Classic Children's Literature

Completed: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 250pxAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
1865, England

It has been many years since I last visited Wonderland. I’ve only ever been there via the written word, all of the film adaptations seem to have passed me by. And so this reading surprised me. It was both familiar and un-, a return to somewhere I’ve been, a return to somewhere I didn’t recognize. While episodes such as the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the homicidal Queen screaming “Off with their heads!” and the Mad Hatter’s endless tea party are so familiar as to have become recognizable pop culture, I was surprised both at how much I remembered of the Pig and Pepper chapter and yet the episodes with the Mock Turtle and the Griffin not at all.

That word, “episodes.” Although the action flows from one scene seamlessly–if sometimes incongruously–into the next, just as in a dream, it seems to be composed of episodes: the caucus race, the tea party, the croquet party, the trial, and so forth. There is not really a through plot line, it is Alice’s “adventures,” and adventures must always be unexpected. But Alice proves they need not always have a motive. (The closest we get to a motivation is Alice’s desire to enter a beautiful garden, but once that is accomplished we still have plenty of book left.)

It is a dream story–explicitly so–and so both nonsense and perfectly sensible in the way that all good dreams are. The delightfully odd mind that this must have sprung from! It is, I can tell, even without the annotations in the copy I read,* that these characters, these references must have meant something to the “original” Alice, Alice Liddell–surely she must have played croquet and with playing cards, knew the proper manners for tea, and had overheard talk of such mysterious things as “caucus races.” Even the poems Carroll parodies that are now largely forgotten (well, I do know “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) would likely have been familiar to her, perhaps learned for her lessons; recitation seems such a common occurrence here!

I was most surprised by the humor. Doubtless the jokes and puns passed my fourth-grade self by. It is meant to be a bit silly too, I think. Now that I have reread it, I have no desire to try to impart some sense, some greater meaning to it, for I am not convinced that any is intended. Perhaps as some scholars think, there are references to historical figures or perhaps it is full of symbolism and greater meaning. But I find that I am quite content to take it as it is, to let my inner child simply meet it with delight.

*The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, Introduction and Notes by Martin Gardner, 2000 ed. I have mixed feeling about annotated editions. Sometimes such notes are useful, other times they are merely distractions. Although sometimes interesting, here I thought they too often went on too long (no, I don’t care about the 1933 film version, I’m interested in the text) or into unnecessary deviations. The context provided and the reprinting of the rhymes Carroll was parodying could be useful, however.

Classic Children's Literature · RAL

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland RAL

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017

It’s here, time for discussion of our thoughts on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! If you’ve never read Alice before (or are more familiar with any of the several film adaptations), was there anything that surprised you? Did you feel as lost as Alice? What just is this book about? Leave links to your posts in the comments, or feel free to discuss below.

Classic Children's Literature

Completed: Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals by Charles Perrault

I can’t believe it’s here already, but today marks the halfway point for the Classic Children’s Literature Event. Already! A gentle reminder to those reading, the discussion for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is planned for the weekend of April 21-23–just next weekend! (Though I won’t point fingers if you’re late.) I’d better get reading…

Cover: The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles PerraultTales and Stories of the Past with Morals [Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé]
Charles Perrault
(France, 1697)
Translator: Charles Welsh

The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost. (J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories,” paragraph 2)

One fairy tale often leads to another, and after completing my “Beauty and the Beast” binge, it was time to move on to some other tales. Charles Perrault’s Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals [Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé] is not only the oldest title on my Children’s Classics project list, but it also contains versions of some well-known fairy tales plus a few others that are less familiar.

It is likely that Perrault did not invent these tales, but rather that, like the Grimm brothers, he retold stories already in oral circulation. Or perhaps he merely published them; the end note in the edition I read references Les Contes de ma mère l’Oie avant Perrault (Paris, E. Dentu, 1878), in which author Charles Deulin takes the view that the stories were likely written down by Perrault’s young (10 0r 11) son, from memory of tales his father had told him. In this theory, the elder Perrault had collected the stories to retell in poetic form and had asked his son to write them down from memory as an exercise. Reading the clear prose of his son, he then opted to publish those versions instead.

Regardless of the actual origins, this little collection, published over the years in various titles and various English translations, has proven influential–on later tale collectors, on film-makers, and, of course, on readers.

Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper

A story with many varieties, Perrault’s Cinderella became the familiar Disney version. If you are at all familiar with the latter half of the Grimm version (which Stephen Sondheim would take up as one of several tales in his Into the Woods), the Perrault version is also a gentler version–no cutting off of appendages, no pecking out of eyes.

