LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Cock-a-doodle-doo: Peter’s crowing throughout “Peter and Wendy”

Peter Pan. Now isn’t he the little charmer. Oh sorry, I meant self-satisfied, cocky jerk. While this quality of overwhelming arrogance isn’t exactly uncommon in eternal beings (looking at you Zeus!) it seems to be Peter’s defining characteristic. While reading the book I was struck by how pleased with himself Peter seems. He’s never shy to brag about his achievements; even if he’s technically taking credit for someone else’s work Peter will still crow away. And then it hit me: crowed. How many times throughout Peter and Wendy was the term “crow” or some variant of that used to show Peter exulting over his own brilliance? And was it used solely for when he is bragging?

A Peter Pan face character at Disney

The first time Peter crows occurs on page 90 just after Wendy has sewed his shadow back on. He immediately has forgotten that it was Wendy who solved his predicament. “How clever I am,’ he crowed rapturously, ‘oh, the cleverness of me!” Ignoring the fact that he sounds exactly like that kid back in elementary school who would brag about getting an A on the first multiplication test, and we all knew that kid, I think it is very interesting that the first use of this term “crowed” occurs with Peter taking credit for someone else’s actions.

On page 125 the Lost Boys hear Peter crow twice to announce his return to Neverland. While this at first seems to be a simple greeting when Peter talks to the boys a few lines later he questions why they have not cheered about his homecoming. Thus the crow was used to cue the adoration of the Lost Boys, further stoking Peter’s ego, and when it was not forthcoming Peter was piqued.

On page 144 Wendy has clearly come to understand Peter’s need to exult over his achievements because after he has tricked the pirates into releasing Tiger Lily she thinks: “…she knew that he would be elated also and very likely crow,” and she quickly covers his mouth before it can escape. It is later revealed on this page that while Peter may have wished to crow in excitement and pride over his latest victory over the pirates he instead whistles in surprise due to Captain Hook arriving. It’s interesting that Wendy, who has only known Peter for a short time, is able to recognize when he will boast so maybe we can imagine that in the time the narrator has skipped Wendy witnessed many other crowing episodes.

Soon after the last instance Peter is goaded by Captain Hook and the pirates to reveal himself as the alternate Hook. He gleefully cackles at them as they continue to “guess” his identity incorrectly until finally: “Can’t guess, can’t guess,’ crowed Peter. ‘Do you give it up?” Peter’s pride and cockiness brings him to reveal himself to Hook and the pirates, which leads to him and Wendy almost dying.

Peter Pan, you cocky jerk.

On page 155 Peter has been saved by the Never bird, who gave up her floating nest so that he wouldn’t drown. When Peter moves her eggs to a watertight hat the Never bird “screamed her admiration of him; and, alas, Peter crowed his agreement with her.”  So once again the term crowed is linked with Peter bragging about himself.

On page 197 the Lost boys and the pirates hear “a crowing sound” come from the cabin on the pirate ship. The Lost boys recognize it as Peter exulting over his latest victory of killing Jukes.

Again on page 198 they hear the crow sound after Peter kills another pirate in the cabin

On page 200 Peter has made his way from the cabin to the deck of the ship where he releases Wendy. After she is safe he took her place at the mast and then “he took a great breath and crowed.” Here he is again using the crow to announce his presence but also to brag about how he has outwitted the pirates by killing two of them and letting loose their captives right under their noses.

On page 222 Wendy says that Peter’s last words to her were “Just always be waiting for me, and then some night you will hear me crowing.” Again the crow is used as a greeting but also it shows Peter’s arrogance that Wendy should always wait for him and some night, it could be any night at all, he’ll show up again.

On page 223 Wendy, now a mother herself (for real this time), hears a crow come from the nursery where her daughter Jane is supposedly sleeping.

