Working At the Zoo: The Intro to My Story

Today was my first official day working as a volunteer/intern at the Detroit Zoo and I am super excited for what’s to come! I even have a picture I.D. and everything; I’m so official. I don’t have any pictures yet because a lot of the work we did today was orientation and getting  established with the zoo’s online system to track our hours- you know, all the really fun stuff. However, do expect tons of pictures to come!!!

From what I saw, the brand new wolf exhibit is my favorite. I know a lot of people are really excited about the penguin exhibit (and it’s definitely worth being excited about!) but I absolutely love wolves – they’re my favorite wild animal – and the two new wolves at the Detroit Zoo are gorgeous. There is one male, solid black, and one female, solid white, and I believe they are a mated couple. I can’t pronounce they’re names quite yet, but I am so excited to potentially do work with them.

What I will be doing in the near future (and I’m not sure how much of this I’m allowed to share, so sorry if some of this is a bit vague) is writing short film scripts for educational documentary videos about Antarctica. In the process of preparing for the new penguin exhibit, the zoo put together a team that traveled to Antarctica to learn all about the penguins, the nature, and what needed to be done here in Detroit to make the best possible exhibit for the animals and for the public. That being said, I will be working on educational materials for both the penguin center and for Sphere of Science exhibit (which, to be completely honest, I know nothing about – it’s been a while since I’ve been to the zoo!)

A lot of what I am going to be doing will require some pretty heavy research as I go through all of the documents collected by the zoologists and staff who traveled to Antarctica. I love research (because I’m a nerd like that) so I’m really pumped to get started!

I will try my absolute best to keep you guys up-to-date on some of the things that I’m doing, stories about the animals, pictures, etc. Like I said, I’m not sure what exactly I’m allowed to share as of yet, so I will have to talk to my supervisor about that first. At the very least, definitely expect stories and pictures of the animals!

If you are from the Detroit area and can make it to the zoo, take a look at the series of holes in the grass barrier outside of the kangaroo exhibit. Those are groundhog burrows – apparently they have a little underground city going with all of the tunnels they’ve dug. They have also made their way into the prairie dog exhibit, and sometimes they decide to try to hide among them. So, if you happen to be at the prairie dog exhibit and notice an animal a little bit too large to really fit in, that’s a groundhog going through an identity crisis:)

I  also learned that the majority of the animals that come to the Detroit Zoo are rescues in need of rehabilitation or species that are severely endangered in the wild. For example, did you know that there are only around 3,000 zebras left in the wild? As I learn more about the animals, I will definitely share their stories with you!

I will stop here because I don’t want this post to be too long. Updates to come later!

-KP

 

 

About My Thesis

To give a short synopsis, my thesis is on the evolution of morality in children’s fantasy literature, starting with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and ending with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997). When interwoven with historical context as well as critical analysis of the texts, my thesis examines how morality in children’s fantasy lit has evolved from something that largely centered around manners and politeness – actions that were communally driven – to something that is far more independent; a personal experience for every child that emphasizes good in the defeat of evil.

That’s the super short version.

I originally decided what I wanted to write my thesis on about two years ago, just before leaving to study abroad in England, where I was then able to do research using grant money, reading about my chosen authors and novels. Initially, my thesis was going to be about the evolution of character, theme, and morality in children’s fantasy literature, but unfortunately this project grew far too large for an undergraduate thesis (it looked like it was going to take the shape of a dissertation instead!) So, in order to focus my thesis, I picked the topic I was most interested in and which I had done the most research on. Most importantly, however, I wanted to choose the topic that I had discovered had the fewest critical analysis done on it; something I felt that, by doing my own analysis,could be beneficial to the literary community as a whole.

Thus, I selected morality.

I have always been interested in how the idea of morality has been understood by people over the eras, and the changing ways people have attempted to teach younger generations about “what is moral.” I put that in quotes because what is considered morally important for some people may be very different for others – a truth that is equally prevalent in today’s society as it was in the past.

While studying abroad in Oxford, England, I was able to utilize the library at Brasenose College to explore the authors I had chosen as well as to direct my research in a more specific manner. This led me to discovering a couple of things: the importance of manners in relation to morality in the late 19th century, and how extremely this changed over the course of 130+ years. I won’t go into too much detail because then I would just be reciting my thesis to you, but my research at Brasenose steered me in a new direction. The question then became: in what ways did morality shift from being largely defined by politeness, and what prompted this change?

The greatest portion of my analysis was done through my own readings of the seven texts I chose (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Little Princess, Peter Pan, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone). I read each of the books several times and derived my arguments through my own interpretations of the works, while simultaneously incorporating historical influence. I also read some other scholarly analyses on my chosen texts and applied some of them to my own research.

Blah, blah, blah.

Basically, there was a lot of reading!

After having to narrow down my thesis and make it more specific, the next challenge I faced was giving my thesis historical context in a way that did not distract from my analysis of the texts. Rather, I needed to incorporate it in a way that made these changes in morality more understandable. It took me two entire revisions of my thesis to interweave these revisions in a way that read fluidly with my analysis.

My suggestion for anyone who is attempting to write a thesis with a similar subject matter and/or format is to keep historical context in mind when you are writing your first draft. It wasn’t that I left it out completely, but it took my mentor (an English professor at my university) to point out that the significance of historical context needed to play an even larger role in my thesis. For me, I think that I became too absorbed in my own analysis of the books to remember that they needed to be contextualized in the real world.

Huh, a writer getting too wrapped up in a fictional universe? How odd…

The actual writing of my thesis was another struggle. Why? I think it was because subconsciously I was intimidated by the task of writing something so large that needed to encompass so many things. My thesis was also a requirement for my graduation from the Honors College and I would have to give a presentation on it at the end of my final semester. I’m not really one for public speaking, and definitely not for boring and/or disappointing others, so I think this was probably weighing on my mind a little bit too.

In the end, I found the easiest thing to do was to set a schedule and small deadlines for myself. I would write the introduction by this date, the first chapter by this date, etc. (I knew my thesis was going to be chaptered because of the wide range in time, but there are a lot of undergraduate theses that are not chaptered.) I found this to be a really efficient way to do things.

Also, another tip: keep track of what references you are citing and what ones you are referencing as you go – keep these in separate lists! This will be a lot easier than trying to separate them all out at the end.

I did most of my writing at my university’s library, which worked really well for me because I’m really easily distracted when it comes to things like YouTube, Netflix and Tumblr. Basically, I like anything that I can pretend I’m only “sort of” paying attention to while working, but in actuality I’m only barely working while mostly paying attention to something else that I find more entertaining. This makes my production level very low. Going to the library (without headphones!) allowed me to get rid of these distractions and really focus on my work.

Overall, I really enjoyed this project and I am proud of the result. Although, my hypercritical editor-self is probably going to want to rip it apart and rewrite it in two month’s time. What can you do?

I am going to leave a contact box below so feel free to ask me if you have any questions about your own academic writing, tips for academic writing or research, or undergraduate theses in general!

Best of writing to you all❤

-KP

Thesis Post #5: Works Cited & Referenced

Works Cited

Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2005. Print.

Burnett, Frances Hodgson. A Little Princess. Lexington: Maestro Reprints, 2013. Print.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York: Infinity, 2005. Print.

Griffith, John. “Charlotte’s Web: A Lonely Fantasy of Love.” Children’s Literature 8.1 (1980): 111-17. Web.

Kirk, Connie Ann. “Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays, and Re-Reading Harry Potter (review).” Rev. of Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays, Re-Reading Harry PotterChildren’s Literature Association Quarterly 28.4 (2003): 252-53. Print.

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: HarperTrophy, 2002. Print.

