The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 14, No 1 (2010)

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TLG 14.1 Introduction

Frame of Reference


Introduction - musing on stories

David Beagley


Like many of the readers of this journal, I am an adult who works in the area of children's literature. I am not allowed just to read these texts for the simple joy of exploration and discovery (as much as I might want to) but am constrained by the demand of my chosen field of eneavour to DO something with them. In my case, it is as a university lecturer training bright young things to be classroom teachers and, hopefully, encourage even younger things to that simple joy of exploration and discovery.

It was while preparing my teaching materials for the new year's students that I was struck by the resilience of some 'classic' stories in the face of the relentless technological and commercial imperative towards simplified, sanitised and (if it were a word) screen-ified versions. For instance, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is encountered by my students in the first week of their course and they all usually remember their childhood reaction to the picture book - sharing Max's anger and confusion, the desire to escape and live on your own terms, and so on. How easy it would have been, in the recent film, to make it just another fantasy about a kid on an adventure. But the dark corners of the story are not so easily hidden. Spike Jonze's movie might add a few relationships around Max, with family and monsters, but the story's essence is intact: Max is selfish and demanding and normal, wild rumpuses are fun in their place, emotions are real even if they hurt.

This story can handle a change of medium because it is a good story. Movies make diferent demands on the reader/viewer than books, but the story is still the story. Bridge to Terabithia is another example (Week 7 of my course - Realism). Jesse's pain is powerful and is the core of the story, whether we read it or watch it, whether there are additions to the original presentation, whether it is 30 years ago or today. An Australian modern classic just making a transition to film is Nadia Wheatley's My Place, a sequential exploration of children in place over the 2 centuries of European settlement in Australia, which is appearing as a TV series. The Hobbit is (apparently) well on the way to production.

We live in a multi-media world. We cannot presume that any story will exist solely and permanently in a single format. We are all so attuned to reading, viewing, listening, looking, feeling, often all at once, that we ought to consider our favourite stories and classics in those same multi-modal forms of appreciation. This journal's sub-title is New perspectives on children's literature a term that emphasises ways of looking, points of view, all very visual phrases. This issue's articles all, in their various ways, make such multi-modal and multi-perspective considerations.

We have some classic stories: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Secret Garden and the good old "Haunted House" setting. In our key Alice's Academy article ""The Making of Rebecca" and the Education of the Ideal Adult", Naomi Lesley examines the tensions in Kate Douglas Wiggin's construction of a view of childhood in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. The tensions of Wiggin's time, between Romantic story and child-raising pedagogy (Rebecca as free spirit versus Rebecca as future adult), are further compounded by our modern perspectives of history, nostalgia, gender roles, literary canons and so on. Lesley raises intriguing possibilities about the perspectives from which we could view the story.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas has become a staple of seasonal storytelling. From its picture book origins, the story's themes around the commodification of Christmas have been presented as an animated feature, a narrated LP recording, a stage musical, and a movie. There are posters, plush toys and all the paraphernalia that might raise a cynical Geisel eyebrow. Julia Pond goes a little deeper than these appearances, in her Emerging Voices article "A Transformative Biblical Encounter: The Garden of Eden in How the Grinch Stole Christmas". She finds the very religious elements of innocence and its loss, temptation and redemption in this cleverly constructed fable, but also the visual imagery of the Garden of Eden, innocent Eve and Satan the tempter.

Visual imagery is also the focus of Duncan Olenick's Emerging Voices article "'Haunted' : Architectural Manifestations of Adult Phobias and Admonitions in the Haunted Houses of Children’s and Young Adult Literature". He finds that the standardisation of the architectural metaphors of the 'Haunted House" in picture books and movies is matched by a standardisation of themes of domesticity, anxieties, and characterisations. The haunted house can be setting, foreground, character or metaphor and, often, all of them. Note that the use of images in this article mean that it is presented in pdf format.

In Jabberwocky, Michael McCarthy also considers a classic story that has been re-presented often: The Secret Garden. As an early example of the modern label 'the crossover novel', Burnett's text is many things to many people. McCarthy, in his "Forget the Devil and keep your Pink Lamps Lighted: The Metaphysics of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden", tracks Burnett's rather distinctive metaphysical and philosophical ideas through the story and its characters, showing the author's quite deliberate representationof her beliefs. Again, the number of images mean this article is in pdf format so that copyright images may be used, with permission.

Our review, by Virginia Lowe, is on Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction. Does the human need for story and, in broader terms, art in general have an evolutionary role?

So, whether we are curled up in a corner with a loved old book, glued to a screen, listening to a narration, iPaging, Kindleing, Facebooking or using any other technological noun as a verb, we still find our stories. And we still find our own perspectives.


Volume 14, Issue 1 The Looking Glass, January/February 2010

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"Frame of Reference - Introduction" © David Beagley, 2010
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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680