The Natural History of Make-Believe: A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America

The Natural History of Make-Believe: A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America

The Natural History of Make-Believe: A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America

The Natural History of Make-Believe: A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America

Synopsis

The Man in the Moon has dropped down to earth for a visit. Over the hedge, a rabbit in trousers is having a pipe with his evening paper. Elsewhere, Alice is passing through a looking glass, Dorothy riding a tornado to Oz, and Jack climbing a beanstalk to heaven. To enter the world of children's literature is to journey to a realm where the miraculous and the mundane exist side by side, a world that is at once recognizable and real--and enchanted. Many books have probed the myths and meanings of children's stories, but Goldthwaite's Natural History is the first exclusively to survey the magic that lies at the heart of the literature. From the dish that ran away with the spoon to the antics of Brer Rabbit and Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat, Goldthwaite celebrates the craft, the invention, and the inspired silliness that fix these tales in our minds from childhood and leave us in a state of wondering to know how these things can be. Covering the three centuries from the fairy tales of Charles Perrault to Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, he gathers together all the major imaginative works of America, Britain, and Europe to show how the nursery rhyme, the fairy tale, and the beast fable have evolved into modern nonsense verse and fantasy. Throughout, he sheds important new light on such stock characters as the fool and the fairy godmother and on the sources of authors as diverse as Carlo Collodi, Lewis Carroll, and Beatrix Potter. His bold claims will inspire some readers and outrage others. He hails Pinocchio, for example, as the greatest of all children's books, but he views C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia as a parable that is not only murderously misogynistic, but deeply blasphemous as well. Fresh, incisive, and utterly original, this rich literary history will be required reading for anyone who cares about children's books and their enduring influence on how we come to see the world.

Excerpt

A literary history is a chronicle of how books have begotten books. It stands on the assumption that writers write by reading. To my knowledge, this guide is the first such history of the world's imaginative literature for children. It necessarily runs afoul of a popular supposition about children's books -- that an Alice, a Peter Rabbit, or a Charlotte's Web is the inspired articulation of thoughts whispered through an author by that clever ventriloquist we now commonly refer to as the Inner Child. To all who are in thrall to such an origin myth for our favorite books, a literary history will, of course, provide only an interesting gloss on the subject rather than being an equally valid -- or perhaps even the better -- explanation for it. My designating the literature "make-believe" admittedly can hardly help to dispel such a superstition, but this has long been the label for it. As a way of naming a certain kind of magic in story that acknowledges its diverse expression while at the same time suggesting its true audience to be children, make-believe does seem a happier term than, say, fantasy or whimsy.

In detailing the history and nature of the literature, I have subscribed to no particular school of thought. The reader will find some social history in these pages and some of what I suppose must be called psychology. There is some pulling apart and putting back together of things. Little of what follows, however, should offend a commonsense understanding of the books. I will not apologize for giving this or that author more or less than a democratic share of the study. Certain works, I feel, have been underappreciated for their craft and historical importance and others celebrated for the wrong reasons, and I have allotted space accordingly. This is how it . . .

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