Melton, Brian. “The Great War and Narnia: C.S. Lewis as Soldier and Creator.”Mythlore 30.1-2 (2011): 123. Web.

Misheff, Sue. “Beneath the Web and Over the Stream: The Search for Safe Places in Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia.” Children’s Literature in Education 29.3 (1998): 131-41. Web.

“Morality, n.” Home : Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.

Neumeyer, Peter F. “E.B. White.” American Writers for Children, 1900-1960 22 (1983): 333-50. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Web.

Orford, Pete. “J.K. Rowling (31 July 1965 – ).” Twenty-First-Century British Novelists 377 (2016): 250-57. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Web.

Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia. New York: HarperTrophy, 2003. Print.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 2001. Print.

White, E. B. Charlotte’s Web. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. Print.

Whited, Lana A. The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon. Columbia: U of Missouri, 2002. Print.

Zipes, Jack David, ed. The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature: The Traditions in English. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.

 

Works Referenced

Chaston, Joel D. “The Other Deaths in Bridge to Terabithia.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 16.4 (1991): 238-41. Web.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Print.

Fisher, Bonnie E. “Social Influences on the Writing of Marion Dane Bauer and Katherine Paterson.” Language Arts 76.6 (1999): 517-24. Web.

Graner, Emma D. “Dangerous Alice: Travel Narrative, Empire, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” CEA Critic 76.3 (2014): 252-58. Web.

Herzog, Ricky. “Sissies, Dolls, and Dancing: Children’s Literature and Gender Deviance in the Seventies.” The Lion and the Unicorn 33.1 (2008): 60-76. Web.

Lehr, Susan S., ed. Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: The Construction of Gender in Children’s Literature. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.

“Literary Themes Coming of Age.” Literary Articles. Literary Articles, 19 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.

Marshall, Elizabeth. “Stripping for the Wolf: Rethinking Representations of Gender in Children’s Literature.” Reading Research Quarterly 39.3 (2004): 256-70. Web.

Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996. Print.

Thesis Post #4: Conclusion

All seven novels analyzed in this thesis demonstrate an evolution of morality, both for individual characters as well as within the genre of children’s fantasy literature when these texts are united as a whole. Starting with Victorian morality and characters like Alice and Sara who demonstrate a consciousness of proper societal practices and behaviors, both Carroll and Burnett portray the girls in such a way that they do not fully adhere to these practices, or rather, are independent of them. Alice, an example of a typical upper-class Victorian child, finds herself alone in Wonderland. This is not surprising due to the fact that in upper-class Victorian culture, the children are often kept separate from their parents, either being physically kept in a different part of the home like the nursery or sent away to places like boarding schools where their primary care is given by another, usually a non-parent adult figure.

This Victorian trait of separation is true in the stories of both Alice, who is physically kept separate from her family in Wonderland, and Sara, whose father sends her to boarding school in England. However, in both novels the child characters manipulate their settings in order to grow or mature independently. Alice claims power for herself in Wonderland when she stands up to the Red Queen, something which strays from the stereotypically “proper” behavior of Victorian girls, and by having her grow larger at the end of the novel, Carroll demonstrates a literal growth in her character. Similarly, in the world of her boarding school, Sara’s use of imagination manipulates the space around her, allowing her to be a princess even in the confines of her destitution. Just as Alice differs from the “proper” Victorian child, as does Sara in her fluctuating social status. Though still an orphan, by the end of the novel Sara’s wealth has returned, giving her a social status higher than Miss Minchin who has treated her so poorly, resulting in the social destruction of both Miss Minchin and the school. Though Miss Minchin is an adult, Sara’s social power is one that separates her from the traditional Victorian power structure of adult and child. In the end, both Carroll and Burnett utilize their child characters’ lack of parents or parental supervision—something not unfamiliar to the traditions of the upper-class Victorians—to promote the growth and independence of Alice and Sara as individual selves. In this way, both female characters are able to experience moral growth that is separate from the societal expectations of the Victorian era; something which is largely influenced by the manipulation of the fantastic second-world that exists in each of the novels.

Barrie, too, demonstrates a separation from the social expectations of the late Edwardian era in Peter Pan. Barrie blends character traits of both the middle and upper classes in his depiction of the Darling family. The family is rather close, something Barrie expresses in his portrayal of Wendy’s love of sharing her mother’s jewelry and knowing where Mr. Darling’s medicine is kept, and yet the Darlings have both a nursery in their house and a nanny to take care of their children. Closeness of family is a trait commonly attributed with middle-class Victorian families as they could not afford to keep a nanny on staff. Barrie mocks this, however, through his use of Nana, the Darling’s nanny who also happens to be a Newfoundland dog. Although the family has both a nursery and a nanny, neither of these things can be taken seriously due to the ridiculousness of their nature. Thus, the family’s status is questionable. Barrie’s depiction of the Darling family is demonstrative of the shift of the Edwardian period away from its Victorian predecessor. Unlike in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or A Little Princess where it is clear what class status both girls possess through their reference to cultural norms (making it easier to detect when they depart from these norms), the Darling family is one that blends the moral and familial traits of both the upper and middle classes, confusing the reader’s understanding of which class’ morals they should be expected to follow.

This is something that is also expressed in Wendy’s desire to return home after her experiences in Neverland. Although she is a child who has grown up in a household that does keep the children partially removed from the parents (due to the physical separation of the nursery from the rest of the house), Wendy expresses pity for her parents upon realizing that she can no longer remember them. In the end, she actively desires to return home rather than stay young forever in Neverland. Wendy’s acknowledgement of the real-world consequences of her actions while in the fantastic realm demonstrates her growth as a character, and this directly relates to Barrie’s characterization at the beginning of the novel. Without the contradictory elements that make up the Darling family’s dynamic, the moral growths of the children in Neverland would not be able to take place as neither Wendy or her brother’s would feel the pull to return home that they do due to the closeness of their family ties.

As explored earlier in this essay, a shift in morality is also apparent in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where the four Pevensie children face moral challenges that stimulate their own growth as individuals and propel them toward adulthood. The coming-of-age subgenre, although present beforehand, increased in prevalence after the turn of the 20th century. Lewis’ choice to merge this subgenre with his work of children’s fantasy literature is interesting when his history with war is taken into account. The influence of Lewis’ participation in World War I on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is unknown; however, parallels can be drawn between the innocence lost in war and the forced growth that many soldiers experienced, and the moral growth of the Pevensie children (Melton). The scenes of war in Narnia are often—if not entirely—depicted with clear divisions between those who are good and those who are bad. In the real world this is often not the case; however, it is this divide that allows the Pevensie children to grow in “goodness.” This particularly applies to Edmund whose initial introduction to Narnia was through the White Witch, who exposed his more selfish and evil characteristics. There is an evolution for Edmund’s character in particular that forces him to acknowledge his own faults and redeem himself in the eyes of Aslan, his siblings, and the reader. Whether or not Lewis intended to draw moral parallels between the war in Narnia and his own experiences in World War I, the two share the general idea of a progression of growth.

During a time closely proceeding an event of worldwide strife, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe provides a fantastic world in which the barriers between good and evil are very clear, and there is no doubt for the characters or the reader who is “good.” This clear divide is something which is desired in war but often not achievable, as “good” and “bad” are typically muddled; a truth that Lewis may well have known, and thus created a world where this is not so. Just like Alice, Sara, and Wendy before them, the Pevensie children also reject the real-world setting of their novel; most notably Lucy, when she refuses to question the goodness of Aslan and the righteousness of the fight against the White Witch. Both Peter and Susan also demonstrate these same qualities later in the novel when they do not hesitate to fight on behalf of Aslan and Narnia in order to defeat the evil witch queen. Unlike the turmoil the child characters were experiencing in the real-world of the novel (as they are implicitly sent to the English countryside in order to escape bombings in London which took place in World War II), Lucy, Susan, and Peter are able to escape the confusion of the war in the “real” setting of their narrative and, rather, take part in a war with clearly marked sides. Edmund, too, eventually joins the side for good and redeems himself. In this way, all four characters are able to progress toward adulthood with a positive moral growth that stems from their choice for good.

Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia, also texts in the coming-of-age subgenre, have parallels to their authors’ own lives, reflecting the moral growth of their characters. In 1938, E.B. White’s move from New York City to rural Maine greatly influenced the setting in Charlotte’s Web in which nature is emphasized as a haven for both character growth and the fantastic (Neumeyer). White was known to love the privacy and seclusion of his farm; a seclusion which is necessary in Charlotte’s Web as the barn acts as a fantastic “other-realm” for Fern in her growth as a character. A large portion of Fern’s individualized growth in the novel, though a concern for her mother, takes place in part due to her ability to communicate with the animals in her uncle’s barn and witness them as her friends. The unusualness of her interactions with the animals in terms of what is “normal” outside of the barn (animals that do not talk) is what sets Fern apart as a character who, in her own way, rejects the traditional setting of her reality. At the same time, the seclusion of Fern’s experiences in the barn also makes Fern’s transition closer to adulthood at the end of the novel more prominent. White’s fascination with nature and its influence on relationships—something which is demonstrated by the rural setting of the barn and the friendships Fern builds because of it—makes her transition toward adulthood even more obvious when she chooses to stray from these friendships (Neumeyer). When Fern chooses to leave Wilbur at the fair in order to play with her male friend Henry, she is actively choosing to leave the isolation of the barn in order to partake in the real world. Her interest in Henry—or boys in general—indicates her growth from childhood to adulthood. Fern rejects the barn in order to mature in the real world.

Similarly, Jess’ relationship to Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia instigates his own transition toward adulthood while in a world that differs from the normal reality of the setting. Paterson’s novel, one which loosely follows the drowning of her son’s childhood best friend, delineates a world in which the main character Jess is uncomfortable with himself. Leslie’s demonstration of imagination eventually influences Jess in a positive manner, allowing him to forgive his own fears. The traditional setting of this novel, set in the southern United States, is itself a limit that defines the stereotypical roles of both Jess and Leslie; roles they each break when they become the king and queen of their imagined world Terabithia. Paterson claims to have wanted to build a world in which the grief and self-exploration of her child characters can be experienced authentically (Misheff). At the end of the novel, Jess’ moral growth in terms of his self-actualization and ability to perceive himself as strong stem naturally from his experiences with Leslie. This may be attributed to the novel based on the authenticity of Paterson’s portrayal of her real-life experiences. Rather than submit to his grief at the loss of his friend, Jess is able to appreciate the lessons Leslie taught him during their friendship, and so was able to develop in moral maturity.

Both in Charlotte’s Web and in Bridge to Terabithia, Fern and Jess, like the other child characters examined in this thesis, are able to separate themselves from their settings in a way that allows them to grow morally. Fern learns lessons of morality and friendship in the fantastic second-world of her uncle’s barn through the conversations she holds and observes with Charlotte and Wilbur. These lessons then allow her to explore the adult “real” world of the novel while growing as a character which is demonstrated through her experiences in the barn; a place that is both rural and removed, allowing Fern to interact with nature in an environment free from social restrictions. Jess, too, demonstrates a growth in his character when he welcomes his sister to Terabithia at the end of Bridge to Terabithia. Rather than allowing May Belle to succumb to her fears, Jess explains (in a way that is opposite of his character traits in the beginning of the novel) that one should not be ashamed of his or her fears. Like Fern, Jess is able to utilize the lessons he learns in Terabithia and transfer them to his experiences in the real world, demonstrating an individual maturation of morality.

Lastly, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, just as its predecessors (particularly The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) in this thesis have shown, also depicts a conflict between good and evil that results in the positive development of morality for its child characters. Much of Rowling’s early influences stemmed from her relationship with her parents, primarily her mother, whose death contributed toward several scenes and/or depictions of love and death in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Rowling’s life as a single mother (Orford). Harry must confront Voldemort at the end of the novel and face the man who murdered his parents; however, it is by the love of his mother, who sacrificed herself when Harry was an infant so that he could live, that Voldemort is defeated at the end of The Philosopher’s Stone. The love of Harry’s mother, something which he yearns for in her absence and which he experiences at the end of the novel with his defeat of Voldemort, is a consistent theme throughout the text. Parallels can be drawn between this conflict and Rowling’s own grief after her mother’s passing. Rowling draws from her own experience with losing a parent, not only making this one of the larger themes of the book, but also one of the moral challenges that stimulates growth in Harry’s character. Upon discovering the love of his mother is still with him, literally demonstrated in Harry’s fight with Voldemort, Harry is able to truly embrace goodness and its triumph over evil.

In much the same way, Rowling’s experience as a single parent can likely be read as an influence on the growth of Harry’s morality, demonstrated through his ability to establish a life for himself at Hogwarts that is separate and improved from the life he knew with the Dursleys. After divorcing from her husband, Rowling moved to Edinburgh where she was jobless, a single mother, and had little familial support with the exception of her sister who lived nearby (Orford). However, it was in this setting that Rowling was able to begin constructing the novel that would later lead to her immense success with the Harry Potter series. Rowling’s initial lack of familial support with her ex-husband is reflected in Harry’s time with the Dursleys; a household that not only did not want him, but despised him. Transitioning from the Dursley’s household to Hogwarts, Harry is able to make friends and establish a life that is far more morally rewarding than what he had previously lived. Rowling, too, in her move to Edinburgh and her creation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while in an ambiguous state of unemployment, experienced significant transition in regards to what she knew as normal, and it is quite possible that this change in her personal life was reflected in Harry’s own moral progressions.

By tracing these moral progressions throughout all seven novels combined, there is a clear pattern of characters deviating from the societal norms of their personal realities. In each era of history and in each setting of the novels, the characters in all of these works of literary importance display traits of independence that strengthen each of them morally and, in many cases, this enforces a progression toward adulthood. These works are both a reflection of the eras in which they were published and a rejection of them. Authors Carroll, Burnett, Barrie, Lewis, White, Paterson, and Rowling have all produced characters that uniquely embody a change from what is considered societally acceptable to something that inspires personal growth and the achievement of “goodness.” It is this change that allows readers to both relate to, be inspired by, and learn lessons from the experiences of these child characters.

Thesis Post #3: Chapter 2

ii: Coming-of-Age in Children’s Fantasy Literature and the Moral Threat of Good and Evil

The coming-of-age subgenre largely describes works which follow the growth of child characters, sometimes physically but more often morally, from childhood to adulthood. This does not necessarily denote that readers follow characters as they age, but rather as they experience the world and learn lessons which shift them mentally and physically from their positions at the start of the novel to more “adult” positions by the end of the book. In the following novels, these shifts from child to adult occur both physically as is the case of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and also morally, and these shifts are highlighted by the use of the fantastic. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the main characters, through their experiences in fantastic realms, are prompted to grow morally, a growth which translates to the real world at the end of each novel. In all four novels this also includes, to some extent, the emphasis of good and its defeat of evil. Through his/her moral conflicts and growth, each child must discover right and wrong for his or herself.

