LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

So Long, Farewell

Throughout both Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, Milne repeatedly draws attention to the comings and goings of the characters from the Hundred Acre Woods. This is especially true in regards to Christopher Robin.  Christopher Robin is admired by the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.  He is an authoritative figure, seen as the voice of reason in any dilemma.  His character is portrayed as more intelligent than his animal companions.  When Pooh is trying to pass as a rain cloud in order to steal some honey away from the bees and asks Christopher Robin to go home and get his umbrella, then walk around underneath proclaiming that it looks like rain, Christopher Robin laughs to himself because he knows that this is a nonsensical idea.  However, out of fondness for Pooh, he does it anyway.  In addition to helping get his friends out of their individual misadventures, Christopher Robin also serves as a mediator between the animals.  When Owl’s house is destroyed by the storm and he is about to move into Piglet’s house, Piglet is at a loss. What is he going to do? It is Christopher Robin who steps in to smooth things out and prompts that Piglet should live with Pooh.

Christopher Robin’s identity as the authority, the problem solver, and the peacemaker set him up as an idealized child.  No child is ever really like that, at least, not all the time.  So Milne has created in Christopher Robin the ideal child who is always looking out for his friends.  It is in viewing him as the ideal child that the preoccupation with his leaving is significant.  The World of Pooh is a very nostalgic tale.  Milne was writing long after the other Golden Age authors and was in a way regressing back to that time when this sort of whimsical, carefree writing was popular.  Milne was trying to hold onto a time that had passed.  Christopher Robin’s character is like that time for the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.  When he isn’t around, things go amiss.  Eeyore’s house is stolen by Piglet and Pooh (with good intentions of course),  Pooh and Piglet get stuck in the gravel pit while trying to catch a Heffalump, and Tigger gets stuck up a tree.  Without his guiding presence, the forest enters a state of chaos.

The point arrives, of course, when Christopher Robin’s presence starts to fade.  When Pooh first realizes that Christopher Robin is often unavailable in the morning time, he is a bit dismayed and, try as he might, he cannot provide Rabbit with a satisfactory explanation of where Christopher Robin might be between the hours of eleven and twelve.  In the last chapter, when it comes out that Christopher Robin will be going away, all of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood know that, from now on, things are going to be different and Christopher Robin implores Pooh that even though he must go away, Pooh must not forget him.  He must move into the next phase of his life, and Pooh and his friends are losing their idyllic child friend.  But they are the embodiment of his childhood, and they will continue on, just as they are, even though he cannot.  So although it is troubling to be losing Christopher Robin, he will never really be gone, because our idealized memories stick with us.

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The Secret Garden and the Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden is said to be where God created the first humans, Adam and Eve, and they lived there until the “Fall.” During the time of the Fall, God cast Adam and Eve out of Eden for eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, which they had originally been forbidden to do.

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The Garden of Eden is linked to the secret garden when Martha tells Mary the story of Mistress Craven and the garden’s history. Martha tells Mary of the lovely and peaceful times that Master and Mistress Craven spent within the garden together. These divine times came to an end with the literal “fall” of Mistress Craven, or when she fell out of a tree and to her death in the garden. After this fall, Master Craven banished himself from the garden and locked it up, so that no one could enter, as Mistress Craven’s death had tainted the beauty and sanctity of the garden. This parallels how Adam and Eve’s (less literal, more figurative) Fall caused them to be banished from the Garden of Eden by God.

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Later on, Mary and Dickon reenter the garden together. For them, the garden represents a paradise of beauty and innocence, much like the Garden of Eden and the secret garden originally did for the Master and Mistress Craven. In the garden, the children develop and experience an exceptionally intimate relationship with God. They work to rejuvenate the garden together and seem to become “Adam and Eve,” returning to the garden to right what had been wrong there. The motif of the Garden of Eden adds another dimension to The Secret Garden, and allows the audience another perspective on and another window into the events that take place in the story and, more specifically, in the secret garden itself.

