Alice in Wonderland and other Girls Underground

Hi everyone,

Just found this community recently, and thought that my Girls Underground project might fit the theme in parts, especially since it was so heavily inspired by Alice in Wonderland:

initial post about Alice:
further posts relating to Alice:

From the description on my site:

Girls Underground is the name I chose to describe a certain archetype I've identified, primarily in modern stories but also originating in fairytales and even myths, which focuses on a female protagonist's initiatory journey. The core storyline is as follows:

A young girl, who is orphaned or has distant parents, enters the Otherworld/Underworld, often because of a foolish mistake or wish, most notably resulting from dissatisfaction with her life. She is initially aided or guided by a creature from that world. She usually acquires (or brings along) more than one companion, often otherworldly beings or animals, and together they navigate a strange path of labyrinthine nature. They are thwarted along the way by an adversary and the adversary's minions (a sort of complement to her companions). If the adversary is male (as he often is in the older archetype), there can be some romantic/sexual aspect to their relationship. During the journey, the girl is sometimes drugged, and/or spends some time forgetting herself. She interacts with people or things that are somehow connected to her 'normal' life at home, or briefly returns home in the middle of the journey. There is often an issue of time running out, or time behaves strangely. When she nears her goal (the rescue of a loved one,  returning to her home, saving the world, or occasionally a personal transformation), she is separated from her companions for awhile, culminating in a one-on-one showdown with the adversary, which frequently involves exposing a fraud (and sometimes resisting his attempts at seducing her to his side). In the end, she is changed irrevocably.

The website has some examples from myth and fairytale, and the blog is my attempt to chronicle every example I've found so far (still in the process, with at least 40 more to go before I'm caught up with my current reading). Includes books by Carroll, Baum, and the Uptons. Hope you enjoy it!

Happy Birthday James Matthew Barrie (9th May 1860 –19th June 1937)

   This Sunday is the birthday of J.M. Barrie the author of Peter Pan. Barrie was instrumental to the creation of the myth of the eternal boy as a literary device and as a psychological metaphor. His creation so struck a chord that his boy would lend his name to an actual mental disorder. Barrie’s life was as interesting as his creation. His youth was marred by the early death of his brother, his mothers favorite son which many have suggested instilled within the young James Barrie a seed that would flower as Peter Pan the boy who would never grow up.  As an adult Barrie found himself in a loveless and possibly unconsummated marriage to Mary Ansell which was dissolved in an effort to avoid scandal. His familial relations as well as his relations to friends has long been the source of speculation but none more so than his curious relationship to the Llewelyn Davies family, and especially to Sylvia Llewelyn Davies , the daughter of George du Maurier (Punch cartoonist and author of teh novel Trilby) and her children George, John, Peter, Michael and Nicholas. The father, Arthur died in 1907.
   There is no doubt as to closeness which Barrie had with his new adopted family but the depth of that attachment has been debated. Some argue in Barrie’s favor, claiming that his interest was unselfish and pure. And indeed the surviving children never made any claims to suggest that the relationship with Uncle Jim, as they called him was anything but proper. Nicholas went so far as to flatly refuse the accusations, which never circulated during Barrie’s lifetime. His critics conversely have accused him of being a sexual predator and master manipulator who beguiled a grieving Sylvia and her family into his circle of influence where he might exploit the children. This latter claim is largely discredited based on the evidence but it still lingers and likely will never go away owing to Barrie’s affinity to children, especially boys much as Lewis Carroll surrounded himself with female "child friends". Regardless of the nature of sexuality or relations it is his literary creation which more than anything endures.

What are your thoughs on J.M. Barrie and his work including all the versions of the Peter Pan story?

What scenes of Peter Pan most capture your attention?

Do you feel Peter Pan delivered an appropriate message to children of Barries day and to children of today?

Feel free to discuss the non literary versions of Peter Pan, including film, animated and theatrical as they relate to the overall framework of Barries story.

