LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Can Pooh Influence Children to Binge Eat?

A. A. Milne’s characters of The World of Pooh, which include Christopher Robin and his animal toy friends, represent different disorders.  Can these disorders really be read into these characters and can they affect the children who read about them?

The book of Winnie-the-Pooh is structured in such a way that at points the narrator is talking to a Christopher Robin and then telling stories about Christopher Robin.  I thought this was interesting and imitative of real life—adults telling their children stories that include their children as characters.  However, is this potentially a way to prime schizophrenia and delusions in a child?

Christopher Robin lives a multi-faceted life in A. A. Milne’s book, and all of the talking animals have exaggerated traits.  Pooh is a bear who loves to eat and cannot control his habits.  In Chapter VI “Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents” Pooh plans to give Eeyore a pot of honey but gets hungry along the way to Eeyore so he eats it.  Then afterwards he realizes he ate Eeeyore’s present.  Pooh is constantly hungry, and he can’t control his habits surrounding food and hunger.  Is Pooh an allegory for an eating disorder?

The rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang also seem to exhibit other DSM-worthy diagnoses.   Piglet is constantly battling his own cowardice, stuttering, and afraid of many things.  Owl is always thinking of what story of his own to tell next, displaying his superiority of knowledge, and just talking over others and to others without caring if the listener even cares.  Eeyore is gloomy and pessimistic and hardly ever happy.  He can also be angry and sees all the faults in people and situations.  Rabbit expresses always needing to be in control of situations and being the leader.  He has to have things done in a certain way, and he tries to make other characters at time conform to what he wants them to be, such as when he didn’t want Kanga and Roo in the Hundred Acre Wood causing change or Tigger to be so bouncy.  Tigger himself bounces from one idea to the other and is quite energetic to the point where he can’t control it.  The animated versions of these characters also play on these exaggerated traits epitomizing them.

Christoper Robin.  Schizophrenia.  Pooh.  Eating Disorder.  Piglet.  General Anxiety Disorder.  Owl.  Narcissism.  Eeyore.  Depression.  Rabbit.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Tigger.  Attenion Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Do these characters represent these disorders and then influence children in a way that may prime them for the disorders and cause them to imitate them?

I believe that in literature and TV and all other forms of media, traits are normally exaggerated for entertainment’s sake.  It does not mean that the general masses will all of a sudden experience these disorders because a favorite character does.  Granted, children may imitate these disorders, but psychology has researched them enough to show that for most disorders a genetic priming is also a factor.  Environment is also a factor.  Eating disorders, for example, will not come about because of one instance of a bear character exhibiting it.  First, animal characters are not human characters, so children are less likely to want to “be” them, and second, one character from childhood is almost insignificant in the sea of parenting and media that may actually really cause an eating disorder.  A cute, fat, yellow bear’s influence is almost nothing when compared to the models in magazines and commercials and the advertisements that flood our children’s and our own vision everyday.

I also believe that creative works of art, such as literature, can be interpreted however the reader chooses to so if the reader does not notice or choose to see these characters as allegorical representations of mental disorders, then they will not influence the reader as such.  If parents do not present them as so to their children, then there is less of an opportunity for the children to see the characters that way.  I do not think that The World of Pooh and its characters are harmful to their child consumers.

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Nature Does a Body Good: The Impact of Environment in The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre

In The Secret Garden, the theme of the environment and its effects on the characters is very prevalent. Because of this, it seems that Frances Hodgson Burnett was influenced in some ways by Jane Eyre. At the beginning of the story, Mary is a selfish, spoiled child. This attributed to the absence of her parents and the environment that she grows up in. India, which Burnett makes clear is a less than ideal place, is described as yellow, hot, and humid. The servants cater to her every need because they fear they will be condemned for not entertaining her whims and be a bother to the parents.