While Peter Pan introduces the concept of conflicting moral sides, good and evil, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe takes this even further with clear distinctions between good and evil in the fantastic realm of Narnia. The Pevensie children, who have been sent to a house in the English countryside to avoid the bombings in London (historically set during World War II), discover a magical cupboard that transports them to the fantastical realm of Narnia where they are told of a prophecy “that when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit on [the throne]…it will be the end of the White Witch’s reign” (89). Immediately, the children are immersed in a moral conflict of good and evil; one in which, by word of the prophecy, the children are innately good and the White Witch is evil. This good-evil dichotomy is further developed when Aslan, “the King of Beasts,” is introduced (86) and characterized as innately good. Aslan and the White Witch become foils for one another. Aslan, the sage yet highly secretive ruler of Narnia, embodies traits of kindness, wisdom, and courage. Conversely, the White Witch’s selfish desire to take over Narnia for the sake of power and her cruelty towards all creatures makes her “bad all through” and separates her from the ability to achieve moral goodness (88).

In much the same way, the Pevensie children act as foils for one another as well; however this changes as they progress morally throughout the novel. At the start of the novel Edmund is selfish and unkind, particularly to his sister Lucy when he “decide[s] all at once to do the meanest and most spiteful thing he [can] think of. He decide[s] to let Lucy down lying to his siblings about his initial visit to Narnia and his meeting with the White Witch,” (48). His behavior is immediately characterized as being cruel, implying that the White Witch morally corrupts Edmund and that he has her capacity for cruelty. Just as Captain Hook in Peter Pan is undoubtedly the villain, Edmund with his cruel behavior exhibits characteristics of the villain. This behavior is juxtaposed to that of his siblings, particularly Lucy and Peter, whose actions are innately good. Lucy is described as a “very truthful girl” whose selflessness initially appears when she demands that she and her siblings “simply must try to rescue [Mr. Tumnus]” after the faun was kidnapped by the White Witch (27, 65). Likewise, Peter is characterized in his own valiance when he takes charge of Aslan’s army in their war against the White Witch’s attempted takeover of Narnia, and though he “did not feel very brave…that made no difference to what he had to do” (144). Even under the threat of evil, both Lucy and Peter display traits of moral strength and goodness.

This dynamic of good and bad within the Pevensie siblings does not remain static throughout the novel; however, when Edmund comes to realize his mistakes in adhering to the evilness of the Witch and discovers that “deep down inside him he really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel” (97). He then apologizes to both Aslan and his siblings, earning their forgiveness and embodying moral growth. This then leads to a physical growth toward the end of the novel once Aslan’s warriors defeat the White Witch in their war and goodness has won over evil in Narnia. The children take their places on the throne as prophesized, literally growing into adults while ruling Narnia as King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Susan the Gentle, King Edmund the Just, and Queen Lucy the Valiant. As the four children grow, the moral goodness which they are taught in Narnia stays with them and they “[make] good laws and [keep] the peace” in Narnia (200). This continues even when they return to the real world in which they are once again children, the same as they had been prior to climbing through the wardrobe into Narnia. Once again, the secondary fantastic realm allows the four children to experience growth, morally and physically, while in its borders, but does not result in any negative consequences in the real world of the novel. While Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy maintain their moral growth through their experiences and lessons learned while in Narnia, they are not adults when they cross back into reality. Instead, they are children who come of age by moving toward adulthood in their understanding of right and wrong, good and evil.

Both Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia portray another shift in morality when it comes to character growth in the coming-of-age genre. Also shifting is the emphasis placed on good versus evil. Unlike both Peter Pan and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web is less obvious in its portrayal of morality in terms of individual characters who are themselves good or evil, but rather suggests that good and bad are matters of perception, and that an individual makes an active choice to be one or the other. Although the novel mainly centers around the pig Wilbur and his spider friend Charlotte who saves his life, the human child Fern is the one who experiences the true coming-of-age in the novel, and who first experiences a moral conflict at the start of the novel when she stops her father from killing Wilbur, claiming that “it’s unfair…[he] couldn’t help being born small” (White 3). White portrays this act as an act of goodness as Fern is able to save Wilbur from death; an act which is rewarded by its deliverance of Fern to the fantastic other-world of her uncle’s barn. Here, Wilbur lives for most of his life and the barn serves as the setting in which the Fern is able to understand and converse with the animals who live there. Unlike in the world outside of the barn in which Wilbur is merely a pig, inside the barn he becomes both a character and a friend to Fern.

Conversely, the concept of evil—although there is not a single character who is solidly evil, with the exception of Templeton who possesses several bad traits—stems from a lack of personal morality or moral traits. Evilness itself is something that is perceived. Rather than being a physical trait, it is something that people can choose. From the very start of Charlotte’s Web, bad or improper behavior—what is considered immoral due to its negative impact on others—is often referred to with some sort of disdain or scolding. After waking to find Templeton attempting to eat from the grain bin, Wilbur thinks, “why does he have to stay up all night…destroying people’s property? Why can’t he go to sleep like any decent animal?” (32). Soon afterwards, Wilbur’s loudness in his excitement about meeting a new friend is scolded by the sheep who says “stop your nonsense, Wilbur…you are probably disturbing [your friend’s] rest” (35). In both of these instances, the action that is being taken in the moment is reproached for its impropriety. Unlike in the previous texts examined by this thesis, in Charlotte’s Web it is not the main characters who demonstrate the proper behaviors, but rather those characters who are enacting poor behaviors and are then taught a lessons in manners. Thus White in 1952 deliberately shifts away from the Victorian displays of perfect, well-behaved children in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and A Little Princess. Instead, the characters are more imperfect and must grow from these imperfections as they learn.

As previously stated, Templeton most clearly possesses traits of evil or villainy. “The rat had no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no consideration, no decency,” and yet he helped save Wilbur in at the end of the novel by providing some of the words which Charlotte scripted into her web (46). While he acts primarily out of his own selfish greed, he cannot be considered solely evil, although it is his lack of morality rather than his active choices that leave the reader with an impression of his bad character. Still, unlike the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe whose cruelty and selfishness leads to the death of Aslan, Templeton helps to save Wilbur’s life. White creates characters that confuse good and evil, complicating the reader’s understandings of what these are and what it means to be right and wrong. It is clear through the narrator’s frequent admonitions of Templeton’s behavior, that many (if not most) of his actions are bad and/or wrong, but he is not exclusively bad, but rather a mixed character.

White echoes this in Charlotte’s own character as she is originally thought to be evil by Wilbur when he witnesses her eating another insect. When witnessing her eating, Wilbur “was particularly glad that she always put her victim to sleep before eating it” (48). Here, Charlotte is portrayed as both vicious and merciful. The fact that the other insect is referred to as her “victim” suggests some form of the spider’s cruelty. However, the fact that Wilbur is glad that she puts her victim to sleep produces a sense of admiration on the part of Wilbur for Charlotte’s own kindness. This largely confuses her character and whether or not she is good or evil. Wilbur’s own opinion of Charlotte changes greatly by the end of the novel when he says, “‘Oh, Charlotte…to think that when I first met you I thought you were cruel and bloodthirsty!’” (164). Wilbur comes to realize that Charlotte is “doing what comes naturally” to her, rather than something that is bad (Misheff 132). In the end, Charlotte is a good character who is the primary force in saving Wilbur’s life by writing words of admiration in her web. Like Templeton, she possesses traits that are both good and bad, however, her selflessness and love for Wilbur result in her coming across as a good character—the hero of the story.