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Real and Imagined Spaces: The Role of Ekphrasis in The Secret Garden

I read The Secret Garden for the first time two years ago, once on my own and then again shortly after with my little brother.  I had seen the film when I was little but had never read the actual book.  During the summer that I first read the book, I had just finished reading Jane Eyre and I could not help but see the many parallels between the two texts.  However, perhaps surprisingly, the one that stood out the most was the integral role that art and illustration play in both stories.  And not specifically physical illustrations on the pages, like the ones I’ve included hear by Inga Moore, but instead works of art and illustration that are describes via words throughout the novels.  This literary tool, usually used to describe a work of art or illustration with words, is known as ekphrasis coming from the Greek word meaning “description”.  Moreover, ekphrasis is, according to the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, an “intense pictorial description of an object…a virtuosic description of physical reality in order to evoke an image in the mind’s eye as intense as if the described object were actually before the reader” (252).

With ekphrasis in mind, we turn to The Secret Garden, where art and illustration play an important role in determining the real and imagined spaces that the characters, especially Mary and Colin, inhabit.  In a way, the descriptions and importance of paintings, mostly portraits, and illustrations work in a similar vein to windows and doors, as thresholds for the characters to go between.  As I read the text again for this class, I started paying more pointed attention to wear ekphrasis surfaces and kept a running list.  I’ll be giving some of these examples throughout this post, so let’s look at what role this actually plays; why is it important?  For both Mary and Colin, painted, imagined spaces serve as a form of reality for them.  Colin for example has never really left his room.  His windows are shut, and he has no access to the outside world, to “reality”.  Instead, he contents himself, or at least survives, by pouring over illustrated picture books, in which perhaps he imagines himself living out the fictional escapades of heroes within or at least taking strolls through beautiful landscapes.  He also has the portrait, often covered up, of his mother when she was a child.  She serves as his constant “human” companion, with his nurse and maid coming in and out every once in a while. Emphasizing the fact that Colin often lives in an imaginative world, is his first encounter with Mary in which he has a hard time believing that she is even real: ” ‘Who are you?,’ he said…’Are you a ghost?…You are real aren’t you?…I have such real dreams very often.  You might be one of them.’ (74). So for Colin, the imagined,dreamlike, painted space is his reality.

Dickon, on the other hand, is the complete opposite.  He is always out in the open, always out in the real world.  We can infer that he has little contact with paintings or illustrated texts.  However his imagination thrives off of reality.  In his wanderings through the real world out on the moors, instead of a dark, gloomy, stuffy room, he takes on a sort of mystical nature.  He talks with the animals, he plays a pipe, and has a magical quality.  So unlike Colin who has to use his imagination to create his reality, Dickon uses his reality to form his imagination.  And where does Mary stand in all of this? Mary seems to be the fusion of both worlds, of an imagined reality and a reality fed by imagination.  When she first comes to Misselthwaite Manor, Mary has interesting and somewhat intimate and gloomy encounters with the portraits around the house. For example when Mary first enters the home, Burnett provides us with this description: “The entrance door… opened into an enormous hall, which was so dimly lighted that the faces in the portraits on the wall and the figures in the suits of armor made Mary feel that she did not want to look at them.  As she stood on the stone floor she looked a very small, odd little black figure, and she felt as small and lost and odd as she looked” (15).  Right away, we get a sense that Mary has some sort of strange relation with the works of art in this home, they are given an animation, a real life-like quality, as if the faces in the portraits are real people, looking at and judging Mary.  These gloomy, old portraits seem to follow Mary everywhere, and as readers we get the sense that these portraits take on a realistic, human nature, they aren’t just paintings, they are these characters that fill the house.  Another important moment is the description of Mary wandering through the house passing “hundreds of rooms with closed doors” (33) that goes as follows: “There were doors and doors and there were pictures on the walls.  Sometimes they were pictures of dark, curious landscapes, but oftenest they were portraits of men and women in queer, grand costumes made of satin and velvet…She [Mary] walked slowly down this place and stared at the faces which also seemed to stare at her.  She felt as if they were wondering what a little girl from India was doing in their house….she always stopped to look at the children… There was a stiff, plain little girl rather like herself…’Where do you live now?’ said Mary aloud to her. ‘I wish you were here'” (33).  Thus, this moment may be the clearest one, where we witness Mary using these portraits as a reality to live in, she’s staring at them and they stare at her, she even tries to hold a conversation with one.  Thus this mirrors Colin’s attempts to use his imagination to create a reality.