Jane walking on the moors (Jane Eyre 2011 movie)

Jane walking on the moors (Jane Eyre 2011 movie)

The children playing in the secret garden

The children playing in the secret garden








Similarly, Jane Eyre has absent parents (she is orphaned) and yet the servants and her only family treat her harshly and ignore her for the most part. Both Jane and Mary are considered to be ugly children who behave terribly and spend very limited time outside. One could argue that they both misbehave because they are a product of their indoor environments. Yet when each character is removed from their destructive environments—Mary back to idyllic England and  Jane far, far away from Gateshead—they are exposed to the outdoors and the wonders of the moors, which does much to improve their persons. Mary begins to love and care for others after she arrives at Misselthwaite Manor, and her appearance and health improve drastically thanks to the openness of England’s moors. In Jane Eyre, when Jane flees from Thornfield Hall, she finds a brief safe haven with its natural resources. Likewise, Colin finds healing in the secret garden and Mr. Rochester finds peace at the remote Ferndean Manor (located deep in a forest away from society). The Victorians were very in favor of gardens and the many varieties of plants (thanks in part to Romantic and scientific interest in nature and biology), and yet they discouraged any real, long-term interaction with the wilderness and it seems that Burnett embraces that ideal. The great outdoors provides healing and escape for the characters of both The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre.

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Origin Mythology in Children’s Stories

     I have always thought it was really interesting to read about the origin of the world or explanations of phenomena that does not match today’s scientific facts and theories.  In the Water-Babies, the reader was exposed to an alternate state of life and what life was like “under the sea.”  In Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens the explanation for where babies come is that they are born first as birds on an island of birds and then fly to their future homes to become babies.  This explanation is just as valid as the stork baby story when adults make up untrue explanations for children.  I’m not sure why adults seem keen on telling children more fantastical and unreal versions of the truth, as we have learned in class through reading Golden Age literature and specific cases like Lewis Carroll entertaining children with enchanting lies, but they do.  These lies become stories, and these stories go on to be published works.

An example of one of these quite interesting stories is the explanation for fossils in Five Children and It.  The Psammead, the wish-granting sand fairy, imparts a lot of “historical” knowledge to the children who find him.  The Psammead is several thousand years old and supposedly from the time of Pterodactyls and Megatheriums, the time of dinosaurs.  Apparently he used to grant wishes for Megatheriums to be eaten, but whatever of them was not eaten by sunset would turn to stone.  This applies for any wish that produces an object.  As soon as the sun sets, it turns to stone.  Thus, this story implies that the dinosaur remains, fossils, we find today are the results of, for lack of a better term, wish leftovers.


I delight in this kind of pseudo-mythology in literature, and I wonder why this form of fiction is popular and frequently embedded in novels and stories.  I mentioned before that I am not sure why adults enjoy these kinds of “re-tellings,” but they do provide a source of entertainment.  Adults constantly lie to children about life—babies coming from storks, fairies, the Boogie man, and most notorious, Santa Claus.  If we think back, a lot of these fantasy elements have been used over time to protect children and direct their behavior, such as Santa Claus watching over all children in order to reward the good ones with presents on Christmas, and this helps to make children behave properly more often.  However, what benefit or advantage does this fake history of fossils told by the Psammead have?

I believe that these fake histories provide background for the story.  If the Psammead had no “concrete” history and was just a mysterious being, it lops him into a group of flat characters.  Histories, even fake ones, flesh out characters and even if the genre is fiction, make the characters seem more genuine and real, with real not necessarily meaning as from our reality.

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Why We Love Five Children and It

It is safe to say that we all, at the very least, have enjoyed our reading of Nesbit’s Five Children and It. As we discussed in class, there may be an argument that Nesbit’s treasure chest of ideas were savaged from other writers’ works, and therefore may be perceived as “unoriginal.” Whether or not someone comes to this conclusion, Five Children and It remains a fun-filled children’s story structured with moral-encompassing instances and situations, all intertwined with adventure and imagination; broadly speaking, this is why we love and enjoy Nesbit’s story so much, but there are a plentiful more reasons why.

