney’s adaptation to the book. Disney gained rights to Milne’s story in 1961. Disney originally produced a series of cartoon based from the Milne’s Pooh chronicles. Disney used illustrations from Stephen Slesinger, and these animations are now characterized as the “Classic Pooh.” In addition to these cartoons, Disney released multiple films and introduced the new character of Gopher. Disney has also produced multiple animated series and even aired a TV puppet show. Another movie, Winnie the Pooh, was released as recently as 2011. There are as many as eight films based on Milne’s book, and stars in five television series. Clearly, this story and Disney’s adaptations have remained a very prominent part of today’s popular culture.

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In my opinion, my most significant encounters of Winnie-the-Pooh come from Disneyworld itself. As a young girl, I remember visiting Magic Kingdom and just adoring this loveable bear. Apparently I am not alone as Pooh is the second most requested Disney character next to Mickey Mouse. He has his own park ride dedicated to him in Magic Kingdom. In 2006, Pooh even received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It very evident that Disney’s adaption of Milne’s original story has greatly influenced the presence and love of Winnie-the-Pooh in today’s society. Here is the link to the Disney website devoted to Pooh.

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Winnie-the-Pooh in Popular Culture

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Is it without second thought to realize that Winnie-the-Pooh has been a well-known piece of work for nearly a century. It has revolutionized the entire genre of children’s novels, that authors have striven to emulate and should strive to emulate. In fact, this text has had such a huge, positive impact on the world that it has had a great deal of adaptations, including: theatre, audio, radio, film, and television. I would like to expand on all of these subsections of popular culture.

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In terms of theatre, there have been two plays adapted from the original text, one called “Winnie-the-Pooh at the Guild Theatre” in 1931, and more recently one called “Bother! The Brain of Pooh” in 1986, which was a one-man show, which is pretty interesting. In terms of audio,  Pooh stories were read in different decades by many different people, including: Maurice Evans,  Peter Dennis, and, David Benedictus. In two different instances, famous celebrities, Carol Channing and Stephen Fry both were involved with Winnie-the-Pooh. In terms of radio, Winnie-the-Pooh was debuted in England almost 7 years before it was debuted in the United States.

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In terms of film, Disney has had a number of adaptations, which were divided into theatrical featurettes and full-length theatrical features, the former being short films, that had varying success. The Soviet Union also had film adaptations, and made a trilogy. The aspect that is interesting about the Soviets, is that unlike Disney, the animation team made a new look for every character, and did not base their ideas on illustrations of Shepard. They played close attention to the original work by Milne, and utilize specific characteristics representative of the characters’ personalities that Disney neglected to do. In terms of television, Winnie-the-Pooh was separated into television shows, Holiday TV specials, direct-to-video shorts, and direct-to-video features.

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25 Books Ever Kid Should Have on Their Bookshelf

Any of these titles look familiar? What do you think of the list?

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The Secret Garden: Appropriate for Children Today?

The Secret Garden is a novel that focuses on the differences between India and England, expressing that children need to be raised in a good environment in order to become well-behaved children and experience a childhood. It is a book that focuses on the beauty and healing properties of the natural world, but is it appropriate for children to be reading, today?


On one hand, The Secret Garden encourages the reader to step outside, enjoy the fresh air, and explore the beauty of one’s garden. It entices the reader to watch life blossom before one’s eyes, and educates the reader on the basics of gardening. Considering how technology has given children plenty of entertainment and distraction, in doors, I feel that this book would be worth reading to a child, in hopes of helping that child step outside and explore the possibilities of imagination and free play. While the book fails to teach a child how to imagine a new world within one’s head, considering Mary does not possess such faculties, it does show a child that the mere act of skipping rope can be worth pursuing. As a result, perhaps children of today should be reading this, due to the fact that it exposes them to a world that they may not have previously thought was worth venturing into.
On the other hand, The Secret Garden expresses several negative thoughts about the vibrant and beautiful culture and country of India, which increases the potential for racism and closed mindedness about the exotic world. The Secret Garden expresses that India is a sandy country, that is too hot for activities, and is full of ‘blacks’ who are expected to serve Europeans. Considering how diverse the population of America is, today, such messages may be ill-received by families of foreign nationality, and may only lead to more reasons for bullying between Caucasians and other ethnicities. It is possible that, should the child pick up on such propaganda within the book, a caucasian child might believe that individuals of a darker skin type are meant to treat him or her as a superior, and may resulting treat those children as inferior. Such messages pave the way for segregation and discrimination, so one must wonder if it is worth the risk.
Is it better to read the book, in order to encourage children to explore the great outdoors, or should this book be saved for when children are old enough to understand that the messages in the book about class and race are from an earlier era?