The ending of Charlotte’s Web also distinguishes itself from the other novels previously analyzed in this thesis when it brings about a change in Fern that most embodies the coming-of-age genre. Mrs. Arable, Fern’s mother, is concerned about her daughter’s well-being because “it [doesn’t] seem natural for a little girl to be so interested in animals” and seeks advice from Doctor Dorian (107). He tells her that “spiders and pigs [are] fully as interesting as Henry Fussy,” a boy that Fern has shown interest in, and that “the day will come when even Henry will drop some chance remark that catches Fern’s attention” (111). In the end this prediction comes true when Fern leaves Wilbur at the state fair in order to ride the Ferris Wheel with Henry. The fair is a place where there are “no parents to guard [the children] and guide them, and where [Fern] could be happy and free and do as [she] pleased” (131). Fern’s observations of the goodness that Charlotte shows toward Wilbur and the lessons that Wilbur learns about good and bad, all of which take place in her uncle’s barn, prepare her for an escape into adulthood, where she departs from the parents to find her own, independent self. In this way, the character’s moral growth in the fantasy world moves her closer toward adulthood in her “real” world.

In Bridge to Terabithia, as is true in Charlotte’s Web, moral behavior in terms of right and wrong is displayed more naturally through the thoughts and actions of the characters. In this way, it is harder to distinguish exactly what behaviors the characters and Paterson, the author, deem to be morally good or correct, and the ambiguity of the situations in which Jess finds himself allow for him to make decisions and deal with the consequences of those decisions authentically on his own. The book dramatizes real-life situations and their outcomes, allowing the reader to assess the characters’ behaviors as proper and improper. The interactions of Jess Aarons and his friend Leslie Burke spawn the creation of Terabithia, the novel’s fantastic second world, which culminates in Jess’ eventual shift in moral identity and growth toward adulthood at the end of the novel.

Leslie’s character is a force that makes Jess confront what he knows to be his own morality and understanding of what is right and wrong. Upon creating their secret, imagined world of Terabithia, Jess says that he “[knows Leslie is] a proper queen,” yet, “he [can] hardly manage English, much less the poetic language of a king” (Paterson 51). Leslie’s own confidence and ability to imagine and create a world that is fully fictitious causes Jess to question his own abilities; confusing what he knows as real to him. If Leslie makes a proper queen, then it is left implied that Jess, himself, is improper as a ruling figure; a form of Jess’ self-admonishment. Jess senses his own weakness when it comes to openness of thought and imagination, and thus considers himself lesser when comparing himself to Leslie’s ability to create new worlds. This occurs again when Leslie refers to her parents by their first names, something which “bother[s] Jess more than he want[s] it to…but he just [can’t] get used to it” (57). Leslie is suggesting a “maturation [in] the individual life” when referring to her parents in a way that an adult might (Misheff 140). Jess cannot comprehend this, and thus views it as something improper, though it is not necessarily so. In fact, Paterson seems to implicitly approve Leslie’s actions as Leslie is not punished for them. Instead, Leslie demonstrates personal growth into adulthood, while Jess’ understanding of the proper shifts. Essentially, Leslie is farther along on her maturation into adulthood and so her interactions with Jess force him to reconsider his own moral reality and, in the end, result in his own personal change and growth. This is especially transparent at the end of the novel when Jess thinks, “it was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king” (160), and then again in his speech welcoming his sister to Terabithia, when he says “you just have to stand up to your fear and not let it squeeze you white” (161). Jess is able to release the fear that has constantly plagued his mind when he realizes the positive influence Leslie has had on him.

Unlike the prior novels, too, evil in Bridge to Terabithia is more of a concept than a character trait. There is no one character that possesses villainous qualities or performs immoral acts. However, evil itself is a concept that at times permeates the realm of Terabithia; something that Leslie instructs Jess to pray to the gods remove. In response to poor weather, Leslie says, “Methinks some evil being has put a curse on our beloved kingdom,” and that the evilness itself is an “unknown force” (Paterson 116, 118). Rather than a person or thing which causes evil, evil itself is a power; something which can upset the regular and ordinary in negative ways. It is, in fact, this storm—the evil force—which causes the creek to flood; a prime factor leading to Leslie’s death. In this way, the evilness that Leslie and Jess pray against is the cause of tragedy, but it is one that could not be prevented; a tragic accident not brought about by any one person, but by the unknown force. In a way, this can be read as fate. The storm, though it is not something which can be held accountable, is responsible for Leslie’s death, and so it is considered a force of evil. Evil pushes Jess closer to a moral change and is closely associated with the fantastic realm of Terabithia.

When an unknown force (the storm) which threatens to enter and cause harm to Terabithia, Leslie dies in her attempt to reach Terabithia, where she “went swinging on that rope just to show [Jess] that she was no coward” (145). After her death, Jess blames Leslie for her involvement in his growth; for making “him leave his old self behind and come into her world” (145). Jess’ new self that emerges from entering Leslie’s world begins to transfer to the “real” world at the end of the novel when he comes to realize that “before Leslie came, he had been a nothing” (160). Jess’s introduction of his younger sister to Terabithia also demonstrates his changed image of himself when he tells her “everybody gets scared sometimes, May Belle. You don’t have to be ashamed” (156). Until this point in the novel, Jess is actively ashamed of his own fears. Leslie’s imaginative influence and her ability to make him a king in Terabithia gives Jess the confidence to tell his sister not to be embarrassed of her fears. This realization occurs as Jess is guiding his sister into Terabithia, the place where he himself overcame his fears, and so it draws a parallel between the strength Leslie was able to provide for him, and the moral support he will implicitly supply for his sister.

Rejecting the moral ambiguities of Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia, J.K. Rowling turns to a more explicit conflict of good and evil in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, dramatizing this conflict through the fight between Harry and his two nemeses Draco Malfoy and Lord Voldemort. While there are certain qualities pertaining to Harry—primarily his knack for breaking the rules—that do not make him a pure, faultless hero, Rowling provides no room for reader’s doubt about who is good and who is not in the novel. Even examples of Harry’s rejection of authority in several instances throughout the novel come across as justified. Harry’s aversion to Snape and his trek to the roof of the school in order to free Norbert the dragon (although it is against school rules) are considered necessary actions by both Harry and the reader due to the negative consequences that could arise from them. Failure to send Norbert with Ron’s brother Charlie would mean the sacrifice of Hagrid’s job, and Snape’s active dislike of Harry often results in Harry’s punishment, so Harry is suspicious of Snape and his motivations. Therefore, it is considered acceptable when Hermione sets Snape’s cloak on fire during the Gryffindor-Slytherin quidditch match when Harry’s broom is being jinxed. Similarly, Harry delivers the Norbert to the roof of the school in order to save Hagrid from being fired; though he breaks the rules, it is for a selfless reason. Literary scholar Lana Whited writes “if a world is fundamentally fair and rational, subversion is politically unnecessary” (Whited 160). Because of the consequences the conflict between good and evil threaten to have on Harry’s world, and as in A Little Princess and Peter Pan where adults are either unreliable or untrustworthy, Harry makes ethical choices to undermine or at times ignore authority in order to enact good.

Like the other novels in this chapter, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone also belongs to the coming-of-age subgenre of children’s fantasy literature. Harry, who initially finds himself as the outsider because of his wizard parents and magical abilities in the human world, is brought into the fantastic wizard-world. The wizarding world of Hogwarts School is the novel’s secondary world separate from the muggle—or human—world that had previously been known to Harry as his reality. Harry’s first impressions of good and evil within the wizarding world occur when Hagrid, Hogwarts’ gamekeeper and the man who comes to retrieve Harry from the muggle world, tells him the truth about the death of his parents. Hagrid tells Harry “yer mum an’ dad were as good a witch an’ wizard as I ever knew…You-Know-Who killed ’em…he tried to kill you, too” (45). As in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, innately good and evil characters are separated from the start of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. There is little to no question that Harry, son of two morally great wizards, is the hero of the story, while Lord Voldemort, cruel murderer is the villain.

