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Home Sweet Home

Every story has an ending. Sometimes the ending is happy, sometimes it can be tragic, other times it can even be encouraging, but no matter how it happens the story always ends. In many children’s novels there are fantasy spaces that the characters discover, and the story ends when the characters find their way back to normality. The sense of home and returning home is in many children’s stories, but it is incredible to see how many different ways these characters return home. Whether magic, wakening, or simply the smell of dinner, there are numerous examples of how characters in fantasy worlds return home after much experience is gained. They generally meet intriguing characters in the fantasy worlds they enter that help them through their voyage and return.

Throughout the children’s stories I have been focusing on there have been many endings and ways of returning home. One of these is to simply find a new home. This is seen in both James and the Giant Peach and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In James and the Giant Peach, James lives with two nasty aunts who do not care about him. Once he is inside of the peach with his new giant friends he decides not to leave. Their adventure is long and at times frightening however they successfully make it to New York City and James spends the rest of his life in a new place where people care about him (Dahl 117). The same goes for Harry Potter. He lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin in the beginning of the story and eventually leaves for Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry (Rowling 48). He meets people who love him very much and Hogwarts becomes a home to Harry. He only returns to his aunt and uncle of holidays. These characters do not return to the world they began in, both being orphans who live with horrible relatives that treat them very poorly. However they make new families and start their own lives through the fantasy world experience.

Some characters in the stories I have been reading simply return the way they arrived in said fantasy world. For example Max in Where The Wild Things Are, he imagines he sails in and out of a year (Sendak 13) to an entirely new world through his bedroom. He watched the walls disappear and the ceiling cover with vines (Sendak 11). When Max was ready to return home however, he could smell delicious foods and sailed back home. His supper was still warm and waiting for him (Sendak 35). The children in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe are much the same.The youngest, Lucy, discovered a wardrobe that leads to another world. Her siblings eventually follow and they arrive in a wet, snow-covered forest with a tall lamppost  (Lewis 7). The children experience many great things in the land of Narnia but eventually they find the lamppost once more and travel back through the wardrobe to their home (Lewis 205). In these cases, it is as though no time has gone by. The children return to the exact day that they went to this fantasy world. It is as if they had never left.

Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, did not have a choice about leaving Kansas. A twister picked her house up and moved it (Baum 3). She wears a pair of shoes during the entire novel after her house lands on the wicked witch of the east (Baum 8). Her entire adventure is to find Oz in the Emerald City. Dorothy however meets many friends, kills the other wicked witch and eventually does make it to Oz. He provides her with a way to get home: a hot air balloon however, the balloon flies away without her (Baum 115). She is told at the end that all she needed to do was say “there’s no place like home” and tap her heels together three times and the shoes would take her home (Baum 137). She had the power the entire time.

The last book I am discussing is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice discovers the fantasy world by following a rabbit with a waistcoat and a stopwatch. She falls for a very long time until she is in a strange world. She discovers many things while in this world but the entire time she believes she is in control because it is her own dream. That turns out to be correct. Alice wakes up beside her sister from a fascinating dream about this entire underworld (Carroll 104). She had been to Wonderland once before and she knew this was her second time being there. However she woke up and discovered that none of it was real.

Children’s fantasy stories all follow similar ideas and themes, however each is so unique and separate. The voyage is a large part of the story however the return is just as important. After entering a world with such new experiences, it is interesting to note how and if the characters return, and how they may have been affected by it.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

When I think about meeting a three-headed dog, life size insects or wild things with terrible teeth and yellow eyes, I know I would be horrified. In fact, I am fairy certain I would run away as fast as I could. However, so many characters in children’s books face such creatures and either befriend or defeat them. They approach such beings with confidence I know I do not have. There are so many figures in literature that simply amaze me. I mean, how many young boys do you know that would stand up to ferocious beasts and have them declare him as king?

Yet in literature we see characters like these very often. For example, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz written by Frank L. Baum, a young girl who meets munchkins, witches, scarecrows, lions and tin-men immediately after entering a new world. Dorothy meets a talking scarecrow that needs a brain and instead of wondering why he can speak, she allows him to join her on her trip to visit Oz (Baum 17). She then does the same for a tin woodman that needs a heart (Baum 28) and a cowardly lion who needs to find courage (Baum 34).

Another example would be Alice, a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice stumbles upon a world with food and drink that cause one to change sizes (Carroll 5), animals that talk and wear clothing (Carroll 2), and “mad tea parties” (Carroll 54). She meets a caterpillar that smokes a hookah, a Cheshire cat that vanishes into thin air and a Queen that yells “Off with their head!” every chance she has, killing people for simple mistakes (Carroll 65). Yet Alice stands up to the Queen and does not allow her to boss her around, and she makes many friends wile in this wonderland.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis, the four siblings meet talking fauns, beavers, lions that are kings, Queens that are witches, and magical foods such as Turkish delight (Lewis 38). They hear stories that some trees are spies (Lewis 73) for The White Witch, and that she made it so that it was always winter and never Christmas. These children eventually embrace everything they hear and see although it takes much time to warm up to for some, and they work together to help the people of Narnia. Once again, outstanding bravery is seen that I am positive I have never felt.