 

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Collective Unity and the Hardboiled Detective

In a paper entitled “Philip Marlowe, Family Man”, Wesley Beal draws ideas of family and its relationship to work from the interactions of Philip Marlowe – a hardboiled detective created by Raymond Chandler – and the dysfunctional families he encounters.

From what I understood of his argument, Wesley describes crime-fiction as the “modern” – this particular character and style were popular in the 1930s and 40s – expression of 19th century sentimentalism and its tension between work and family. Specifically, Wesley tracks Marlowe’s interaction with a family called the Sternwoods.

The Sternwood family is generally described to be the definition of dysfunction; murders, blackmail, cover-ups, name it and they have probably done it. Interestingly enough however, while individually terrible people, they almost constantly have each others’ backs. In fact, all of their energy goes into protecting the collective unit. Wesley argues that this devotion to the collective whole acts as a pulling force on the protagonist and – even though it is a messed up bunch – begins to transform Marlowe from an outsider to a surrogate filial member of the family.

Marlowe, like any good hardboiled detective from his genre’s era, is more comfortable being on his own than part of a family. In Chandler’s stories, Marlowe suppresses his desires for family and social connection in order to more fully embrace what he feels is a necessary separation to operate effectively as . Unfortunately for him, his suppressed desires are inevitably dragged to the surface as he becomes more emotionally invested in working with the Sternwoods, particularly the father.

While the family’s dedication to a unified front is a strong symbol for collective unity, Wesley argues that the historical context is a more motivated to target this idea and weaken it. The target audience – based on Wesley’s analysis of the ads – is immigrant families; essentially, his argument is that these families come into America with a strong collective family idea and are presented with stories about increasingly dysfunctional families to weaken those bonds. By attacking these bonds, these families become more adjusted to the individualistic capitalist ideals more common in America in that era.

In his increasingly difficult dealing with the Sternwood family, Marlowe becomes more and more part of their collective unit, at times identifying himself with “we” and “us” when referring to the family. This makes it all the more difficult to maintain his hardboiled facade. Chandler has to develop his character while maintaining the essential tension of the genre between alienation and the desire to belong. In the end, he leaves the Sternwoods after one of the daughters tries to kill him and he solves the murder and its cover-up in the family.

Marlowe’s ideas of family become harder and harder to achieve in his continuing adventures; the Sternwood family is simply one family in a line of progressively devolving families reeking of dysfunction and loaded with problems. As his adventures continue, and as each family he encounters is worse than the last, Marlowe’s desire for family becomes easier to manage as it is deferred further and further along his personal timeline.

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Racial Tensions in Peter Pan Adaptations: Then and Now

J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan has endured in the hearts of both children and adults since he first appeared in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Though this character has served as a classic symbol for childhood and children’s literature, he also indicates a much more racist period in culture and history.

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“The Great White Father” was the working title of the original play by J.M. Barrie. This references racist elements of the story Peter Pan and Wendy and of Peter’s character. Though the play’s producer ultimately rejected this title, the term “redskin,” borrowed from United States racial jargon, was still used in the play to specify indigenous populations. The way that Barrie depicts the indigenous characters, too, denotes stereotypically savage behavior of an aggressive tribe out to wreak havoc on the Lost Boys, a group of young white children, when they think the Boys snatched the chief’s daughter.

Interestingly enough, it seems that more recent adaptations have sought to address and correct such blatantly racist implications. The 2003 film adaptation Peter Pan provides one example of this. In the original book and play (and most adaptations) the characters Wendy and Tiger Lily often stand in direct contrast. Even though they are both women, and depicted as weaker than Peter, Wendy is presented as stronger and more intelligent than Tiger Lily, her indigenous counterpart. Tiger Lily, on the other hand, is very helpless and has hardly anything (intelligent or otherwise) to say. In Peter Pan (2003), however, Tiger Lily, played by an Iroquois actress, does not play into this earlier established stereotype. Instead, she is depicted as a fiery, defiant young lady, who stands her ground against Captain Hook. She even contrasts her original damsel-in-distress depiction and actively saves John Darling from a band of pirates.

While there are racial tensions that will never be able to be completely taken out of Peter Pan adaptations without changing the story, recent adaptations, such as 2003’s Peter Pan successfully combats some of the racial prejudices illustrates in Barrie’s original book and play.