The Hunting of the Snark - ideas for further discussion


Defining non-sense: Lewis Carroll and the agony of the Hunting of the Snark

By Tory Shane Quinton

 In 1874 Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll published his most enigmatic work of non-sense "the Hunting of the Snark". It was derided almost immediately by critics and yet it still holds a curious fascination to all who read it from curious bystanders to ivory tower scholars. People (devotee’s and critics) approach "Snark" from all sides in an attempt to penetrate its meaning, if indeed there is any and despite Carroll’s own warning to such critical analysis in Alice's adventures Under Ground

"There’s a porpoise close behind me and it's treading on my tail".


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Thoughts on the mysticism of children’s literature - work in progress.


Abstract: Mysticism, theology, religion, the supernatural. Call it what you will there can be no denial of the importance  mystic thought has played in the history of children's literature. In some cases this is quite obvious as in Francis Hodgson Burnett's, the Secret Garden or in the peculiar presence of Pan in Kenneth Grahams the Wind in the Willows. But at other times this mysticality is confused for sugary sentimentality and is derided by critics, despite the adoration of the reading public and it's lasting influence. It is my aim to illustrate in brief  the importance of mystic thought in the childrens literature of the latter part of the so called Golden Age and to show how it still influence literature even up to this day.


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A prompt for further discussion.

"When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true too . . . she was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived."

— Frances Hodgson Burnett  (The Secret Garden first appeared as a serial begining in 1910 in The American Magazine. The first Book format was published 1911 in America by Fredrick A. Stokes and in London by Heinemann. The Secret Garden in now in the Public Domain)

   Children’s literature is almost always about transformation, be it spiritual, physical, emotional or geographic. This suggests that adults who write for children, especially during the golden age viewed youth as a period of malleability. This is somewhat in line with earlier puritan thought which said children were corruptible beings and their reading material should fill them with positive, in that case Christian virtues. However by the middle of the 19th century this view changed dramatically. Children were still seen as malleable but it was being considered in the new light of a more secular imagination, often tinged with what would in time come to be called "new thought" or "the power of positive thinking" espoused by Norman Vincent Peele. 

   Francis Hodgson Burnett dealt with the subject most eloquently in the Secret garden.  Transformation occurs in some form throughout the story. From Mary Lennox becoming a mother figure to Collin's deformity being healed. Even the garden itself was both transformed and served as a catalyst for further transformation. The Secret Garden represented something very like a manifesto showing a new way of looking at life’s adversities that was quite new and refreshing. Had it been written for adults it would likely have been considered a work of philosophy but it was written for and embraced by children.

  Consider and discuss...

This day in childrens literature - Words are the building blocks upon which we are built

On this day, April 19, 1928 the final volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published completing a project that began in 1860. The dictionary was to be modeled after the mold of Webster’s American dictionary in its use of precedence, as well as the Grimm brother’s dictionary in its scope. In 20 volumes the entire English language was contained along with grammar, linguistic history and citations making this the most far reaching and long lasting of the Victorians contribution to history.

How does this tie in with children’s literature of the golden age?

In 1860 Herbert Coleridge became the first editor of the O.E.D. Henry was a descendant of the author Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Herbert was the son of Henry Nelson the son of James Coleridge, Samuel's older brother) This also made him a close relation to Derwent  Coleridge, Samuel's son. Derwent was headmaster of a school in Helston, Cornwall where one of his most distinguished pupils was the young Charles Kingsley, the future author of the Water Babies.

The O.E.D. over its long creation would collect all of the words which make up the English language, including formal words, slang terms, trade jargon and vulgar argot. Among the words to be included are several words coined by Lews Carroll. Perhaps the most well known of these is the word Chortle but there were many others and I encourage you to seek them out.

Near the end of the O.E.D.s long and complicated first publication history another figure that would become known for his contribution to children’s literature came on board. Soon after his service in W.W.1 J.R.R. Tolkien accepted a position with the O.E.D. where he worked in the W's researching the etymological origins of Germanic words found in the English language. It would be his love of words, perhaps cemented here that would serve him well in later years in his invented worlds of Middle Earth.