What this book does good at — if not best — is constructing one’s intolerance for wishes. Just about every wish the children make ends up putting them in troublesome circumstances in which they then must find ways of hiding or suppressing the wished items, which is necessary in preventing very real consequences such as jail time, death, starvation, etc. By the end of the story, the reader — like our heroines — is exhausted due to the children’s constant struggle to cover up the unintended results of their wishes (all while dealing with having to stay fed). In a genre of fiction where a child would dream of being submerged in a reality where some one/two/three wishes have the possibility of being granted, ‘wish granting’ in Five Children and It becomes one’s seemingly worst nightmare, thus Nesbit does well in suppressing the reader’s tendencies of wishful thinking.wishing

The ‘consequences associated with wishing’ is a successful lesson to be learned in Nesbit’s story, and it is the main motif that the story builds upon, thus allowing the development of the children’s many adventures (inevitably providing for a some 200-page story). But what this motif further offers us are underlying values, such as the importance of family (as seen in the instance where the Lamb is suddenly wanted by everybody, and is nearly kidnapped from his siblings on several occasions — if it had not been for their smart thinking; the children soon realize how important their brother is to them in hindsight to his ever being lost) and further the value in necessity over greed (as demonstrated when the children seek beauty, riches, and wings, among other things, and then suffer in the absence of food; nutrition being the most fundamental, vital, and important item for their well-being — rather than unnecessary items of greed).


Therefore, it is not just the adventures in Five Children and It that we love and enjoy so much, it is also the building upon (or the learning experiences surrounding) these central morals.

Nevertheless, it is the adventures that we first and foremost love, wouldn’t you agree? And how wonderful they are! Mighty appealing to any child, I might add: the unorthodox inclusion of a monster-like fur-ball-of-a-fairy that speaks perfect English and once lived in the dinosaur age; the children’s becoming as beautiful as the day, but then going unnoticed by all those closest to them; their becoming rich with money that the townspeople, as they later learn, are unlikely to accept in transaction — also arising suspicions that could put them in jail; the children’s being granted beautiful wings and flying over rooftops only to fall victim to hunger and winding up stuck atop a church after losing their wings to the sunset; their defending a home-made castle from an invasion of colorful medieval warriors brandishing an assortment of deadly sharp weapons; Robert’s becoming of a giant and joining a fair as to make a short-lived profit — then having to devise a plan with Cyril in order to escape unharmed and unnoticed due to the giant-magic diminishing at sunset; and so on and so forth.


What makes this so appealing to a children audience?

Primarily, the very ambiguity, excitement, and thrill associated with the aspect of adventure. Also, the reader’s relatability and connection with the text (in this case, a child audience).

A child is neither completely good nor completely bad, which is quite evident in the characters of our heroines who exhibit thoughts, feelings, and emotions on both sides of the spectrum. Nesbit’s perception of a child is much different to that of the Victorian ‘ideal’ child; Nesbit details a more realistic version of the child — a common literary practice in the Edwardian period that begins (roughly) in the year 1901; it so happens to be that Five Children and It was first published the year after, in 1902, thus it could be argued that Nesbit had set the stone for (or aided in the development of) the Edwardian-Era image of the child.

With that said, the child reader is more likely to relate to our heroines if the characters are, in fact, actual (rather than perceived) children, increasing the legitimacy of the story — as if the story itself was written by a child. And as I noted above, a child is at most only ‘mostly good,’ and the adventures that entail our (cunning) heroines who, like actual children, steal, lie, sugar-coat, manipulate, fight, and escape trouble, among many other things, become believable in the sense that their involvement in fantastical matters are almost overlooked because they, themselves, are not the least bit made up. As we discussed in class, Nesbit gives fantasy a realistic reality by including close-to-home places and conventions of society; this, combined with the presence of ‘actual’ children rather than the ‘ideal’, makes this story evermore believable — enjoyable — to a child audience. When fantasy is made every effort to be written as believable, we, the readers, are more likely to submerge ourselves into the framework of the story, and forget most — if not all — of our knowledge of reality. Isn’t this why we read books in the first place? For an escape of  reality with characters and places we can relate to on an emotional, relatable level? This holds true even for the child reader of a children’s book.

child reading

There are perhaps a hundred or more reasons I could formulate as to why Five Children and It is such an enjoyable read to all who come across it. Personally, and quite obviously, I have enjoyed this book very much so, and I am privileged to have been given this opportunity to discover its many morals and adventures, and to behold the most realistic portrayal of children I have seen yet. I will, most certainly, be reading this to my children one distant and delightful day.