However, as time passes, Mary starts to open up to the “real world” outside the walls of the manor.  She gets glimpses of it at first through the windows, which serve in a way to almost make illustrations or framed paintings out of the real world, since when she’s behind the window she’s not actually outside.  And much in the same way as Dickon, who seems to fuel his reality with imagination and whimsy, Mary starts to do the same.  For the first time she starts to form relationships with real people and in real spaces, not painted ones.  However, even when it comes to her garden, it is described in a very artistic and story like way, as  “some fairy place” (53), “a world of her own” (47), it’s almost like the garden is a painting or illustration that has finally come to life.  Interestingly enough, when Mary encounters Colin they have many interactions over illustrated picture books and they share a connection through their use of their imaginations to create reality.  And when Mary begins to describe the garden to Colin, before she reveals that’s she’s actually been in it, she is indeed painting a picture for him of the garden, a picture of words, almost like doubly layered ekphrasis (this scene is on page 79).

While there are many other examples, especially a really interesting one on page 159 with Dickon’s mother in which she’s described as “rather like a softly colored illustration in one of Colin’s books” emphasizing this interplay of the painted and real, I’ll stop there as it’s getting to be a bit of a long post.  But this topic is just a fascinating one for me; the way that reality and imagination, real and painted spaces all mingle with each other in the characters of Mary, Colin and Dickon.  As a final note, the specific illustrations I’ve chosen from Inga Moore’s illustrated edition of The Secret Garden, all incorporate paintings or illustrations within the illustration which makes me thing that Moore picked up on this theme and may have delighted in creating these pictures within pictures.

While this last image does not employ the picture within a picture theme, I’ve included because it a frame where we see all three characters, Mary, Colin, and Dickon, as they are abound to cross the threshold into the secret garden. Here we see the interaction of all three of these characters, and the interplay between reality and imagination.

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The Shifting World of Through the Looking Glass

What is life but a dream?

Much like its predecessor, Through the Looking Glass showcases Lewis Carroll’s love for seemingly nonsensical characters, dialogue exchanges, and world. However, it can be argued that the world showcased in the sequel surpasses the original world of Wonderland in its  non-linearity and bizarre occurrences. One of the biggest differences between Wonderland and the world within the looking glass is the completely random shifts in settings that pop up in the sequel. Carroll purposely sets up a setting and a set of characters only to change them completely without notice. The motif can be in interpreted several ways, but I believe Carroll included this odd device to reinforce the idea that real life can be as nonsensical and random as the looking glass world.

A peek into the bizarre carriage scene.

The first major example of this motif occurs in chapter 3 when Alice inexplicably goes from running down a hill to being thrust inside a carriage and being badgered for not having a ticket. She undergoes bullying from the carriage guard  and its passengers, has her thoughts read by everyone on the carriage, and is scrutinized under microscopes. I think Carroll potentially included this encounter to showcase the way situations sometimes deprives people completely of their preparedness. The complete tonal shift reinforces this idea, with the tone first being curious and whimsical to anxious and troubled. The prevalent sense of helplessness Alice experiences in the carriage, particularly the insults aimed at her from the characters, also adds to this stark tonal shift. Although seemingly random, I think Carroll possessed a method to his madness through complete scene changes.

Alice and her kitten, the ear to her muse.

Although many of the scene changes in the novel represent a shift from tranquility (at least what can be considered tranquil in the world) to chaos, the final setting change at the end represents a stark departure from this trend. When Alice becomes queen, a nonsensical and disastrous dinner is held in her honor. At the climax of this dinner, Alice awakens and learns the entire ordeal was a dream. I think this shift at the end directly links to the poem that ends the story, which’s final line states “Life, what is it but a dream?”  (line 21). This particular shift gives the reader an interesting insight into Carroll’s opinion on life in a very melancholy yet philosophical line. When Alice awakens, she attributes figures in her life (such as her cats) to to characters in her dream and recounts the dream to one of her kittens. Her desire to make sense of the dream and remember all the details could indicate a desire to return to the looking glass world. This relates to the sadly nostalgic tone of Carroll’s poem, which sounds like he experienced life as a dream and perhaps mournfully misses it. This could sum up a huge theme of the book, which emphasizes attaining happiness no matter the circumstances, even if it’s achieved through a dream.