The final crow of the book is on page 225 when Wendy returns to the nursery to find Peter “sitting on the bedpost crowing gloriously, while Jane in her nighty was flying round the room in solemn ecstasy.” The crow has come full circle now except I believe there is a big difference between the first and last use of the term. While they both take place in the same nursery the first use is after Peter takes credit for someone else’s cleverness. The last time, in my opinion, is both an exultation over his cleverness in teaching Jane how to fly but also for Jane’s success. He is pleased with himself but also pleased to see Jane so happy to see her enjoying flying so much.

So there you have it: throughout the novel Peter was a crowing machine, it was how he bragged about his achievements and also how he would ask for recognition of his accomplishments. I like this use of crow because while it does capture the image of Peter laughing or screaming uproariously over his cleverness it also hearkens back to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens when Peter was just a baby who used to be a bird.

Please click HERE for an awesome example of Peter crowing, courtesy a face character at Disney!

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Pinocchio: Characterizations in Book and Disney Film

The original poster to the Disney film.

The original poster to the Disney film.

When the media behemoth known as Disney decides to adapt a story for modern audiences, the staff involved usually edits the material to make it more accessible and child-friendly. In the case of the classic book The Adventures of Pinocchio, Walt Disney and his crew changed the presentations of the characters in a number of ways. Although many people may take these changes at face value, I find it more interesting to analyze the reasons why certain changes in particular characters exist, most notably in our titular protagonist.

Disney: making odd children's books more accessible since the early 1900's!

Disney: making odd children’s books more accessible since the early 1900’s!

Collodi’s and Disney’s characterizations of Pinocchio differ in subtle ways. In the classic novel, Pinocchio can be see as the quintessential  petulant child in that he constantly makes mistakes, diverges from his instructions, and treats his authority figures with indirect contempt. Even though he affirms to himself that he will follow the instructions of his father and the blue fairy, he almost always gives into temptation and disobeys them. This character trait parallels the Disney version of Pinocchio, who succumbs to the same temptations; however, the Disney Pinocchio displays much more innocence than the book version. Disney’s Pinocchio lacks basic knowledge of human nature and is fooled repeatedly by the fox and the cat, which can be attributed to his naivety. Collodi’s Pinocchio, although also lacking knowledge, disobeys his superiors much more often than the Disney Pinocchio and even treats his father badly at time. When Pinocchio first meets his father in the book, he insults him and gives little respect for the fact that he created him. This lack of respect becomes a recurring theme early in the book, especially when Pinocchio sells the ABC book his father gave to him, which he paid for by selling off his only coat. The Disney Pinocchio loves his father tremendously and never purposely insults him nor abuses him, which adds more to Disney’s characterization of an innocent but naive Pinocchio. On a more aesthetic level, the book Pinocchio is often presented in a creepy, realistic fashion in illustrations, while the Disney Pinocchio is much more anthropomorphized and looks almost like a normal little boy.

The illustrations of the book Pinocchio are a tad creepy…

Why does Disney characterize Pinocchio as an innocent, naive boy while the original character displays much more insensitivity? I think the answer lies in a cultural shift. When the book was published, nearly almost all of books for children were created primarily to teach lessons and give children examples of morality. Although Disney’s film still recognizes and demonstrates the same basic lessons, the idea of entertaining the audience is much more prevalent. If Pinocchio had remained as rude as he was in the novel, audiences probably would not have responded well and ignored the film. By giving Pinocchio a more child-like innocence and cuteness, Disney has not only given children a character to relate to but also one that parents can sympathize with and adore. Although Collodi’s message may be subdued, Disney’s adaptation reflects a much better understanding of what appeals to both parents and children.

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Pinocchio the Jackass

Symbolism of the Donkey

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Collodi’s version of Pinocchio is an obvious attempt to teach young boys, or children in general, how to be good, but the severe punishments are atypical to techniques used in many other children’s literature stories of the time. One particular punishment Pinocchio endures that puzzled me was his transformation into a donkey. Why a donkey? Why did the author choose this animal over others? What traits or characteristics does the donkey possess that would parallel the wrongs of the boys?