The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods

What starts out as the familiar “Sleeping Beauty” story takes a decided turn to the macabre, just as the reader thinks the story is nearly over. For Sleeping Beauty’s prince has an ogre for a mother, and she loves nothing better to eat than young children. While we know that most fairy tales will end “happily ever after,” this one takes two halves to get there.

Little Thumb

I’m not entirely sure if it’s fair to say I was familiar with this one, for I’m not sure I’ve read this exact tale before. However, it is familiar, for it seems to be a French version of “Hansel and Gretel,” complete with poor parents leaving children in the woods and first stones, then breadcrumbs as trails. The witch is replaced by an ogre (I’m beginning to sense a theme?), and our hero Little Thumb must use his wit and ingenuity (and perhaps a vengeful streak?) to save the day.

The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots

I know I’ve read at least a version of this story before, it is so familiar–and nothing like the animated Dreamworks film, of course! But it is a story of trickery and deception. The third son of a miller inherits only the cat (for there was little enough to divide between three sons) and believes himself unfortunate. Only this cat has the cunning and planning abilities to provide for his master–and thereby himself–much, much more.

Riquet with the Tuft

This could almost be a Beauty and Beast tale. Riquet of the title is a prince, but is terribly ugly. He falls in love with a beautiful Princess–only she has no sense, which here means wit and intelligence as well as common sense. Fortunately, the fairies have given both a gift: Riquet can give the gift of sense to the woman he falls in love with, and the Princess the gift of beauty to the man she loves. Not too hard to see where this one is going…

Blue Beard

At last, I have read “Blue Beard.” I’ve heard so many references (though I can’t remember all where, at least one L.M. Montgomery novel for sure) to this dark tale of a man who keeps the bodies of his dead wives locked in a room of his home (or castle). Although I’d not previously read this exact story, the themes of fatal (or near-fatal) curiosity and forbidden rooms are common throughout literature.

The Fairy

A clearly moral tale: a widow has two daughters, one she loves who is selfish and disagreeable and one she doesn’t who is good and kind. The kind daughter meets a fairy in disguise when she is sent to the well to draw water and is rewarded richly for her kind treatment of the fairy. So the beloved selfish daughter is sent to the well, with not quite as desired results!

Little Red Riding-Hood

This is not the “Little Red Riding-Hood” I know! It starts out the same, but then ends. Abruptly. Both Little Red Riding-Hood and her grandmother have been quite eaten and there is no woodsman’s rescue! Though this perhaps may make it a bit more realistic than the average fairy tale… Nor does there really seem to be a moral, for Little Red Riding-Hood is not warned against straying from the path or talking to strangers, as she is in other versions.

And here the Perrault fairy tales end, on quite the somber note. Though, it is no wonder they remain at least somewhat popular, for they are quite readable and have an element of charm to them, even at their most disturbing. It is almost enough to send me in search of more fairy tales to read. Perhaps some Brothers Grimm on the menu next?

 

Classic Children's Literature

Completed Beauty and Other Variations on La Belle et la Bête

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 250px

Beauty – Robin McKinley (U.S., 1978, reread)

Adaptations of La Belle et la Bête – Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (France, 1740):

  1. Marie Le Prince de Beaumont  (France, 1756), as published by James Lumsden and Son, Glasgow.
  2. Andrew Lang (Scotland, 1889)

Unless you’ve been living with your head firmly ensconced in sand (and given the craziness of the news, I wouldn’t discount the possibility), chances are you’ve noticed that Walt Disney Studios has a little film out just now that may just have earned a little bit of money in recent weeks and that is based on an old fairy tale…and that just happens to fit in well with Classic Children’s Literature Month. I can’t say for certain (my memory escapes me on the particulars), but it’s likely that one of the trailers for Beauty and the Beast prompted me to a return visit to a more contemporary written adaptation, Robin McKinley’s Beauty.* And that in turn has sent me down the rabbit hole–not only did I then (re?)visit some of the more traditional tellings, but I have on order from the library Beauty and the Beast Tales from Around the World (Heidi Anne Heiner), though since they have to purchase/process a copy first (apparently this is what they do instead of ILL?), it could be a while before I get to that one.

What I would really like to read (and thus the library hold) is a translation of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 1740 La Belle et la Bête. As far as I can tell, Villeneuve’s tale was the original story from which all of the other more familiar adaptations have sprung. That is, the original with the elements of a father promising a rose to his beloved daughter, getting lost in the woods and taking refuge in an enchanted castle where he is doomed to death by the beast for stealing a rose, the daughter willingly taking her father’s place and ultimately falling in love with the beast and ending his enchantment. (I believe there are other beauty + beast stories with different base elements–thus the “Tales from Around the World” part.) Since I was unsuccessful in finding an English translation of the Villeneuve, I settled temporarily for two adaptations, both of which are apparently both much shorter than Villeneuve’s and also the more commonly told. The first was by a Frenchwoman, Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. I couldn’t find a translator listed, but it is from the edition published by James Lumsden and Son in Glasgow. The second is by Andrew Lang, from his The Blue Fairy Book collection of fairy and folk tales.