Carroll’s employment of drastic scene changes represents both the positives and negatives of the randomness of life. Although I may not agree with his feelings regarding happiness and its pursuit, I find his weaving of nonsense with philosophical themes quite admirable as a writer.

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To Be a Puppet or Not to Be a Puppet…That is the Question

What does transitioning in and out of puppethood mean? Pinocchio spends almost the entire novel in a puppet state, and throughout the book he has ample opportunity to exert his free will and do as he pleases.  He is constantly disobeying the authority/parental figures and instead acting out on what he thinks to be his own desires.  However in the same token, while he is actively disobeying and rebelling against figures like the Wise Cricket, he is also being manipulated and used by others, predominantly the Fox/Cat team and Lampwick.

So what is Pinocchio’s deal?  Is he endowed with free will and a mind to think for himself, or is he merely a piece of wood?  I found myself wondering this throughout the text, does puppet Pinocchio have a brain, a conscience, a soul?  His actions seem to reflect an ambiguous nature, his rebellion, and his subsequent regret, seem to point to at least brain activity and possibly a conscience.  But then his redundant proclivity for falling prey to others seems to hint that maybe his seeming stupidity is not his own fault but stems from the fact that he is indeed a wooden puppet.

 

In the last chapter, Pinocchio finally becomes a “real boy”.  In this state, he is now making decisions on his own, and we can with little doubt believe that he will no longer fall prey to manipulators, he now has a brain, a heart, a soul filled with reason, that will help him discern how to act like a proper “real boy”.  In saying all of this, it seems that, in the end, Collodi’s use of Pinocchio’s transformation from puppet to boy, in retrospect, points to the correlation of his transformation from immoral to moral child.  However, it’s interesting that Collodi chooses to give Pinocchio some glimpses of a conscience and some sense of morality even in his puppet state.  Which Pinocchio will children relate to more?  Is it better to be a puppet or a real boy?  In one sense the answer is obvious, yes it’s better to be a real boy, as in this state Pinocchio finally comes into his true self and reaches his happy ending.  But on the other hand, why does Collodi spend so little time in Pinocchio’s real boy phase?  Does he believe that children are more like wooden puppets and through hardships and lessons finally transform into “real” children?

(All the illustrations are from Roberto Innocenti’s illustrated edition, among all the other editions, this one really captures the nature of the story amazingly!  To see these images larger and more from Innocenti’s version, here’s a link that has more images: http://chetvergvecher.livejournal.com/451061.html)

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The Themes of Identity and Unconditional Love in The Adventures of Pinocchio

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In The Adventures of Pinocchio, perhaps the most overt theme in entire text is that of lying. That is what most children remember or learn from having read The Adventures of Pinocchio. That being said, there are themes that are present in the text that are more important. Those themes are identity and unconditional love, and these are recurring throughout the text.

Identity is very multidimensional in this text, because Pinocchio goes through physical transformations throughout. In the very beginning, he was already talking when he was just a piece of wood with which Mastro Cherry was going to carve into a leg of a table. That’s when Pinocchio showed his first sign of ‘existence’ and this caused Mastro Cherry to give the piece of wood to his friend Geppetto, who becomes Pinocchio’s “father” because he decides to make a puppet out of the wood, thus animating and anthropomorphizing Pinocchio. This is essentially, the genesis of Pinocchio, and therefore the beginning of his quest to find his identity. Throughout the text, Pinocchio goes through arduous tasks and encounters many characters who use his foolishness and naivety to their advantage. An instance of this takes place when the Fox and the Cat trick him into planting his gold pieces into the ground to produce a money tree. He believes them, but for good reason because he was planning on helping out Geppetto with the reward, yet he is fooled and robbed of his money. He then is placed into jail because his stupidity made him complicit with the crime. Through every task he endures, he learns something more about himself and his desire to be a good boy deepens. He feels regretful for his past actions and ignorance. It is only after he completes the very selfless act of filling up hundreds and hundreds of water buckets in exchange for milk to aid his father in recovery that Pinocchio transforms into an actual boy, which was a great wish of his. This human-like metamorphosis solidifies Pinocchio’s journey for his identity.