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In Italy, where the original tale was written, the donkey symbolized stupidity or lack of use of the brain. Depicted in the tale as well as the most recent Disney adaptation, the place where children go to escape is intended to bring out idiotic behaviors or to “make jackasses out of the boys.” In the tale, the children literally turn into jackasses (another name for donkey) when they reach a certain level of stupidity or when enough time has passed so that it is unlikely the children will ever recommit to their studies.

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Donkeys also can depict laziness, which mirrors the boy’s actions in this chapter of the story. In this case, the donkey symbolizes the desire to not do anything productive but to spend time playing and avoiding responsibilities.

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In the 1940 Disney film, you can see the degree to which the “curse” transforms the boys due to level of idiocy, mischievous behaviors, or the level of inherent “jackassness” depicted by the individual. The boys who were not as ill mannered kept their voices for longer or transformed at a later date all together. Those who were good in their heart and core were unaffected, such as the cricket in the Disney film whom spent a long period of time in the play land but was not affected at all. This condition of the transformation implies that the transformation was only intended to bring out what is already underneath the surface. No jackass will be displayed if one is not already a jackass by personality (clever Collodi.)

This relates back to Collodi’s underlying impression of little boys in general: they are all jackasses at some level, but some are more than others. The transformation of boys to donkeys in Pinocchio is meant to externalize the boys’ inner character.

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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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Fairy Tales and Disney Tales: the Goblin known as Walt

The Princess and the Goblin is an interesting progression for fairy tales as the idea of a female protagonist is not only represented in this text, but the story also implores the idea that the other main characters who greatly affect this story’s development are also women. In class, we were able to spend an ample amount of time highlighting the qualities of five women who demonstrated their influence on the story. Coincidentally enough, this movie, not created though the somewhat less than imaginative mind of Walt Disney, was not very popular with audiences, such as Beauty and the Beast, which was also produced in the same yearWhat does this say about the power that Disney holds over popular culture regarding how an animated fairy tale should be viewed and critiqued? Walt Disney is anything but the model for feminism and as a result, the criticism regarding his chauvinistic tendencies in practically every one of his movies becomes more of a focus even decades after his death.

While I cannot argue that Mr. Disney did not find merit in the fairy tale of Princess Irene, it can be demonstrated through his inability of focusing on strong female protagonists and his display of women in his films, that he could have possibly been deterred from producing a film that was centered on women. In The Princess and the Goblin, the King is absent for majority of the book, and the only other real strong male character is Curdie, who while helps save the Princess, is only a supporting character to the illustrious Irene.

When the movie of The Princess and the Goblin came out in 1991, it was competing with the Disney classic film, Beauty and the Beastand we all know how that turned out. Princess Irene got lost in the castle along with poor Chip in the cupboard and was hardly a thought in the realm of Belle and the Beast.

The author of The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald, was beginning a new focus of fairy tales, which included women in a more commanding role; however, as Jack Zipes wrote in his piece Breaking the Disney Spell, Disney has a way of “chang[ing] [fairy tales] completely to suit his tastes and beliefs” (Zipes, 347). Zipes specifically looks at how Disney portrayed the film version of Snow White, but much of what he says applies to practically every movie that deals with a Disney princess. In the Grimms’ version of Snow White there is “the sentimental death of [Snow White’s] mother”, however this just so happens to be left out of Mr. Disney’s portrayal of the film (Zipes, 347). Instead, his story centered on the romance with the Prince, who of course enters on a white horse as Snow’s very own prince charming. Snow White lies lifeless in the end of the film until this man can come rescue her. As Zipes states concisely, the “film follows the classic ‘sexist’ narrative about the framing of women’s lives through a male discourse” (Zipes, 348). “Despite [the] beauty and charm” of the princesses in Disney’s films, “these figures are pale and pathetic compared to the more active and demonic characters in the film” (Zipes 349).

