Friday, July 5, 2013

Fiction Friday (19)

On this Friday I've decided to take a trip back into old Victorian England to share two tales that are quickly fading into obscurity, if they haven't disappeared there already. I've always been interested in the history of Children's Literature and often track down books from this era to study. These are two that I read in the last year and quite enjoyed. The two are very different, highlighting the shift that would come in the world of Children's Literature after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Enjoy these two classics and hopefully they will inspire you to rediscover books of your own. 

The Golden Key by George MacDonald

Having long been a devoted obsessive to children's literature, and having a particular fondness for its origins in post-Romantic era England, I have to say it's a little embarrassing to have not read George MacDonald before now.

The Golden Key is the kind of spooky, symbolic fairy tale that served as the foundations of literature written for children. It follows a young boy who finds a key from fairy land, but does not know what the key opens. There begins a journey which he undertakes with a girl who escapes the cruelty of unkind masters, one lasting their entire lives.

I read their search as allegorical of the trials and tribulations on the path to morality within life, with the end objective being taken into heaven. This is all beautifully disguised in utterly rich fantasy worlds that come to life with lyrical beauty. The plot can seem simplistic and aimless at times, but never dull. However, the language and mood of this work are its real triumph. Though I must confess, reading it by candlelight from my house in the woods on a day without electricity may have added to that feeling. (The 1984 edition illustrated by Maurice Sendak (pictured) is the one I read, and naturally the artwork was beautiful.)

The Wallypug in London by G.E. Farrow

This is the third book in the Wallypug series, written in the 1890's and early 1900's, and it follows Wallypug, the King of a place called Why, on a trip to visit the author in London. These books follow in the tradition of Lewis Carroll's nonsense works, and like Carroll's books, are written for the purpose of entertaining children. The author was known to encourage his readers to write to him so that he could incorporate their ideas into his stories. Most likely this story contains many suggestions from his young readers.

The story is a delightfully silly tale of the trouble the King's arrival causes around town. The small king's entourage includes a cast of funny characters including a wooden soldier, a gentleman fish, and a wannabe poet. As with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, much of the humor stems from the misunderstandings that take place when encountering unfamiliar surroundings. In this case though, it is the visitor who is the stranger in a world that readers would know. There is also a fair amount of intrigue in the story, making it quite the page turner.

Popular in its day, these books are important in the tradition and evolution of children's literature as a means to entertain children rather than teach them. They don't hold up as well as some others, but still very enjoyable reads, and definitely worth checking out if you're a scholar of children's literature. 

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