Harry’s conversation with Draco Malfoy prior to entering the Great Hall at the beginning of the novel results in Harry’s assertion that “I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks,” implying that Draco may himself be the “wrong sort” (Rowling 81). To this Draco replies, “Unless you’re a bit politer you’ll go the same way as your parents” (81). Not only is Draco referring to the murder of Harry’s parents, but he is insinuating that the same might happen to Harry should he not be submissive to Draco. This act of bullying on the part of Draco clearly establishes a line between the hero of the story, Harry, and one of its villains. Draco’s morality comes into question with the allusion to killing. Harry’s rejection of Draco’s offer of friendship is largely what distinguishes Draco as a bad character from the start of the novel. Harry as the hero, whom the reader immediately recognizes from the start of the novel as the hero due to his survival of the ill-treatment at the Dursley household and his induction into the realm of magic, denies Draco of this relationship or social tie.

Heroics, or goodness, is also demonstrated throughout the novel as a selfless act by the heroes of the novel. When Harry and Ron go in search of Hermione after the escaped troll is announced on Halloween, “It was the last thing they wanted to do, but what choice did they have?” (129). Rather than an act that stems from intentional bravery, the need/desire to come to the rescue of others is an innate characteristic of moral goodness; something of which neither Ron nor Harry are even conscious. This occurs again later in the novel when, while playing the enchanted chess game that is one of the obstacles between the three children and the Philosopher’s Stone, Ron says “‘that’s chess…You’ve got to make some sacrifices!’” (205). Acts of goodness and heroics are automatic decisions; not ones that require significant thought, and these are decisions that get rewarded; Harry and Hermione are able to move on toward the Philosopher’s Stone, and later Ron is rewarded points toward the House Cup. Heroic nature in Harry Potter is both instinctual and undeterred, something which succeeds when placed against evil as it is simply the better of the two.

Examples of evil in the novel are largely attributed to the characters of Draco Malfoy and Voldemort, as they are both portrayed as manipulative and treacherous. Voldemort, who is referred to as You-Know-Who in most parts of the novel rather than being named outright, is the ultimate villain. Not only a killer but someone who can manipulate thought, there is a realism to the evilness of his character that reflects real-world tyrants far more than any of the villains in the other six works analyzed by this thesis. Harry’s own moral conflict with Voldemort is also far more personal than that of his feud with Draco Malfoy. As the person who murdered Harry’s parents, Voldemort takes on the role of an iconic villain—someone who is surrounded by mystery, suspense, and stories of immense violence—but who does not appear until the end of the novel. Malfoy, on the other hand, takes on the role of a realistic bully. Equipped with his lackeys, Crabbe and Goyle, he preys on the weaknesses of other students with the audacity and confidence of someone who considers themselves superior. Voldemort attempts to kill Harry just as he took the lives of Harry’s parents, while Malfoy’s bullying remains relatively superficial as he does not cause any permanent physical or mental harm to Harry. Both villains are set in contrast to Harry, their acts of cruelty and/or evil compared to his acts of courage and bravery. This results in Harry’s victory over Voldemort at the end of the novel—something which results from the sheer goodness and love that surrounds Harry—and, later, Harry’s defeat of Draco when Gryffindor (instead of Slytherin) wins the House Cup. In the case of both moral conflicts, good overcomes evil, resulting in Harry’s success at the end of the novel.

Thesis Post #2: Chapter 1

i: Etiquette and Manners in Victorian and Edwardian Children’s Fantasy Literature

            For women in the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras, domesticity and the art of practiced manners were essential social skills, and this is reflected in children’s fantasy literature. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll and A Little Princess (1905) by Frances Hodgson Burnett, right and wrong—as understood by the general British public—is largely related to manners and propriety. Rules, both societal and legal, make up the moral code of the time. Rather than being bad or evil, being improper (especially for young females) was far worse. Alice demonstrates her knowledge of the importance of rules and manners in her constant berating of her behavior and the behaviors of others while in Wonderland. Manners and acts of proper behavior, similarly, are indicators of social class identity in A Little Princess; the expectations for rich little girls and for servants are largely different, and Burnett juxtaposes these in order to make more obvious the separation of the classes in terms of moral behaviors. However, both texts also denote a deviation from these norms by Alice and Sara. Both characters stray from these societal expectations: Alice in her command of the creatures of Wonderland, particularly at the end of the novel in which she takes on a role of power amidst the King’s court, a character trait most associated with the masculine, and Sara in her fluctuating class identity, changing from wealthy young girl to poor servant and then back to wealth once again, which unsettles the power dynamic between Sara and her headmistress Miss Minchin.

During Alice’s descent into Wonderland through the rabbit hole, she contemplates what the appropriate social greeting will be for the people she assumes live on the other side of the world. She thinks that she will “…have to ask them what the name of [their] country is,” and she “trie[s] to curtsey as she [speaks]” (Carroll 3). In assuming that the culture will be at least somewhat like the English culture she left, Alice inserts proper greetings that she knows, like curtseying, into the unknown world of Wonderland. Curtseying follows the traditional belief of propriety for a young female. In doing this, Alice is essentially following the societal rules established for her in the real world and transferring these to Wonderland. Another more extreme example of this comes shortly after her trip down the rabbit hole in Alice’s recollection of “several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules” (6). This reference to early instructional texts, written explicitly to teach children proper morals and behaviors, is being acknowledged by Carroll in a way that appears to be producing agreement, but also instigates humor. Alice, alone in a new, strange world, has little use for such instructional texts, yet she knows that if she does not follow guidelines established by society as the proper behaviors for a child, she may be eaten up.

Carroll is utilizing elements of the fantastic—man-eating beasts—to demonstrate the theorized negative consequences of breaking the rules; consequences which have been described to children by adults whose intentions are to teach said children their place in the world. Carroll’s consequences for failed propriety and forgetting one’s class station are rather dire. This comedic emphasis on the moral implications of following the rules permeates the novel; not only does Alice question right and wrong in terms of proper modes of behavior throughout her stay in Wonderland, she also attempts to explain what she understands as proper manners and behavior to the citizens of Wonderland, which in many cases ends unsuccessfully.

As Alice spends more time communicating with the creatures in Wonderland, her understanding of what is proper begins to shift. During a conversation she holds with the Duchess, Alice “[is] not quite sure whether it [is] good manners for her to speak first” (46). The Duchess, whose social ranking as a member of royalty is far higher than Alice’s, is someone whom Alice, abiding by the social norms of England, should not address first. However, the violence that permeates the Duchess’ home which results in Alice’s cry of, “Oh, please mind what you’re doing!” contradicts the behaviors expected of a member of the noble class (46). Because Wonderland does not exist in reality (a prime example of the “other world” used within the fantastic), Alice’s sudden and improper outburst is not punished by the author. In fact, Alice is seen as the more domestically responsible of the two characters, as it is she who recognizes the danger to the Duchess’ baby which is caused by the noblewoman herself. Because the Duchess’ home is set in a place that has no correlation with the real world, Alice is able to disrespectfully address the Duchess without consequence. Therefore, Carroll grows Alice’s agency as a child through her experiences in Wonderland because she can claim more power for herself.