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There’s a New Crib in Town

In the chapter of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens entitled “Lock-Out Time,”  Peter Pan remembers that once upon a time he had a mother who loved him very much, and he longs to go back to her.  But when he finally makes the decision to return to his mother forever and be “her boy,” it is too late; she has moved on and replaced him with another child.  Peter is devastated, and returns to his new home in Kensington Gardens, where he is happy, but forever haunted by the experience of being replaced.  During his encounter with Maimie, Peter feels guilty when asking her to stay with him in the gardens forever because she thinks she will be able to go back to her mother whenever she pleases and her mother will be waiting there for her, but Peter is finally forced to admit that, in his experience, this is not the case.  Maimie, terrified that her mother has already found a replacement for her, hurriedly leaves the gardens and Peter behind, in order to avoid the trauma of Peter’s life.
Although the extent to which Peter Pan is replaced is not experienced by most children and Maimie’s fears of immediate replacement are a bit irrational, the narrator acknowledges that many of us are familiar with the unsettling experience of a new addition to the family.  In the story, this is explained as “in fairy families, the youngest is always chief person, and usually becomes a prince or princess; and children remember this, and think it must be so among humans also, and that is why they are often made uneasy when they come upon their mother furtively putting new frills on the bassinet” (Barrie 33).  Children like to be special.  They like to be the center of attention, and enjoy being a novelty.  When their position is threatened, kids tend to get nervous.
This theme, or fact of life, has been taken on by many writers since Barrie.  Many modern books for young children take on this conundrum in a very straightforward, didactic manner, such as in Stan and Jan Berenstain’s The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby, one of many in the popular Berenstain Bears series.  Marc Brown’s Arthur the Aardvark, another popular children’s book character, also goes through this life adjustment in Arthur’s Baby.  In both of these books, the only child, who is soon to become a big brother, becomes both inquisitive and apprehensive about the arrival of their new baby sister.  In the end, however, this authors assuage the child’s fears and present the addition of the new baby as a new and exciting thing.

                   
It’s not just young children who have to adjust to a new baby in the family.  In today’s culture, many parents have to deal with their pets’ reactions to tiny humans.  Walt Disney explored this idea in the feature film, Lady and the Tramp. When Lady, a spoiled cocker spaniel, learns that her masters are expecting a baby, she’s curious, but excited.  However, her other dog pals expose her to what a new baby will really mean- she’ll be chained out in the yard for the rest of her days, with no more naps by the fire and no more curling up at the foot of the bed.  (See video below)

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As popular culture testifies, the addition of a new baby to the family is a timeless issue, which generation after generation of children (and pets) must come to terms with.

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Peter Pan in Popular Culture: An Icon for Children and Adults

Though many children and adults may not be familiar with the exact story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, most are definitely aware of the character of Peter Pan. Regardless of what inspired J. M. Barrie to create this ageless boy, it is clear that Peter Pan has become a popular figure worldwide.

However, a comparison between how the original character is described with how he is depicted in popular culture today suggests that Peter Pan has taken a completely different role in modern society. Barrie writes that the original Peter “escaped from being a human when he was seven days old” and that the reason he stopped being able to fly was because “he had lost faith.”  This is quite different from modern depictions of Peter Pan, who is famously seen in the 1953 Disney movie Peter Pan as forever twelve, wearing the hallmark green outfit, and being able to fly thanks to his trusty fairy sidekick, Tinkerbell. Though these are considerable differences, the real question to answer is how Disney’s Peter Pan has become a completely different character with different meanings in modern society.

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Though the increased popularity of the Peter Pan clad in green may be attributed to the availability and novelty of the animated film, I believe that his role as an icon can be credited to several other factors. The infant Peter Pan in Barrie’s novel was a realistic portrayal of the devilish side of children that the Victorian era denied. Being a rough and rowdy boy with the only intention of playing, having fun, and staying young forever was a testament to how real young boys acted. However, the Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens can be most favorably directed to exact that: young boys.

The modern day idea of Peter Pan taken from popular culture’s Disney film encompasses a much broader audience with present day themes. Specifically, both children and adults, male and female, find themselves associating with this Peter Pan icon. First of all, most can agree that it is easier to relate to a twelve year old on the brink of puberty than an infant of seven days. Second, he is actively portrayed as a lovable boy and a symbol of the younger years where adult responsibilities had not yet taken over. He is used as an icon of the freedom of childhood, and even commercialized for children. This can be seen in the popular brand of peanut butter named after this character. Furthermore, while Barrie’s original story contains themes of gender roles, popular culture expresses the character of Peter Pan with more acceptance to all children. These features are what make the modern character of Peter Pan more available to everyone, and also the icon of childhood.

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Altogether, Barrie’s character Peter Pan has become an icon of childhood in the modern day. His portrayal is often linked to freedom, fun, and a nostalgic glimpse of childhood but is definitely remembered for these positive elements and not for the truth behind Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens where Peter would have liked to become a real boy again but was replaced and so was exiled to childhood forever. While some could argue if the modern day Peter Pan icon is a sign of disrespect to the author, the only concrete truth is that Peter Pan is kept alive in the minds of young and old as the boy who will never grow up.

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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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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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