LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Peter Pan Stories: Appropriate for Children Today?

From the Disney adaptation of “Peter Pan”

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and, later, Peter and Wendy both present the well-known tales of Peter Pan, the boy protagonist and hero who never grew up.  His story is arguably one of the most famous of the ones we’ve discussed in the class thus far and has really made a large impact on our society.  These stories were huge successes not only at the time that they were published but perhaps even more so in our contemporary society through several adaptations.  However, as we are well-aware, time changes as well as ideologies and the mainstream society’s views on different things, and it calls to the forefront the question of whether or not this text is still suitable for children today.   I believe that this is a question worth further examining.

I feel that there are many points in the text that are worth questioning, such as Peter’s explicit disregard for reality, the fact that he essentially kidnaps other children from their homes to take them to another land, and the troublesome adventures that often lead the characters to danger and sometimes near-death.  In today’s society, where the protection of children is at the forefront of national media and parents are fearful of letting their children wander outside without supervision, these legal and parental guardians may not want their children learning the stories of other children who were whisked off and away via flight to Neverland, where they could battle pirates and crocodiles with the somewhat poorly influential new boy.   However, with these little concerns put to the side, I think that the bigger picture can be looked at that this is one of the most influential and entertaining stories ever written for children.

This text provides something that many others do not—the glorification of what childhood actually is.  J. M. Barrie suffered from several mental, physical, and emotional hindrances, which led him to live in a childlike state for the entirety of his life.  He wrote these stories as an outlet to provide himself a means of living vicariously through his main character in order to preserve the beauty of childhood.  I think that any reader can find this through his words and learn to love the purity and adventure that comes with childhood.  The Peter Pan stories are essentially a glorification of childhood and the craziness and entertainment that can come with allowing yourself to venture off to a newly created world in your imagination.  I don’t believe that parents should worry as much about their children trying to fly off to other worlds and should instead focus on the building of their children’s imaginations.  Childhood essentially only comes once for us, and we need to relish in it.  I think that these stories really allow us to do so.  While it is probably not suitable to live variously through the characters to the extreme that J. M. Barrie did, I do not believe that there is any harm in allowing any individual of any age in any era to read these stories and be led to their own vision of Neverland for a new and exciting adventure.

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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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Peter Pan: Appropriate for Children Today?

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J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan or Peter Pan and Wendy has been classified as a children’s novel during its initial release, however, for contemporary readers it can be read by young adults. Most children would recognize the character of Peter Pan through the animated Disney films and the wide variety of film adaptations of the novel. The novel during the time was undoubtedly considered a novel for children despite the violent scenes and dark undertones. For children today it may be a little too much for them to handle, especially with the rise of parental concern and censorship. Children ranging for ages 5-9 would probably be better off watching the interactive animated show, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, which is based on the Peter Pan franchise. Once a child is a little older and less sheltered they may be allowed to read the original novel considering it still provides elements and themes a child would love.

Some portions in the novel that may concern some parents may include the actions and personalities of some of the characters. For example, there is a location in Never Land known as Mermaid’s Lagoon where mermaids sing songs to entice and attract potential victims in which they then drown for their own amusement. Then we have the notorious Captain Hook, who dedicates his life to get revenge on Peter Pan for literally cutting his right hand off and feeding it to a crocodile. To a child today, they would most likely view Hook as the obligatory antagonist whose sole purpose is to oppose the hero, Peter Pan. However, there is more to Hook than just the character with the role of the dastardly villain, in fact he can be interpreted as an intimidating adult who is obsessed with finding and killing a mere child. If the hook for a right hand was not enough, the pirate seems to have psychopathic tendencies throughout the novel. Although it may be an exaggeration, Hook may be too scary of a character for young children considering he is not a comedic buffoon as his Disney animated film counterpart. He even attempts to kill Peter Pan by switching his medicine with poison. Moreover, if Hook is not a nightmare inducing character for a young child then perhaps being devoured alive by a crocodile would seal the deal.

Aside from some dark moments in the novel, the overall story is perfect for any child who has a sense of adventure. Considering Peter Pan and Wendy was initially in the form of a play, the novel incorporates some interaction between the characters and the readers. Children are able to relate to these characters or at times even look up to them as possible influences. Barrie’s writing style compliments the interests of many young readers and it can be certain that contemporary young readers would get the same feel from the novel as children did throughout the early 20th century. In fact, the novel can be read by both male and female readers as it includes elements of action, adventure, and a small hint of romance. Overall, Peter Pan and Wendy can be an interesting read for a contemporary younger audience; however, perhaps those under the age of 8 may have to wait a little longer to get a better grasp of the novel and handle some of the dark themes that were acceptable during the Golden Age of literature.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Its Emphasis on Consumption

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Caterpillar from Disney’s rendition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been regarded a sensation since its publishing in 1865 and is often revered as the the work that began the genre we know as Children’s Literature today. Though the tale is whimsical and lighthearted, it involves some materials that adults, especially parents, may find inappropriate. One may recall the hookah smoking caterpillar sitting atop a mushroom that causes Alice some trouble, eventually causing her to question her own identity. During her encounter with the caterpillar, she is advised to consume a bit of the mushroom to adjust her size, as she remarked her size was constantly changing and not appropriate for her journey. This consumption of mushrooms may be referring to hallucinogenic mushrooms.