At the end of the novel, the Red Queen instigates yet another shift in what is considered proper in Wonderland. The court case, which takes place after the Queen’s tarts go missing, is steeped in moral ambiguity. This is likely Carroll’s own commentary on the mid-Victorian justice system, and it is this that causes Alice to question what she understands as right and wrong with enough finality to send her home to the real world. When Alice becomes a suspect as a tart thief, the Queen questions her in court. However, when the results of her inquisition do not prove that Alice is the thief, the Queen claims that she must leave the court because she is too large in physical size. To this, Alice responds “Well, I sha’n’t go, at any rate…besides, that’s not a regular rule: you invented it just now” (103). Alice, who at the start of the novel is timid toward those she presumes to be her superiors, once again demonstrates a lack of propriety by recognizing the unfairness of the Queen. Once again, the setting of the fantastic provides Alice an outlet through which to deny social norms (in this case, the Queen’s orders) and think for herself. Rather than leaving the court because she has been instructed to do so, Alice questions the Queen’s own authority. Because the Queen fails to model the proper behaviors of a ruler—or, more importantly in terms of Victorian society, the proper behaviors of a female– she no longer appears to Alice as a strong role model or adult. In fact, the Queen displays masculine characteristics in her desire to wield power rather than to submit to male authority.

This denial of propriety occurs again near the very end of the novel when Alice straightforwardly denies the Queen’s demand to have the sentence first before the verdict, to which the Queen says “Hold your tongue!” and Alice responds “I won’t!” (107). By denying the power that the Queen’s social status implies, Alice is retaining some of this power for herself, and saying “no” to the Queen allows Alice “grow to her full size” (107). This action leads to her departure from Wonderland. In choosing to be fair, Alice acknowledges the ignorance of Wonderland’s monarchy and their lack of fairness and impartiality in the court case. Thus, Alice literally grows up, expels herself from the fantastical setting of Wonderland, and returns to the real world.

Much like Alice’s morality, Sara Crewe’s in Burnett’s A Little Princess is defined through her behavior, which is complicated by the changes that take place to her social status as she shifts from the daughter of a wealthy merchant to a penniless orphan. Prior to her father’s death, Sara is described as an “odd little girl who ha[s] such an intelligent small face and such perfect manners” (Burnett 11). When headmistress Miss Minchin, upon meeting Sara, assumes that the young girl cannot speak French, the narrator states, “if Sara had been older or less punctilious about being quite polite…she could have explained herself…it would be almost rude to correct [Miss Minchin]” (12). This perceived rudeness stems from the fact that in age Miss Minchin is socially superior to Sara. However, in class standing Sara, whose father possesses considerable wealth, is superior to the unmarried, childless Miss Minchin. These social traits define an unusual tension between headmistress and student that changes when Sara, later orphaned and poor after her father’s death, no longer has a high social standing, allowing Miss Minchin to reclaim power. However, in this example, Sara’s overly kind and polite treatment of Miss Minchin results in the latter appearing ridiculous in comparison. Miss Minchin’s quickness to make assumptions and the severity she demonstrates over Sara’s knowledge of French prove her lack of genuine morality.

In addition, Sara’s valiant character, even when compared to the scullery maid, Becky, whose situation is desperate also, flips “the ideological conflict between the domestic angel in the house and her other (the worker or servant)” on its head (Langland 291). Sara embodies the Angel in the House, a Victorian depiction of the ideal woman figure, due to her impeccable politeness and motherly, domestic characteristics unlike Miss Minchin who, though Sara’s elder, is cold and cruel. Even in her lowered societal position, Sara remains polite. She is often the person charged with teaching the school’s younger pupils, and she plays a motherly role for Becky, as well as for her ex-schoolmates Ermengarde and Lottie. Because of this, there is little separation in status between the identities of Sara the Angel in the House and Sara the servant. Burnett links Sara’s goodness to the the pureness of her actions rather than to her social status; as even when her status is at its lowest, she still retains characteristics of the Victorian domestic angel.

Miss Minchin’s social status directly affects the satisfaction of her students (and their parents), thus making her reliant on the children she teaches. This reliance, which is itself in opposition to the societal belief that children are supposed to rely on adults, is what emphasizes the goodness of Sara’s character in comparison to Minchin’s bitterness and selfish outlook. Even when she is being treated as a drudge, Sara knows “she could not be made rude and malicious by the rudeness and malice of those about her…‘A princess must be polite’” (97).  Both Sara and the narrator consistently refer to the little girl as a princess throughout the whole of her experience at Miss Minchin’s school, including in the moments when she is extremely poor. It is this ideology of moral superiority that leads to Sarah’s creation of a fictional world in which she is treated as a princess. Sara’s kindness and empathy make her more of a leader than Miss Minchin, and Burnett expresses this through her use of the fantastic. Acts of fantasy and imagination largely take place in Sara’s attic room to which she is banished after her loss of father and fortune. There, she often speaks to her doll Emily as if the doll can respond and guides Ermengarde and Becky on how to “pretend a party” (131). Her moral superiority when facing the cruelty of Miss Minchin upon the headmistress’ discovery of their party, results in the “magic” of the attic coming to life. In truth, it is the neighbor’s servant Ram Dass who, in is observation of Sara and her courage in such poor circumstances deems her worthy of his master’s aid. However, in Sara’s world of imagination, this magic is an example of the fantastic. All alone in her attic room, Sara imagines herself warm and with enough food to feed not only herself but to share with the family of rats who live in the wall, and it is this dream that comes to life—although Sara knows it as “magic”—through the work of Ram Dass.

The realm of the fantastic, represented as the “attic realm” in this novel, is set apart from reality. While Sara is a princess in her attic, she imagines herself sometimes as a historical figure with power like Marie Antoinette, She is kept company by Emily, a figure that is both her doll and her friend, and these elements do not escape the realm of the attic. Upon walking down the stairs to the school, Sara is merely another member of the servant staff; someone who can be ordered about by nearly everyone in the household as she is of such a low status. However, it is the kindness and consideration that she demonstrates on a daily basis—smiling at Ram Dass and returning his monkey to him, giving bread to the starving street urchin Anne, and playing a motherly role to Ermengarde, Lottie, and the other little girls at the school—that results in her final reversal of fortune. Rather than being rescued from poverty, Sara is returned to her rightful place of wealth and title, an English heiress and “princess”; a status which she demonstrated through her character even when she was poor.

At the start of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (1911), the emphasis on morality, like with the previous two texts, is linked closely with the manners and behaviors expected of children at the turn of the twentieth century. Even Peter, who lives primarily in Neverland, the novel’s other world that exists outside of reality, “could be exceedingly polite” (Barrie 25). This stress on politeness—something which even Peter, an outsider, demonstrates—aligns with the expectations of behavior for children in the Edwardian period. The Edwardian era prompted a change in adult observations of the child, leading to the perception of childhood as a stage of growth and maturity, rather than the prior Victorian portrayal of children as merely a smaller version of adults (Zipes). This distinction is demonstrated in Peter Pan by Wendy’s character who sleeps in the nursery in the real world yet takes on the adult role of mother when she enters Neverland. Yet even with these intermediary stages between child and adult, the importance of what is considered proper social behavior still illustrates good moral character.

Upon meeting Peter, Wendy acts as hostess in the nursery, acknowledging that “it is customary for them to ask each other’s ages,” a practice which helps to identify status between them (as the elder is socially superior), and she does so in a “charming drawing-room manner” which befits her gender (28). These proper behaviors which revolve around the interactions and social behaviors of genders, continue throughout the beginning of the novel as Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael move from the nursery in the real world to the unknown, fantastic world of Neverland.