Although both fairy tales, as well as McKinley’s novel-length adaptation are similar in their elements, they vary in the particulars. The fairy tales are most similar–naturally enough, for they share a common source. Beaumont’s version more emphatically pushes the moral however: virtue will be rewarded and selfishness punished. Here, Beauty’s sisters are proud and vain and selfish, while she is good and kind.  (There are also brothers, but they have very little personality as they are mostly just good sons and brothers.) Lang’s version, on the other hand–and perhaps here the more than 100 years between them makes a difference–has sisters who are nearly as insignificant as the brothers. The moral is not illustrated in them, but only in Beauty, who is rewarded for her own goodness and love. Notably, in none of these versions is it stated that the Beast under an enchantment due to his own moral failings, but rather entirely due to outside forces (in contrast to both Disney versions). (Actually, to be more accurate, I don’t think an explanation is given in Lang.)

In contrast with the fairy tales, McKinley’s adaptation much more greatly fleshes out both characters and plot. She has the advantage of greater length, for her story is a novelization of the fairy tale. But it also deviates some from the traditional stories. Instead of viewing Beauty with jealousy, her sisters are loving and kind in their own right–they truly do not wish to see her go and sacrificed to the Beast. Nor are they the selfish, proud creates of the fairy tale, but loyal to both their family and their lovers. Indeed, the middle sister, Hope, is distressed long before the loss of wealth, for her true love wishes to return to his hometown as a blacksmith and she is sorry that she might have to leave her family behind. But this lover is able to help the merchant and his family when they lose it all, thus showing how one tragedy may bring with it opportunity, and we see many scenes of happy family life, even after Beauty’s father has lost everything. I had worried that returning to a story I had so loved as a child might be a disappointment–that it could not live up to my memories–but thankfully, it was not so, and continued to enchant and delight me, far more so than the shorter versions.

I look forward to exploring other versions of these tales, and remain especially interested in Villeneuve’s. The short stories suffer in their shortness as compared to Beauty; will the longer original prove more satisfactory?

*Technically too new to be called “classic” just yet, I think, but older than I realized. Since it started me down the fairy-tale path, I decided to include it here anyway.

Classic Children's Literature

Welcome to the Classic Children’s Literature Event, 2017!

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017

Is there any essential connection between children and fairy-stories? Is there any call for comment, if an adult reads them for himself? Reads them as tales, that is, not studies them as curios. (J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories”, paragraph 42)

Today marks the first day of the 2016 Classic Children’s Literature Event! I hope for a fun month of revisiting old favorites and meeting new ones, and for plenty of great discussion about children’s classics both well known and nearly forgotten.

Starting today, the Event Logo at the top right of the blog will link to this page, which will be the link page for the event. (And this post should also be a “sticky” post at the top of the blog.) Please use the  comments below to link to your posts for this month. This will make it easier to for everyone to find each other’s posts! There will be a separate page for the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland readalong which will go live nearer to the discussion weekend. At the end of the month–and half-way through if there are enough posts to warrant it–I will round up all the links onto one post for ease of discover.

As I said before, I’m not too fussy about the particulars for this event–as long as it’s still April it’s never too late to join!

(If you really want more guidelines check the Introductory Post. If you need reading ideas please see 2013’s suggestions list or 2014’s.)

Reading · Reading Ohio · WeeksEnd Notes

Week’s End Notes (32)

Cuyhoga River in Winter - Kent Ohio
A view of the Cuyahoga River just over a week ago. Would you believe I took this from a busy bridge facing downtown Kent? It’s all about the framing…!

I feel as if I’ve been shamefully neglecting the blog. Neglecting reading other’s posts. It’s a Sisyphean task, that–keeping up with everyone, everything. Especially when I already have the feeling of being underwater elsewhere, at work most especially. I keep plodding away at the reading, though, my Sunday morning reading the one constant. I’m only one week behind (and intend to catch up) on the Deal Me In Challenge. I finally finished Chronicles of Avonlea, which happens to be a short story collection, and which I believe I actually started over a year ago (maybe even in 2015!). Yet I feel as if I’m moving quickly nowhere. Perhaps the long list of unblogged books bogs me down. So many I don’t even properly remember now, not well enough to write about. And perhaps that is why I’ve written nothing.