At the great school called Hogwarts, in Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry meets many creatures that he never encountered before entering a magical world. He encounters ghosts, pictures that move and talk, moving stairs, trolls and three-headed dogs (Rowling 193). He is a very talented wizard although he hardly knows it, yet he still shows strength and bravery with every circumstance. He learns that the most dangerous and awful wizard is his enemy, and that he is the only person this wizard could not kill.

In the picture book Where the Wild Things Are, written by Maurice Sendak, Max sails across an ocean to a foreign land. He meets many ferocious beats that could swallow him whole (Sendak 17). He confronts these beats, and they declare him king of all wild things (Sendak 21). Max was king of the wild things for some time, and then told them he wanted to leave. He sailed from a world with forests and vines that go way beyond his home back to the four walls of his bedroom watching the world disappear (Sendak 35).

A young boy named James in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach is given magical green “luck charms” which are in fact crocodile tongues from a man he has never met (Dahl 9). This is followed by a peach the size of a house appearing in front of James’ eyes. Hello world of magic! Being a curious boy, James climbed through the peach and met six giant bugs the size of him (Dahl 11). He also encountered cloud-men that threw hail from the sky and painted rainbows and put them in place (Dahl 92).

These characters meet many interesting creatures, and worlds they could never imagine. It is through the openness to such characters as in these worlds that allow children to grow.The willingness to accept, the heart to help and the courage to conquer. I think about why these fantasy worlds and their strange characters and scenery are such a reoccurring thing in children’s literature, I begin to think it is strictly the way children think that explains it. I remember as a child creating the most spectacular stories and fantasy worlds every day. I remember running away from terrifying monsters, and rescuing animals that needed my help. I played all sorts of games that involved elaborate worlds I had never seen. I guess children’s literature and the stories I read when I was young, allow for such creativity and openness to be explored.

“our first business will be to supervise the making of fables and legends, rejecting all which are unsatisfactory; and we will ask nurses and mothers to tell their children only those which we have approved, and to think more of molding children’s souls with these stories than they now do of rubbing their limbs to make them strong and shapely” (Republic, II, 377). Plato believed that children are greatly influenced by the stories they hear and read. That children are so easily influenced and shaped by the literature they encounter.

Super(wo)man

Fantasyscapes appear in many children’s books, magical worlds full of adventure and fun. “The story begins ordinary then gradually becomes extraordinary” There are many characters throughout literature, both male and female that enter such worlds. I will discuss the differences and/or similarities found between male and female fantasyscapes. The novels I am focusing on throughout these posts involve male and female characters entering drastically different worlds. In James and the Giant Peach, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, and Where the Wild Things Are we see male characters enter fantasy worlds. In Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz female characters enter fantasy worlds, and in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe we see both girls and boys enter the land of Narnia. I will be discussing the similarities and differences seen in male fantasyscapes and female fantasyscapes.

Some similarities I noticed amongst almost all of these fantasy worlds were talking animals, witches, wizards, good, evil, magic, kings and queens. Common characters and themes are found in each fantasy story however each is extremely unique. I have noticed that in the female fantasyscapes kind, fuzzy animals are generally found. For example, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, characters such as rabbits, monkeys, cats, and dogs. Where as male fantasyscapes seen in James and the Giant Peach, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, and Where the Wild Things Are include characters such as wild beasts, life-size insects, and three-headed dogs.

I have also noticed that throughout male fantasyscapes there is a sense of violence, power, dominance, bullies and beasts. In James and the Giant Peach, James is faced with many obstacles such as sharks and cloud-men, however he is brave and resourceful through each situation he faces.

In Where the Wild Things Are, Max stands up to the wild beasts and tells them “No!” he shows strength and dominance without fear. In the novel Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, violent enemies surround Harry and he triumphs against all of them proving himself as a wizard. The male characters in their fantasy worlds however, seem to embrace the fantasy worlds on their own: problem solving, powerful, and in charge.

In female fantasyscapes however, the tale is more (subliminally) focused on the transformation from girlhood to womanhood and they are generally not as independent as male characters. Female characters are often portrayed to be dependent on men, “So you’re six years old, you’re reading ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,’ and it becomes rapidly obvious that there are only two kinds of men in the world: dwarves and Prince Charmings. And the odds are seven to one against your finding the prince” (Levine). Female characters are consistently portrayed in such ways and it influences and impacts the children reading it.