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Why the Feral Child Obsession?

What is a feral child?  The dictionary defines this as a child  who is in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication.  Now while there are unfortunate real life examples of children who have been believed to exhibit feral qualities as we discussed in class, I will not be going into that here.  Instead I’d like to ask the question, why have we as humans had such a cultural, and ultimately literary obsession, with the idea of the feral child?

If you really think about it, this fantastical idea of the feral child goes back many centuries, with one of the earliest examples being the legend of twin babies Romulus and Remus.  These brothers were abandoned in the wild, but rescued, fed and raised by a she-wolf.  These brothers went on to supposedly found the city of Rome.  Moreover, this specific legend made its way into the cultural imagination, especially through art but also through literature.

Examples from the Fine Arts:

This is a piece of Etruscan sculpture of a she wolf, “The Capitoline Wolf”, however the small babies were actually added centuries later during the Renaissance.

In an illuminated manuscript

Romulus and Remus being given shelter by Faustulus the Shepherd, painted by Pietro da Cortona

Another depiction, this time from Peter Paul Rubens

These artistic depictions fall right into place with Rousseau’s ideas of the “natural child” and the Victorian obsession with the feral child, in that they depict these utterly angelic children, pure, clean and out in the wild as though it was the most natural thing for them to be doing; in fact as though this was actually the healthiest for them.  Of course, in reality, if in fact Romulus and Remus did exist, and were raised by a wolf, these depictions would have been very far from the truth, they would have most likely been very dirty, covered with scratches, and far from pure angelic forms.  It is interesting to note, that in each of these images where the shepherd is actually depicted, there is always slight tension created, either through shading and lighting, or in bodily movement, that creates an uneasiness in the viewer as if we should be questioning whether their “rescue” by the shepherd is indeed not a horrible event taking them away from the tranquility and beauty of nature.

And just as this story infused itself into the artistic imagination, this legend, and the idea of the feral child raised by wolves, has evolved and progressed through history, melting it’s way into all sorts of stories, flooding the literary imagination.  This topic was explored last summer, at the Children’s Literature Association Conference, during one of the talks that I really found intriguing by Professor Debra Mitts-Smith titled: Raising the Man’s Cubs: The Slipperiness of Otherness in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mowgli Stories”, Angela Carter’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Maryrose Wood’s The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.  Professor Mitts-Smith drew on the ideas of the feral child and how they have manifested themselves in literature, especially in children’s literature.  She explored the way that the feral child raised by wolves manifests itself in the four texts from her talk’s title, stemming from the traditional and idealized Victorian feral child in the figure of Mowgli to the parody like quality of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place* to the updated and postmodern feel of The Graveyard Book **, and finally with one text that is not actually  for children, but which takes the complete opposite approach coming from a more raw, grotestque and utlimately realistic look at the feral child in Carter’s short story Peter and the Wolf.

Jerry Pinkney’s cover for The Jungle Book

(Second book in the series, but I just thought this one was perfect what with the children climbing over soldiers and biting his leg)

Thus, the feral child proves to be a fascinating trope to look at culturally throughout history, especially as it manifests itself in art, but perhaps even more curiously in children’s books, where the lines between human and animal are sometimes blurred and can be taken in sometimes fascinating, sometimes humorous and sometimes horrendous directions.


I’ll end with asking you to watch the book trailers for The Graveyard Book and The Incorrigible Children, enjoy!



*This book, actually series, is new with the next installment coming out this September, and it plays on the tropes and voice of classic Victorian children’s books and centers on the mishaps a young governess faces in dealing with three siblings that were found in the woods, presumed to be raised by wolves, and the books are just wondeful, hilarious and beautifully written.  (Here’s a link to my review of the audiobooks, click here . I definitely recommend these books!)

**Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, is specifically inspired by The Jungle Book, and involves a child that is orphaned after his family is murdered and then he wanders (actually crawls) into a cemetery and is raised by the ghosts that “live” there.