Princess Irene does not fill this archetype of the domestic woman, whose motive is purely as an accessory to a man. She is strong-willed, independent, and uses her title as princess to implore power, rather than subservience. Why then was the film of her journey unfavorable? The answer to this question is certainly perplexing, and unfortunately, I am not sure I will find the answer any time soon. But I feel I am more hopeful than most in thinking that as a society we will all be able to fight back against the patriarchal goblin that Disney has created in order to demonstrate a more balanced approach to the contributions of both women and men in fairy-tales.

 

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Brave: Gender Equality

The Princess and the Goblins made me think of one of my new favorite Disney movies, Brave. This book and movie illustrate princesses in a different way than they have previously been seen; they seem to show gender equality. In many of the Disney movies, we see the typical princess that is beautiful and portrays the characteristics of a loveable young woman; and this same thing is seen in books about princesses. They seem to portray the characteristics that were typical of women during that time; however, Brave is illustrating the need for gender equality when it comes to women. The need for gender equality is definitely seen in the famous Disney princesses movies (this is hard for me to say because I real love the Disney princesses); these princesses makes you wonder what does true equality look life for a female character in a fairly-tale world? This same question came to mind when reading The Princess and the Goblins.

Brave seems to be the first Disney movie that shows some type of equality when it comes to that of men and women. Taking place in Ancient Scotland, the film tells the story of a teenage girl named Merida who is not your typical Disney princess. Merida is adventurous, a skilled archer, sword fighter, athletic, independent; which are all qualities that goes against her being a princess. She is just as wild as her younger brothers are. The movie, Brave, allows Merida to find her own identity; she likes to sew but she also likes archery and swordsmanship. These likes show the embracing of tomboyishhness characteristics among young girls.

 

Meridabrave

Irene and Merida both want to be independent and love adventures; they both want to break away from the things that are expected of them because they are princesses. Irene and Merida show want little girls can become if they are allowed to truly find themselves and be the individuals that they want to. Just because they are not the typical princesses, do not mean that they are not good and respectable princesses.

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Fairy Tales and Alternative Families

In studying fairy tales, there is certainly no lack of revealing and fascinating themes to discuss. Both culturally informative and literarily significant, fairy tales provide ample fodder for academic discussion of their text.

Of all of these themes, however, the one that most stands out to me is the recurring representation of alternative family members (particularly stepparents) as evil or intentionally harmful. Stepmothers in tend to me presented as antagonists, directly working against the protagonist in the central conflict of the story. Often, it is a young princess who is the victim of her stepmother’s wickedness; from “Snow White” to “Cinderella”, across geographically and culturally divergent interpretations, princesses battle with their fathers’ spouses for life and love.

This trend is one that presents a very telling trepidation and resentment towards replacement parents. Not only are the portrayals of stepparents incriminating of the parental figures themselves, but also they criticize the “natural” parents for their passivity, poor choice in mate, and failure to protect their own children. Far from merely an indictment of the struggles a child goes through in readjusting to a new family, fairy tales with this strain of commentary indict both stepparent and parent as falling short in parental responsibilities.

Another very interesting aspect to the stepparent trend in fairy tales is the way that Disney films (and other modern retellings) do not edify this particular unpleasant aspect. While details of violence and certainly of sexuality have been largely eliminated for a more child-appropriate audience, stepparents, even in modern versions of stories, maintain their vilified roles and evil agendas. In a modern age where the concept of “family” is in constant evolution, and a traditional nuclear structure is increasingly rare, it is remarkable that these figures are still positioned as intruders and wrongdoers. While sexuality is censored and violence tailored, it is still acceptable to treat alternative family solutions as harbingers of doom.