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A scene from the Disney film also described in Carroll’s original tale 

The novel is centered around the phenomenon of consumption, whether it be drugs, food, or drink. Such explicit mention of drug use makes the tale seem inappropriate for children. It is often rumored that Lewis Carroll himself was under the influence of hallucinogens or psychedelics, perhaps LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), during his authorship of the work. Many of the drug references come directly from Disney’s film version of the book rather than Carroll’s original work on which the movie is based; the film includes more substance abuse than the children’s book, including a walrus smoking cigars and bizarre scenes that depict characteristic behavior of drug abuse such as Alice’s encounter with the talking flowers and the rapid changing from night to day.  For this reason, it is rumored that each character represents a certain drug, much like it is rumored that each character in Winnie the Pooh represents a personality disorder. tumblr_lc4edpi17I1qas2h4o1_500Alice in Wonderland is often associated with drug abuse, with many referring to Alice’s adventures as an “acid trip.”  Popular culture’s obsession with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has become a cult-like practice in which each character or scene is associated with a different substance, though this is ironic because the work, in addition to the film, was clearly intended for children yet so heavily loaded with drugs.

 

Here are some other images associating characters with drugs:

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Pinocchio as a Comedy and a Tragedy: Is it Appropriate for Children Today?

Ann Lawson Lucas, the translator and author of the introduction and notes in The Adventures of Pinocchio, described the essence of the novel perfectly when she aptly stated, “In Pinocchio, the emphasis is on comedy, yet tragedy is present to a significant degree.  These adventures entail danger, fear, loss and grief, and there is a great deal of death in the book.  …Pinocchio is about growing up.” (Pgs. xli-xlii)  I whole heartedly agree with this assertion and this summation of the story Carlo Collodi weaved about the misadventures and life lessons of this little wooden boy, Pinocchio deals with very adult issues that are not sugar-coated nor masked, though they are occasionally softened by the silliness of talking animals or growing noses.  When attempting to discern the appropriate age this text should be recommended for it is extremely difficult because even though the problems the novel addresses and the plot twists it takes can very justly be considered ‘adult’, they are also arguably a fundamental part of growing up and learning how to, through literature, deal with problems and plot twists of life – something that I believe is essential for young readers.

     Pinocchio kills a talking cricket who comes to haunt him as a ghost, he finds a fellow child when he is lost in the woods who claims she is dead, he suffers starvation, imprisonment, and being hung, he discovers the tombstone of his closest friend, he is blamed for the murder of a fellow school mate, Pinocchio is almost eaten, he witnesses his father’s drowning, sees his best friend-turned-donkey labored to death, and he has to work extremely hard to financially support his ill father as well as the gravely ill fairy/mother figure he has come to love.  This is more than one person should or could even bear in a lifetime yet Pinocchio endures all of this in just a few short years.  As we follow and suffer with him the many misfortunes and tragedies Pinocchio experiences there are times that even I thought, this is too much, too far, and not for kids, but yet, simultaneously I understood the lessons Collodi was trying to impart upon the intended readers and I also acknowledge how very valuable it is to learn, through our little wooden puppet, how to deal with life and death, to learn that lying leads to trouble, and “those children who rebel against their parents…will never do well in this world, and sooner or later they will bitterly regret what they did.” (Pg. 12)

Ann Lawson Lucas helped to bridge the gap that history has made between the reading of this book by children in 1883 and today, and the different life experiences that shaped and influenced the novel Collodi has written.  She says,

“A century ago death was a commonplace of every day life, Collodi had ample experience of it himself, especially among his siblings and through the early death of his father.  Perhaps the deaths and griefs in Pinocchio were a way of confronting children’s worst fears.  Although shocking and unpalatable to modern taste, they have an important function in the balance of the narrative: the joy is more joyous because of the survival through the experience of sorrow, and conversely the story is constantly pulled back from frivolity by the depth of serious emotion evoked.” (Pg. xlii)

http://eliminatedleaves.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pinocho.jpg     I agree, though the story is fantastical and fraught with silliness and surprising circumstances, it addresses very real issues, issues that may not be as present in the life of children today, but regardless, everyone in their lifetime will experience death, every child will be tempted by their own version of the “Land of Toys”, every child will tell a lie or misbehave, and they will witness or endure poverty.  Though the delivery of these life lessons and experiences by Collodi may not be as softened, or palatable, as readers might expect or be accustomed to today, many of the themes and teachings in The Adventures of Pinocchio still endure in contemporary culture.  The website GoodReads, a place for book sharing, reviewing, and recommending, rated Pinnochio for those ages five and up and though I can’t see many parent wanting their five year old to read, “They strung him up to dangle from the branch of a big tree…He had no breath left to say anything else.  He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, straightened his legs and, giving a great shudder, hung there as if frozen stiff, “ right before bed I still would agree with this rating. (Pg. 48)  Pinocchio is unapologetically a story that is both comedy and tragedy, it is, as Glauco Cambon described it in Pinocchio and the Problem of Children’s Literature, a book that “has to do with the education of a child, both through the traditional humanist instrument of classroom and books and through the school of hard knocks.” (Cambon, Pg. 54)

In short, Pinocchio is about growing up, which all children have to do one day.

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