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Nothing Gold Can Stay


  Both Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and Looking Glass Land are enchanting, nonsensical places.  Yet throughout the Alice stories, Carroll hints at the fleeting, temporary nature of their existence.  Nothing in these fantasy worlds is ever permanent.  The rules of logic at play are always changing.  At one moment, it makes perfect sense to knock on a door to a house in order to be let in by the frog footman; in the next, knocking on the door is a ridiculous notion which will get you nowhere at all.  And once one travels through the looking glass, things morph and change at the drop of a hat with no attempt made at an explanation, not even an illogical one.  These occurrences are frustrating to Alice, who is used to the rigid, dependable order of the real world, but she does come to appreciate these lands for what they are.  By the end of her first adventure, she has developed a bit of a soft spot for Wonderland. In the final chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been” (Carroll 142).  In her childlike state of mind, Alice concludes that these dreamlands are really quite wonderful places after all.
As nice as Alice finds these dreamlands to be, Carroll ends each of his stories in the same way- Alice awakens from her dream.  She is not allowed to stay in Wonderland or beyond the looking glass forever; she is forced to return to her day-to-day life.  Carroll too could not remain a permanent inhabitant of Wonderland, nor could the real Alice Liddell.  In the poems which begin and end each tale, readers are exposed to this melancholy truth.
The poem which prefaces Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tells the tale of origin of the story which is about to unfold.  Carroll sets his tale “All in the golden afternoon,” which is a fleeting time.  A golden afternoon calls to mind something lovely and pleasant, bordering on perfection.  But no afternoon lasts forever; each one ends with the setting of the sun and the closing of the day.  Within this brief window of time “grew the tale of Wonderland.”  Carroll is aware of the fact that Wonderland is itself allowed a brief window and so closes the poem by pleading “Alice! A childish story take, / And, with a gentle hand, / Lay it where childhood’s dreams are twined / In Memory’s mystic band.”  It is only through the child taking hold of the story and gifting it a place of honor within their memory that it can continue on its golden state.  Within memory, the world cannot touch it and make it less than it was.
In the opening poem of Through the Looking Glass, Carroll tells of “A tale begun in other days, / When summers suns were glowing / … Whose echoes live in memory yet. / Through envious years would say ‘forget.’”  So he feels that the precious tale of Wonderland has been preserved, although “envious years” are urging a maturing child to leave it behind- “Without, the frost, the blinding snow, / The storm-wind’s moody madness- / Within, the firelight’s ruddy glow / And childhood’s nest of gladness.”  The world outside of memory is bombarding the inner child to snuff “the firelight’s ruddy glow.”  But Carroll does not imply that the child surrenders to the attack.  In the poem which closes Through the Looking Glass, he admits that “Long has paled that sunny sky: / Echoes fade and memories die; / Autumn frosts have slain July” but insinuates that the inhabitants of Wonderland have not ceased to exist, for “In a Wonderland they lie, / Dreaming as the days go by, / Dreaming as the summers die / … Ever drifting down the stream- / Lingering in the golden gleam.” Something or someone is still lingering in the soft light of that golden afternoon.  Be that Alice, Carroll, or the reader, it does not matter much.  What matters is only that someone has managed to hold onto that golden quality which slips away so easily.
Many years after the publication of the Alice stories, Robert Frost published a poem, entitled “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

This poem is an embodiment of the essence of the golden afternoon when Wonderland was created.  It was wonderful, but inevitably could not last.  The golden afternoon subsided to evening, just as “dawn goes down to day.”  Presumably, Alice herself was subject to this cycle as well.  She grew up and had to move on or awaken from the nonsensical fantasy lands of Carroll’s invention.  Carroll is not in denial of the demands of reality, but still proposes a solution: to hold onto anything golden, one must tuck it safely away within the protective walls of nostalgic memory.