When Wendy first enters Neverland she is shot out of the sky by the “lost boys” who believe they are under the instruction of Peter. After discovering this is not true, the lost boys build Wendy a small house, and when she wakes they follow the societal rules of propriety when Peter “knock[s] politely” on her door, and the boys “[whip] off their hats” as a sign of respect (66). The same boys who shot Wendy out of the sky with an arrow suddenly act politely when in the presence of a female in the traditional domestic setting, and with this comes the desire and ability to follow the proper societal norms. In the case of the little house as well as the house underground, these norms are those of reverence toward the mother figure who (as Wendy is the oldest of the children) joins Peter in taking on the pretend or imaginary roles of mother and father. However, Barrie emphasizes the pretend quality of these acts of imagination. Peter in his refusal to grow up, frequently asks Wendy that “it is only make-believe, isn’t it?” (95). By acting as mother and father while in Neverland, a world characterized by its fantastic, magic setting and the creatures that live there, Wendy—whose desire and knowledge that she must grow up is depicted in her story to Peter and the lost boys—gives in to the pretend of their playing while Peter must constantly have it be acknowledged that what they are doing is not real. In this way, Wendy and Peter alike both practice what it might mean to grow up without actually doing so. Neverland acts as a world where the children are able to express themselves and experiment with their potential growth as individuals without their actions having any effect on the real world.

Captain Hook, like many of the other characters in Neverland, is also given attributes of a politeness; however, he is separated as the villain (and Peter’s nemesis) in the novel, and thus his politeness takes on a rather negative connotation. The narrator observes that Hook “[is] never more sinister than when he [is] most polite…and the elegance of his diction, even when he [is] swearing, no less than the distinction of his demeanour, show[s] him one of a different caste from his crew” (52). Rather than politeness acting as a measure of goodness, for Hook it acts as a measure of his wickedness. The villain of the novel is measured by the same standards as the other characters, primarily Peter and Wendy, but the results are significantly different. This is the first time in all three books aforementioned that there is a clear distinction between good and bad in terms of characters. This presents a moral conflict that permeates the novel as the children in their goodness must defeat the powerful and cruel Captain Hook. Unlike Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and A Little Princess whose examples of morality largely came in the form of politeness and the proper behavior of the child characters, Peter Pan begins to deviate from this with the feud between Captain Hook and Peter. No longer are the children concerned with right and wrong in terms of proper behavior alone, but the threat of a villainous presence encroaches on the other world and forces the child characters to make choices that contradict it. In this way, Wendy, John, and Michael display innate goodness by providing assistance to Peter in his defeat of Captain Hook. This defeat of good over evil results in the Darling children’s ability to return home as Peter then commandeers Hook’s pirate ship to fly them back to their home in London; something that would not have been possible without their victory over Hook and his men.

Thesis Post #1: Introduction

Children’s fantasy literature, which is believed to have stemmed from the literary tradition of the folktale, has frequently been the platform on which to illustrate dynamic transitions in cultural beliefs and practices. As this genre is fantasy specifically addressed to children, it often provides an idealistic “second world” that allows child characters and readers alike to explore themselves independently from the real world. The realm of the fantastic provides an outlet for characters and readers that is separate from, and thus not a threat to, the societal norms of a civilization. Children’s fantasy literature further explores the moral conflicts and integrity of a character in the safety of a setting that does not exist. The fantastic is an exploration of the imagination, facilitating the wonders of the fantastic so that readers can explore themselves and their beliefs amidst a world that is irregular. Fantastic characters exist in a world “in which chaos is ultimately dispelled and virtue rewarded” (Zipes 552). Although the fantastic exists in a world that is make-believe, the themes and morals which these texts explore highlight many elements of humanity.

However, from their origins, the children’s literature and fantasy genres did not necessarily blend smoothly. The beginning of children’s literature was made up largely of instructional works or conduct books: books and stories meant to teach children about the roles they played (and would one day play) in society. Elements of the fantastic, which had little or nothing to do with the “real world,” were often seen as the enemy to instructional texts. Thus, “the earliest fantasies for young readers attempted to marry whimsy with moral purpose” (Zipes 553). These texts taught lessons about proper behavior and manners that were expected of children through the use of fantastic elements: magical creatures, other worlds, etc. This was followed by a “deep interest in children and childhood” (553) which permeated the early Victorian era in British literature, and near the end of the Victorian era, a growth in the agency of the child as an individual. Meanwhile, early children’s fantasy literature in America was met with even more hesitation due to the strictness of Puritan beliefs which permeated many colonial societies. Folktales (and, thus, the fantastic) were viewed as unnecessary for young readers, and to some readers they were even considered a distraction from the present, and less favored than realist literature. In the end, though, the fantastic in America, just like in England, began to attract readers as the imagined began to blend with the real.

This thesis explores seven texts from the children’s fantasy literature genre from the mid-Victorian period with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) to the end of the 20th century with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997). In between are works by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924), J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), E.B. White (1899-1985), and Katherine Paterson (1932-present). All of these demonstrate some variety of a fictional “other world” in which the main character(s) are forced to face conflicts and the development of their own morality. Evolving from the emphasis on etiquette and proper social conduct that exists in both Victorian and Edwardian literature (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, A Little Princess, Peter Pan), characters in later eras must face moral dilemmas of good the importance of its defeat of evil. Authors C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling portray characters who the reader understands to be innately good, and who must address and/or defeat evil in some form in order to survive. Additionally, these characters, as well as characters in the novels by White and Paterson can be considered protagonists of coming-of-age stories. These characters face moral dilemmas that aid in defining them as individuals and help shape them toward adulthood. This exploration of morality often emulates but is not reserved to the “proper” morality at the time of the novels’ publications.

These seven novels were selected primarily because they portray characters who both follow and defy social norms through their actions and discoveries in the realm of the fantastic. Carroll, Burnett, Barrie, Lewis, White, Paterson, and Rowling all create worlds that are separate from those which are known to their main characters as “reality,” and within which their characters explore moral complexities through behavior that is both acceptable and unacceptable. All seven novels are also ones of which I had had prior knowledge as influential works of literary children’s fiction before developing this thesis. The gap of time between the novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and A Little Princess (1905) is largely due to the fact that in many of the texts which I considered, there did not appear to be a significant enough distinction in the main character’s moral change or separation from the societal norm. Simultaneously, the work would have needed to belong to the children’s fantasy literature genre, not simply be a fairy tale or work of children’s literature, and I had difficulty finding texts that fit these specific parameters.

Additionally, my selection of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess (1905) rather than her other well-known classic The Secret Garden (1911), allows my essay to examine elements of imagination and fantasy which occur to a greater extent in A Little Princess. Sara actively fantasizes much of her life after being left without money or family. Rather than live in the world of reality, one in which she is poor and treated as a servant at Miss Minchin’s boarding school, Sara chooses to live in a fantastic world of her own creation where she adopts powerful, fictional other-selves like those of a princess and Marie Antoinette. Sara, too, much like the majority of the characters in the texts listed above, is nearly wholly self-reliant due to the fact that many of the adults that surround her are useless or biased against her.

This thesis will explore the types of moral changes that have occurred to independent child characters over the course of seven novels: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, A Little Princess, Peter Pan, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; all of which establish a secondary world where the rules and societal beliefs of the novels’ real-world setting do not apply. This thesis will also analyze themes of morality, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the “branch of knowledge concerned with right and wrong conduct, duty, responsibility, etc.” (OED), in each of the seven texts as well as how these works come together as a whole. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, A Little Princess, and Peter Pan all demonstrate ideologies and traits of either the Victorian or Edwardian periods of literature with a pressing emphasis on the propriety of behavior. However, in these novels—like the works analyzed in this thesis which come after them—the main characters are often independent of these traits, and while they appear to adhere to the societal beliefs of the time, their actions often contradict this. The remaining four novels are linked in their common traits of coming-of-age novels which become more popular later in the 20th century, in which moral conflict and growth aid in the transition of child to adult. Likewise, they share the emphasis of good versus evil; particularly in the works The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. These two novels, although published nearly fifty years apart, feature themes of the importance of good overcoming evil and characters’ moral growth while in the realm of the fantastic, which translate to characters’ growth in the real world of the novel.