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Tale as old as time

A tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme.”Beauty and the Beast” does indeed seem to have been a part of human culture for hundreds of years, whether you’re looking at the ancient story of “Cupid and Psyche” or the beloved Disney film. But why has this story survived so long and in fact become an ingrained part of our culture? At its basis the story follows the path of having a lovely youth be taken into the possession of something Other. Then they are eventually married and depending on the version they either live happily ever after or the youth is in some way separated from their beloved. Not exactly a complicated plot but maybe its beauty lies in its simplicity. Every girl can imagine the horror of being forced to marry, or even just date, someone they don’t like and this lets the story become relatable by reflecting that fear and showing how it can be false. The story endears itself by allowing the reader to put themselves into the shoes of the beauty and have them overcome this fear alongside the beauty. At least on one front this may explain the continued success of “Beauty and the Beast” but is it still portrayed this way in popular culture?

The most widely recognized version of “Beauty and the Beast” is by far the animated film by Disney. This film features a plucky young girl who’s longing for adventure is only matched by her love for reading. Belle, through a series of mishaps, seeks out her father at the Beast’s castle and trades away her life for his, keeping with Mme. de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast”. There Belle and the Beast slowly build a friendship and to the hope of the cast of household furniture the beginnings of love. Let’s be honest though, a guy gives you sweet library like that, what can you do?

Seriously, sign me up.

So they start crushing on each other a bit when Belle is forced to leave to go to her sick father’s side. Then a few more mishaps occur to Belle, her father, and the Beast due to Disney’s addition of a villain, Gaston,  an arrogant man whom once spurned by Belle now seeks to… kill the beast and win Belle’s hand? Get more horns for decorating purposes? Oh well, what’s a fairy tale without a good villain? The Beast is stabbed by Gaston who then plummets to his death while Belle professes her love to the Beast. This love then saves him and allows him to transform back to human form. So Belle and the Prince formerly known as Beast are presumably married and live happily ever after.

“Beauty and the Beast” is also thriving on TV. The CW’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a crime drama where Beauty is a detective at the New York Police Department named Catherine and the beast is a soldier from Afghanistan named Vincent. Vincent is experimented on by the US government in their quest to create the super soldier. This experiment backfires and makes him beastly. You can find the trailer for this show here. Catherine witnessed her mother’s murder by criminals who then attempted to murder her but instead she is saved by what Catherine describes as a Beast. And so their relationship begins. Throughout the show’s first season Vincent and Catherine have a  tense relationship on the brink of romance while Catherine also solves crimes using the information Vincent gathers. The show doesn’t follow the classic Mme. de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast” but it does involve a young beauty who looks past the monstrous qualities of a man to see his true self. As the show continues it will be interesting how they continue to handle the fairy tale concept.

This story has also been retold numerous times in books, such as Beastly by Alex Flinn and Robin Mckinley has done multiple retellings titled Rose Daughter and Beauty.  Beastly tells “Beauty and the Beast” through the eyes of the Beast from his cursing to his salvation. Beastly was also adapted into a movie. Robin McKinley’s novels tell the tale in a very similar way to Mme. de Beaumont with some modification and elaboration. McKinley really fleshes out the characters and I appreciated that the two sisters were more than an evil plot device and instead were individual women with pride and imperfections. Also her version of Beauty was no longer an annoyingly perfect girl with more virtue than anyone one person should have; she has a personality and ideas, no longer accepting her fate because that’s apparently how you prove your love in fairy tales. Personally I liked Rose Daughter the best of these three versions but they all provide an interesting take on the classic fairy tale.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

“Beauty and the Beast” is an extremely popular story that has been engraved on the hearts of hundreds and hundreds of people, whether it was their love for one of the original versions of the tale or that Belle and her Beast captured their hearts. It has been retold and re-imagined countless times. Here I barely even scratched the surface of influence in pop culture but it does give you some idea of how varied it’s reach is. I’ll leave you with the most recent reference to it that I can think of:  Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beat”, a play on words that may not actually have anything to do with the fairy tale but I think it’s entertaining to see how these stories can be bent and changed to suit our society and culture.

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