But I’ve had enough of feeling their weight on my shoulders. Somehow, I’ve managed to dash off a few short posts here this afternoon. Those will be forthcoming. And for those I don’t feel I can prepare a proper post for (but those I still wish to say something about), a few thoughts:

His Last Bow – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Scotland, 1917)

A collection of Holmes stories I read last fall on vacation. A diverting read, though I fear that I don’t remember the stories that well.  This leaves just one collection left and I will have finished all the Holmes stories!

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (Britain/Zimbabwe, 2015)

The publicity surrounding the movie prompted me to pick this one up. A psychological thriller, I found it much more unputdownable than Gone Girl, but I didn’t feel the need to run out to see the film version. Though I did like the end much better.

Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt (U.S., 1975)

On learning of Natalie Babbit’s death late last year, I immediately had to pick up Tuck Everlasting for a reread. I had last touched this one in late elementary school, and so both found that I couldn’t remember the story and yet it was completely familiar. A sweet story of a young girl who accidentally meets up with a family who has drunk from the fountain of eternal youth, it is in a way a touching meditation on death and life and the consequences of immortality.

She folded her arms and nodded, more to herself than to Winnie. ‘Life’s got to be lived, not matter how long or short,’ she said calmly. ‘You got to take what comes. We just go along, like everybody else, one day at a time.’ (Chapter 10)

Although I read it as a nostalgia piece/for my Children’s Classics project, Tuck Everlasting could also be assigned to my Reading Ohio project, as Natalie Babbit was originally from/grew up in Ohio. It’s also a nice segue to add a little reminder that the 5th Classic Children’s Literature Event is coming up in just a couple weeks! I’ve already a collection of books waiting for me temptingly…

Happy Reading!

Purple Orchid in Full Indoor Bloom
Who says winter isn’t growing season?
Classic Children's Literature · RAL · Reading · The Classics Club

Coming Soon: Classic Children’s Lit Event, 5

2017-ral-original

I’ve been more absent from here lately than I’d like–it seems like February is just a month that I don’t get along with. But now it’s March, the sun is shinning (and it’s supposed to be half-way warm this week!), and that means the 5th edition of the Classic Children’s Literature Event is just around the corner: April–less than a month away! I can’t believe this is the 5th year.

alice-original

As in years past, I will be reading an optional readalong title. I really waffled over what to pick this year, but finally opted for one of the runners up from last year’s poll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s been many, many years since I last/first read this–I believe in fourth grade, so I don’t remember it all that well other than that’s is odd, something that must surely appeal to many, as evidenced by the recent movie adaptations (confession: I haven’t actually seen them). Although I have an illustrated version that also contains Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, I decided to pick up The Annotated Alice from the library. Still a coin toss as to which book I’ll read from.

Event Basics

  • During the month of April, read as many Children’s Classics as you wish and post about them on your blog and/or leave a comment on the event page on this blog. I will have a link page starting the first of April to gather posts so that we may share as we go.
  • The optional RAL title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. (Optional: also read Through the Looking-Glass. I’m guessing I won’t get through both.) I plan on discussion the weekend of April 21-23.
  • I’m not going to be the “children’s classics” police. Use your own judgement for what fits the category but if you want some guidelines, these are what I’m going by:
    • I think many of us have read more recent children’s books that we may already deem “classics” (for example, many people feel that way about the Harry Potter books), but for this event, I’d prefer if we read books that were written prior to 1967. This will still allow a lot of options, and will hopefully avoid the “but what is a classic” dilemma! (And yes, 1967 is rather arbitrary. Rebel if you wish, but 50 years old seems a good age.)
    • Defining “children’s,” especially prior to 1900 or so can be a challenge as some books we think of as “children’s” today may not have been intended that way at the time. Personally, I’d say books appropriate for approximately an elementary-school aged child or preteen (to read or to have read to them) should be fine. I’d personally also count the various fairy tales, even though some of the earliest versions were not exactly family friendly.
    • Feel free to include books from any country, in translation or not. I have limited exposure to non-American children’s lit, so I’d love to learn about books from other countries myself.
    • Feel free to double up with other events or challenges if you wish.
  • And if you need ideas I posted
  • There is no deadline for joining or participating (other than, of course, the end of April).

Most important: Have fun!

Please let me–and other participants–know in the comments of this post if you are interested in participating, and let me know if you have any questions. Also, please feel free to use any of the event/RAL images on your own blogs.

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 300px

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 250px

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2017 200px

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 300px

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland RAL April 2017 250px

Happy reading!

Participants:

Image sources: The event logo illustration is “Merry Christmas” from The Way to Wonderland (1917, Mary Stewart), illustrated  by Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863-1935). The RAL logo illustration is from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865, Lewis Carroll), 1907 edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).