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The Role Chess Plays in Through the Looking-Glass


In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice has barely aged since her last escapades in Wonderland took place. She was born into rich Victorian family, thus solidifying her nobility as a character. I feel that it is important to mention her circumstances because chess is a game that was played by royalty. There are many instances in antiquity in which people play a chess match against Death as a symbol of Fate. This appears to be the case in Through the Looking-Glass.  Alice starts off as a pawn in this new portal existence and she is surrounded by a set of heavily-structured guidelines, much different than her previous experiences. When Alice is a pawn, she is naive and has little knowledge and control over what to do, as she is unfamiliar with this game, even though she is predestined to be a queen, the best piece. Her movements to become a queen happen with great success, but only because she is helped by other circumstances. This new world is divided into chess squares, which are indicated by crossing over a brook or stream, and each time Alice successfully crosses over a square, she gets closer to her goal. Any time Alice lands on the same row as another character, she is interacting with them in some way.  Throughout the text, the characters act in accordance to their corresponding pieces. The Queens go all over the board, which speaks to how powerful they are. The knights falling off of their horses symbolize an L-shaped move which a knight piece does in chess. The Kings are usually cautious and tend not to move very often.


This whole idea of chess serves as a metaphor for two different points. It points toward the idea that Fate is a predetermined notion and that individuals are guided not by themselves but by exterior forces. Alice has no sense of freedom of thought because she is constantly surrounded by heavily enforced rules and structure. Chess also serves as a metaphor for the maturation or evolution of Alice. Even though she stays the same age throughout the text, her language and attitude change and she becomes more woman-like as she goes up the ranks. When she successfully overtakes the Red Queen, thereby checkmating the Red King, she becomes the best piece and wakes up from her dream.


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Alice’s Existence in Wonderland


The world known as Wonderland created by Lewis Carroll for his novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is a place where many things do not make sense. Wonderland is a fantasy world that is completely different from our own, where nonsense actually makes plenty of sense and animals have the ability to speak. Undoubtedly, the average person setting foot in such a place would be absolutely baffled by its inhabitants and their surroundings. Thus, the average person would be considered an outsider or out of place if they were one day pulled out of their own world and thrown into Wonderland. Alice is a perfect example of a character that does not belong in Wonderland. She is constantly confused by the new customs introduced to her with every Wonderland inhabitant she meets and often tries to “correct” them by incorporating her own customs. Therefore, in order to understand the absurdity in this eccentric world, the reader needs a guide or, more specifically, a character that should not exist in Wonderland.

Although one can infer that Alice is aware that she does not belong in Wonderland, she still attempts to fit in by communicating with the inhabitants of Wonderland. Unfortunately for Alice, most of the times she tries to talk with the Wonderland inhabitants they ignore her or are too focused on something else to pay any attention to her. One could make a direct connection of Alice’s attempts to communicate with the Wonderland characters to a child attempting to speak to her parents, sit amongst adults, or try to join in on a conversation with a group. Alice fears losing her existence and in one instance literally believes she would disappear by shrinking rapidly. After a “narrow escape” she finds herself still in existence after shrinking to a miniature size.


Like Alice, children often want to feel like their opinion matters and at least belong to a group. Unfortunately, like most characters in Wonderland’s responses to Alice, she is shrugged off and ignored which in turn makes her feel like they do not belong. For example, the White Rabbit is the first character Alice encounters and the one who constantly ignores her because being punctual is way more important than talking to a strange little girl. Eventually, Alice is finally acknowledged by the White Rabbit and is given a mission. He practically orders her to fetch him a pair of white gloves and a fan from his house, but this notion allows Alice have a role in Wonderland.

The customs introduced in Wonderland are more than absurd and ridiculous to Alice who has already grown habituated to the customs of her own world. She attempts to accentuate her role in Wonderland by pointing out the flaws in their customs and makes attempts to teach them the “right way” to do it. There really is not much of a debate when it comes to imploring your argument, but the Wonderland characters tend to ignore or at times find an absurd excuse to justify their way of being. If Alice truly wanted to exist among the people of Wonderland she would most likely accept their customs and perhaps act more like them. However, one can argue that Alice’s purpose in Wonderland is not to become one of them, but to show the nonsensical world through the eyes of an average little girl. Therefore, it can be inferred that once Alice acknowledges that she does not belong in Wonderland, she is wakes up in her own world. The conclusion of the novel, Alice returns to the average life where she will one day grow to become a woman with a loving heart.