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Unconditional love plays as great a role as does identity for the major themes of this text. Geppetto, while not biologically Pinocchio’s father, has a paternal type of unconditional love for Pinocchio. In the beginning of the text, Geppetto sells his coat for an alphabet book for Pinocchio to be able to go to school, even when the weather was very bad and he was cold. When Pinocchio asks Geppetto why he sold his coat, Geppetto replies, “It was too warm.” Geppetto is the embodiment of selflessness, and that eventually rubs off on Pinocchio. The Fairy provides Pinocchio with unconditional love because she acts as his Guardian Angel throughout the course of the text. She never berates Pinocchio for his shortcomings, yet she always encourages. She makes promises that she never breaks and strives to bring to fruition. She offers forgiveness for his old mischief, and rewards him with human life because he took care of his ill father, thus granting him with his greatest desire.

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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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Teasing out the “Beautiful” and the “Ugly” in Fairy Tales and Victorian Literature

 

What is beauty? What does it mean to be beautiful? In today’s world, when we read about a beautiful daughter who was virtuous in a fairy tale we immediately assume, “Wow, what sexist, awful fairy tale and Victorian writers, just because she’s virtuous means she’s automatically the most ‘beautiful’ person on earth. And then of course since her sisters are mean and bad, they are called ‘ugly’. How ridiculous!” With this mindset then, we turn on virtue, we start criticizing it, we start speaking about it in negative ways, we start mocking it.  But is there something more here? What did these authors and tales mean when they bestowed this pronouncement of beauty or  ugliness?

Is this a modern day version of MacDonald’s “princess” theory?

 

First, for modern readers, what it comes down to is the fact that in our world we have reduced beauty to someone who is physically attractive, someone that looks like a model or actress.  However beauty, like the word love, is a loaded word.  Perhaps what the authors of fairy tales or Victorian writers like George MacDonald are asking us to think about is not the fact that virtues make a person “beautiful” in the way we think of beauty.  Instead acting good, being virtuous, actually having morals, makes a person beautiful.  And it is not a surface beauty, it is a radiance that comes out, it is a joy, it is something intangible and almost imperceptible but we know it’s there.  So although the media and even illustrators choose to portray the “beautiful princess” as the perfectly shaped and attractive girl, I do not think that these authors were working at such a shallow and surface level.  George MacDonald, as a Christian, would have most likely been well versed in Christian thoughts on beauty.  He surely would have been very aware of this passage from scripture, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, that says:

Thus, with this in mind, MacDonald and others in his line of thought (ie Lewis and Tolkien), are not concerned with superficial beauty; they believed in ideals of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful and that bringing these things into your life and focusing on them could actually make a difference in your life.  That what could happen is if one thinks on what is True, they’ll become a person who is true; if they think on Beauty, they’ll become beautiful; and if they think on the Good, then they will become the man or women that they are meant to become.

Curious to read this and see how it fits in with my propositions in this post…

And what of the mean, evil, ugly characters??  In the same way that we’ve reduced the term beautiful to attractive, we’ve reduced ugly to physically unattractive.  However, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen many descriptions of the physical ugliness of let’s say mean sisters in fairy tales.  It is an ugliness that exudes from inside, that taints their being, that mars the way we think of them.  Granted sometimes like in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, the goblins are actually physically ugly to represent their bad behavior, but I mean they are goblins, right?! This calls to mind a scene from C.S. Lewis’s first Narnia book, The Magician’s Nephew, in which Jadis, the witch, comes to life inside of the great hall.  The children notice that as they move down the table there is slowly an almost imperceptible change that has come over all of these rulers, and the corruption that they practiced has trickled into their physical appearance (which we should note, could actually happen, trials and hardships, or joys and blessings, have a way of making themselves physically evident in our countenance).  However, the queen, Jadis, is physically beautiful, but her greed, her evilness is evident to the children, and to them she becomes ugly, but no so much on the surface but a burning from the inside.  In this way there is an illumination of the danger in correlating ugliness with physical unattractiveness.