The literature for children that emerged in the 19th century was a veritable tapestry into which was woven words in their most eloquent and sublime manifestations. Words were used in new ways or invented outright. Not since William Shakespeare had the English language become so fluid and creative and put to such a profound use and all of those wonderful words were recorded for posterity in the Oxford English Dictionary. The Victorian era gave the world many literary inventions but the two that have proved most lasting, most important and most highly regarded are and will be the golden age of children’s literature and the creation of a most  important dictionary.

QUESTION: How have words from childrens literature affected you? If you are a parent or someone who reads to children how have certain words affected them and has that affect also affected you?

First topic of discussion

I thought a topic should be presented for discussion as it is a new week and this is a new community so here it goes - I hope to provide at least one topic for discussion per week. This isnt meant to be homework. Just an opportunity to delve a little more deeply into the subject matter. Feel free to answer the questions, all of them or only some of them, or ignore them outright and use this as a jumping off point for your own ideas.

Quote for consideration...

 "Seeing is not believing - it is only seeing." - George MacDonald from the Princess and the Goblin, published 1872 by Strahan & Co.

Childrens literature is filled with concepts that are in many ways highly esoteric such as the meaning of life or the nature of reality. Today we oversimplify the concept by labeling it imagination. But what really is imagination and did it influence the minds of 19th century children reading this material for the first time? And for that matter, how does it influence children of today. In this capacity childrens literature transcends simple make believe and becomes something far more profound, something that asks the reader to invest more than idle time. It becomes inately philisophical.

Adults writers can deal with this in complex ways, using advanced subject matter and references and complicated philisophical ideas but writers for children must employ less complex narrative tools. The above quote is one such example of the sort of esoteric philosophy we find in childrens literature during the 19th century.

1. Do you feel authors employ childrens literature to ask questions they are themselves looking to answer?

2. The best childrens literature appeals to both children and adults. Do you feel such complex ideas were lost on the 19th century child or were they able to comprehend such philisophical questions in a manner that children today are ill equiped for. If yes, do you feel it was the educational experience of the 19th century child or perhaps the social influence of a time when children were only just being redifined as something other than small adults?

3. The above quote is from one particular book but the concept has been addressed in many different children sbooks of the era. Putting yourself in the mind of a child living in the 19th century do you agree with the statement that seeing is not believing, it is only seeing? Then put yourself in the mind of a child of today and answer the same question? And lastly as an adult of today do you agree with the statment and how do you feel adults today differ from those authors of the 19th century?

4. Do you feel the statement reflected the authors own search for meaning or was it simply a literary device to further the story?

5. What other books of the era attempt to ask or answer similar questions?

6. At a personal level how would you respond top the statement "Seeing is not believing - it is only seeing."

Going forward...

What areas of interest would members like to examine?
What are the books of this era most admired by members?
What books of this era are most disliked by members?

Welcome to the forum

Welcome one and all. The rules for this forum are simple...

1. Keep the subject matter to the genre of childrens literature of the 19th and early 20th century (any topic within this frameworks is proper, including the authors lives, inspirations, social motivations, etc).

2. Contribute openly and freely and dont be shy to ask questions or engage. This is not a fan club for Alice in Wonderland where we can talk about the latest film adaption or video game, but at the same time we dont want to get too stuffy. Leave that for the classroom and the lecture platform.

3. Please keep things civil. Children’s literature of this age dealt squarely with social, political and religious themes.This is not the place for religious opinions, heated political debate or social agendas. Where applicable these topics are not only encouraged but required but keep it polite and on topic.

4. This is childrens literature. Have fun, enjoy the discussion and remember to kindle the flame of your imagination.

5. As moderator I will strive to post toics for discussion or consideration but please feel free to do this yourselves anytime you wish.