The Nonsenical and the Sentimental Canon

Just like Alice, the reader always gets swept away into Wonderland. The nonsensical and bizarre details of what we find there are exactly the things that make us want read it over again and pass on to our own children. In class, we were asked the big question: why the nonsense? For the most part, it contributes to the active imagination that we encourage in children. It is often said that a child’s imagination knows no bounds. Fantastical stories tend to be favored because they also provide a sense of escape from reality and Wonderland is that perfect escape. Things may not make perfect sense and everything may appear be topsy-turvy, but that’s exactly why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass exist and remain in the sentimental canon. Their popularity has survived so long because they don’t contain the sort of rigidity and seriousness that overcomes a children’s story when the author draws so much attention to state a moral, such as in The Water Babies. Though there may be violent acts present, it’s nothing like the violence we see in Pinocchio or even some of the classic fairy tales. Since Charles Dodgson’s first telling of the story to bored young girls, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was meant for amusement and entertainment. The nonsense is so creative and outlandish that no other book else can quite compare.


Illustration by Bessie Pease Gutmann, one of the few illustrators to depict Alice as a brunette, as opposed to the traditional blonde.

Illustration by Bessie Pease Gutmann, one of the few illustrators to depict Alice as a brunette, as opposed to the traditional blonde.

As it has been passed down through the years in the sentimental canon, we have come to see proof that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is also timeless, as it has maintained such popularity over time. The hints we get of Alice’s life outside Wonderland is what every child continues to goes through. Both Alice and children today have lessons to learn, time to grow, and plenty of time to enjoy their childhood (“let children be children”). Children are and always will be curious.


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Why I Do Not Consider The Water-Babies a Work of Children’s Literature


It is well-documented that Charles Kingsley wrote The Water-Babies for his youngest son in 1863. While one of his goals was to instill a moral theme, the Golden Rule, for his child to abide by, I, for one, do not think that children should be the intended audience for this text. I feel this way because the text is rife with contradictions and assumptions. The majority of children are unable to garner the true meaning of this text by simply reading the words.

Contradiction seems to be the most observable theme of this text. While it causes chaos from the reader’s end, it is only stabilized by the very neutrality of Tom’s character. There are contradictions of evolution versus Christianity, and influences of good and evil, all of which are complete oppositions. The contradictions presented are more subtextual than overt. For example, the whole world of “water-babies” can be interpreted as a metaphor for an afterlife, yet within the afterlife, the creatures are subjects to evolution. I, for one, do not believe religion and science can coexist because they challenge each other.   Also, Mr. Grimes, Tom’s master, is a malicious figure who seems to indoctrinate Tom with a sense of “evil is right”. However, while Tom’s mind is still malleable, he encounters the Irishwoman, an amalgamation of different characters in one, who represents themes of goodness and purity. These ‘lessons’ are subjected to Tom, who is a perfect example of a tabula rasa, a blank slate, because his unique upbringing caused him to be a perfectly unadulterated figure.


Kingsley takes a very unusual and questionable position in this text. He assumes that the reader is ‘untouched’ and liberated from ‘commitment’.  That’s very rare to find at his time period, because most children are indoctrinated, in a sense,  to be committed to some ideology, mostly Christianity.  For example, as he narrates the story, he speculates about mere existence. He mentions that anything conceivable that is not visible or tangible, cannot be dismissed or that it cannot be contrary to Nature.  Judging solely off this, it seems as if this text was perfectly written for an Agnostic, which practically a very infinitesimal amount of children are aware of that word or the meaning of it. While I strongly agree that children are very efficient at questioning, they are incapable of deep introspection and contemplation of lifelong questions.


It is because of Kingsley’s wide use of contradiction and assumption, that this text cannot be classified as children’s literature.  While I appreciate the equal level of deliverance of Christianity versus evolution, I feel that both are subjects that are more appropriate for a certain maturity for appropriate contemplation and evaluation. This text seems very thought-provoking for an adolescent or adult because of the grander meaning of the text instead of what is physically written. That is why I feel this text is best classified under speculative fiction, because of its combinatorial essence of scientific elements and supernatural aspects.