I have noted that the female characters such as Dorothy and Alice found guides (the Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, etc.). Male guides generally accompany the female characters in these novels throughout their adventure. That said, Dorothy and Alice still prove to be as brave as the male characters when needed. Dorothy defeats two evil witches (although both were unintentional). Alice also stands up to the Queen of Hearts, never afraid to speak her mind.

I have noticed that the fantasy worlds themselves are very similar in most children’s novels, however it is the characters (male or female) that differ more so than the worlds. Male characters are portrayed differently than female characters, even though most seem to be very wise, brave, and creative. An article written by Pamela Paul discusses the use of gender roles in literature as well as animal characters and how they are represented. She discusses the drastic difference in numbers between male and female characters within published children’s literature. Another article discusses the gender roles in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, “[it] was an example of how gender stereotypes enabled the author to weave greater emotion in his text.” This article was written by Maya Jonas-Silver.

Aside

A Whole New World

Children’s stories often involve some kind of adventure that begins when the character leaves home. The character often leaves their world or reality and enters a fantasy space full of strange and foreign things. I will be discussing how the characters from six different children’s books enter an entirely new world. Each story follows a similar plot, where the children are orphaned or lonely and they discover a world where they are suddenly accepted and in most cases needed. There are many different ways of entering such fantasy spaces, and I will be naming a few.

In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis, the youngest sibling Lucy discovers a world inside of a wardrobe behind hanging fur coats. She unearths a world of wet, white snow and sharp pine trees. When Lucy enters the world she, “felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well she looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe and even catch a glimpse of the empty room” (Lewis 7). Eventually all of Lucy’s siblings (who live in a large house with a professor) enter the magical world of Narnia through the wardrobe as well.

The novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, written by Lewis Carroll, begins when a young girl hears a rabbit say “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” (Carroll 2). She thinks little of this occurrence until she later sees the rabbit take a watch out of its waistcoat pocket (Carroll 2). Alice becomes very curious and follows the rabbit. She sees it jump down a rabbit hole and decides to jump down after it. She falls for quite a long time into a world where she discovers food and drinks that change one’s size (Carroll 5). Alice is trapped in a small room and has no idea how she will ever return to reality since she has fallen so far.

In the novel The Wizard of Oz, written by Frank Baum, a young girl named Dorothy lived with her aunt and uncle in a very grey world on a farm in Kansas. Everything around her was drab and boring. However, one day a cyclone picked up Dorothy’s house while she was inside and took her far away from Kansas to the Land of Oz (Baum 3) where she immediately met munchkins and witches (Baum 7). This is a different case than most because Dorothy did not choose to leave her world. She did not discover a passage and enter through it. She travelled to the Land of Oz unwillingly and unexpectedly and her entire journey becomes finding a way to return home.

In James and the Giant Peach, written by Roald Dahl, a young boy loses his parents is sent to live with his two nasty aunts. For three years James is treated very poorly and is kept from the rest of the world (Dahl 3). One day however, a man hands James a paper bag filled with magical, glowing crocodile tongues and claims they will bring him much joy (Dahl 10). The crocodile tongues plunge into the earth however when James trips and drops the bag. Suddenly a peach begins to grow as big as a house. James then climbs through a hole into the peach, up to the pit and through a door where he discovers insects that are as large as him, “he glanced behind him, thinking he could bolt back into the tunnel the way he had come, but the doorway has disappeared” (Dahl 26).

The story Where the Wild Thing Are, written by Maurice Sendak, is about a young boy named Max who is sent to his room for causing trouble (Sendak 5). His mother wants him to sit quietly in his room. However, Once in his room he watches as the walls turn into forests, and vines hang from the ceiling (Sendak 11). The nature around him grows and grows. Max creates an entire world with his imagination. An ocean and a private boat appear and Max enters the boat and sails for days (Sendak 13). Eventually, he reaches a land where wild things live and Max approached these wild things very bravely, claiming to be the most wild thing of all (Sendak 21).

The novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, written by J.K. Rowling, begins with a boy who also lost his parents and lives with his aunt and uncle in a cupboard under the stairs (Rowling 20). On his eleventh birthday he was told that he is a wizard and that he is to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Rowling 47). He was to take a train from platform nine and three quarters, “…the trolley was out of control – he was a foot away – he closed his eyes ready for the crash – it didn’t come… he kept on running… he opened is eyes. A scarlet steam engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people. A sign over head said Hogwarts Express.” (Rowling 71).

Each of these stories involves children who are living a rather boring or awful life, when suddenly everything changes. They all enter a fantasy world much different than the one they are used to. Each story involves different characters, and different worlds, and especially different ways of entering such worlds. Whether by train, wardrobe, rabbit hole or some other way of entry, they each discover a fantastical place where they are suddenly very important. Each has a purpose or strength they were unaware of and they grow through each experience in these new worlds.

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