Recently this idea of the utterly beautiful but evil woman has probably been depicted best by Charlize Theron in “Snow White and the Huntsman”

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Little Red Riding Hood: Choosing the Right Path

After reading the stories regarding “Little Red Riding Hood,” I was really surprised about the underlying themes of sexuality and morality that I had completely overlooked when I was younger.  I simply remembered the story in terms of the lesson: don’t talk to strangers. However, now, I see much more complex and deeper aspects – specifically, the recurring image of choosing the right path.

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I was extremely taken aback by “The Story of Grandmother.” I had never read this version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” and I seriously question if this particular story should be read to children. After eating the meat of her dead grandmother, Red Riding Hood removes all her clothing and actually climbs naked into bed with the wolf. Clearly, there is the implicit notion of sex and the danger of men. Although Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood” does not involve the removal of clothing, the little girl does indeed climb into bed with the wolf and ends up being devoured by the beast. Again, the wolf entices (more like seduces) the young girl into bed with him.

In both of these tales, I found it interesting that they included the notion of “paths.” The wolf asks Red Riding Hood which path she will be taking to go to her Granny’s house. She divulges her route and the wolf arrives at the home before her. In my opinion, these repeated ideas of “paths” symbolizes morality and choosing the correct way of life. Unfortunately, Little Red Riding Hood strays from the path of righteousness, loses her innocence, and gets punished by the wolf. This notion of being a good, virtuous girl is also found in Grimm’s version. Red Riding Hood does not follow her mother’s rules and wanders off the path. She is again consumed by the wolf and regrets not listening to her mother.

Generally, I was taught the moral of “Little Red Riding Hood” was do not talk to strangers. Now, I see that there are much more complex implications: the dangers of men, loss of innocence, immorality and sexuality, importance of obeying one’s parents, and choosing the righteous path. This article also explores some more complex meanings in “Little Red Riding Hood.” What I once thought was a cut and dry, simple tale is actually a very significant story with very intricate meanings.

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Diary of Wimpy Men: the Feminine Males in Fairy Tales

As Disney and society tends to make us believe, the men in any story should be brave, heroic, manly–knights in shining armor. But some of the men in the classic fairy tales, in the presence of a strong heroine, are suddenly helpless.

In Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast, there is a constant theme of the weaker male in order for the heroine to succeed. brothers and the father “cried real tears” (De Beaumont, 36) whereas Beauty’s sisters had to fake them with onions when Beauty had to depart to the Beast’s castle in luau of her father. Beauty, the decidedly not damsel in would-be distress, doesn’t even shed a tear.

The father seems to be entirely helpless when he lost in the storm and at the hands of the Beast: “he heard a loud noise and saw a beast coming toward him. It looked so dreadful that he almost fainted…the merchant fell to his knees and, hands clasped, pleaded with the beast” (De Beaumont, 34-35). Beauty on the other hand, shows more composure upon first meeting the beast: “she could not help but tremble at the sight of this horrible figure, but she tried as hard as she could to stay calm.” (De Beaumont, 37). Beauty shows more composure in the face of danger than her father. The father even allows her to die in place, as opposed to finding a loophole using any sort of cleverness. So why does the male have to be less masculine in order for the woman to fill in as heroine? The perceived gender roles should, in theory, not have to flip in order to have them both maintain a sense of courage in the face of danger. Such a trade-off in traditional roles is not even something feminists can complain about!

Even the beast, who maintains his sternness in the early part  of the story basically commits suicide in the end because of loniless losses a bit of that masculine credibility. In order for the female character to be allowed as the heroine, the beast has to fail (as opposed the option of just finding her himself–he’s the one that owns the magic mirror!). It is understood that it just a fairy tale, but it shouldn’t necessarily mean that both characters can’t be strong.

Thus, this problem begs the question of why the female character is allowed to be more masculine and the male characters a little more feminine. It could be that in the father’s case, his obligations to his family cause him to be more aware of what the loss of his life would cost them, causing him to be more pleading with the Beast. One could argue that Beaut had already excepted her fate of death, made peace with that fact, and was rewarded for her kindness and virtue in order to accomplish the moral example that De Beaumont attempts to set for young girls. But the Beast has no apparent excuse other than any prior sins, which he actually could have improved on in his solitude.

 

De Beaument, Jeanne-Marie. “Beauty And The Beast.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 32-42. Print.

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