a little princess, A Series of Unfortunate Events, C.S Lewis, frances hodgson burnett, J.R.R Tolkien, Jean Little, Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning, The Belonging Place, the hobbit, the lion the witch and the wardrobe
I thought I would focus on fantasy spaces or children entering into a new place later on in my blog. For right now though, I’d like to focus on just the welcoming of children into a new world. The act of welcoming someone into a new culture, or a new family or a new location can be looked to as a way to make a good first impression. In Walt Disney World, for example: the infamous “It’s a small world after all” ride is one which reminds everybody that they are welcome, no matter how old they are or what part of the world they come from.
There have been numerous parodies of this song: all welcoming children into another place, with a spectacular visual aspect which is so appealing- much like the ride: but they don’t have quite the same effect. Actually, some welcoming committees in Children’s Literature should probably come with a warning sign, like this one from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
In this clip, the children’s reactions to this welcome is completely justified. Willy Wonka’s behaviour to ignore the ruined show and carry on with his speech is what makes this funny. He expects them to be excited by the welcome, even though it has failed to be an impressive performance. He is unfazed, and makes his speech, while they are still unenthusiastic about what they have seen so far. There are several instances in children’s literature of adults welcoming children into an unfamiliar place, and children questioning what they say, or what they do. They, just like adults, can experience a “sense of being overwhelmed in another culture, and [be] confused by a history [they] don’t understand.” (Friedlander, lecture).
In A Little Princess, Sara is sent off to a school. As the story is told from her perspective, her internal thought process is shown to the readers. Miss. Minchin “was very like her house, Sara felt: tall and dull, and respectable and ugly.” (Burnett, 6). Sara sees and judges Miss. Minchin first, before she gets to know her. When Miss. Minchin tries to compliment her, Sara does not believe them, preferring to use her own judgement to decide if she is beautiful or not. “She was not at all elated by Miss. Minchin’s flattery….After she had known Miss Minchin longer she learned why she had said it. She discovered she said the same thing to each papa and mamma who brought a child to her school.” (Burnett, 7). Sara is able to recognize that there are ulterior motives to Miss Minchin’s welcoming her into the school. She wishes to appear as a good person by complimenting the child. This loses the effect however, when it is learned that Miss Minchin says this to every new pupil. The statement that Sara is beautiful is meaningless because it is only part of a speech, and what Miss. Minchin says brings readers to the conclusion that she can no longer be considered honest.
The Bad Beginning approaches the first impressions which the children have towards adults in a different way. The voice of the narrator is very different from most children’s books. The narrator is someone watching the events happen, and retelling them as they happen. He treats the characters not as people in an alternate universe, but as characters in his book. The author also gives the children agency, making the adults fools. They are given to a distant relative after the death of their parents. He is the antagonist of the book, and is quickly shown as not suitable to be their guardian from the narrator’s point of view. “I wish that I could tell you that the Baudelaire’s first impressions of Count Olaf and his house were incorrect, as first impressions so often are. But these impressions- that Count Olaf was a horrible person, and his house a depressing pigsty-were absolutely correct. During the first few days after the orphan’s arrival at Count Olaf’s, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny attempted to make themselves feel at home, but it was really no use.” (Snicket, 28). They do not feel safe or comfortable in their new surroundings, and feel stuck in their new situation. “They could see… that Count Olaf had an image of an eye tattooed on his ankle, matching the eye on his front door. They wondered how many other eyes were in Count Olaf’s house, and whether, for the rest of their lives, they would always feel as though Count Olaf were watching them even when he wasn’t there.” (Snicket, 25). He is a threatening person to the three children, not a friendly welcoming guardian as the adults think he is. “But the children knew, as I’m sure you know, that the worst surroundings in the world can be tolerated if the people in them are interesting and kind. Count Olaf was neither interesting, nor kind; he was demanding, short tempered, and bad smelling. The only good thing to be said for Count Olaf is that he wasn’t around very much.” (Snicket, 29-30). He is neglectful, and only cares for their fortune. They are glad to be ignored however, because he scares them.
The Belonging Place by Jean Little has several instances where the main character Elspet, has to meet several people. In the beginning, she is four, and the narration exaggerates her smallness. “The giant…was my father. I studied him doubtfully. His face was very brown from the sun. His hair was fair and his eyes were bright blue. My eyes were the greenish-brown folks call hazel. But my short, straight hair was as flaxen fair as his. Was he really my Da? I was still puzzling over it when he smiled. Then I saw his gold tooth wink. I had seen that flashing tooth before. Slowly, I smiled back.” (Little, 9-10). Elspet is cautious about meeting her father, as “she was just two” (Little, 10). when he had to leave for work. She does not accept him as her father straight away, pointing out the differences in their appearance, and then deciding to rely on her memory to decide for her. She does not label him as a good or bad person as soon as she meets him. She has mixed feelings about leaving the place she has known and going to a new place, and the actions show that. “I talked very well for my age. But I did not say so. I had a hard lump in my throat. I wanted Mrs. Black. I did not belong with Da. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of the big horse we rode.” (Little, 14) Elspet connects hugs as a gesture of love with her mother. Using this as an indicator as to whether she is welcome or not by others she forms opinions of them. “His voice was kind and he gave me a little hug…Although my father’s strong arms held me firmly, I knew he did not love me as Mam had done.” (Little, 14-15). When her father hugs her, Elspet finally allows herself to judge him as a person who, although kind, doesn’t love her as her mother had. She recognizes that the distance between her father and herself is what kept them uneasy, but that it was not intentional. When she reaches her new home, her aunt invites her into the family, and makes her feel safe. “When I grew older, I thought my new life began with that long ride through the darkness, the moon’s smile and Aunt Ailsa’s hug. The gentle music of her loving words made my heart sing. ‘She belongs here. She belongs with us. We’re her family.’ This, I thought as I drifted into a deep, healing sleep, must be my belonging place.” (Little, 17). She is welcomed into the family instantly, with no doubt as to whether she will be cared for, and so she feels like she belongs with them.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy is discovered by Mr. Tumnus who asks her if she “is in fact human?” (Lewis, 16). She is taken aback by this question, as it is not something that is usually asked when meeting someone. She finds out that she is in Narnia from the faun, and he invites her to his home. She thinks that he is the nicest Faun that [she] has ever met.” (Lewis, 23) and reassures him of this when he breaks down in tears. He is not who he seems to be, as he cries and says “Would you believe that I’m the sort of Faun to meet a poor innocent child in the wood, one that had never done me any harm, and pretend to be friendly with it, and invite it home to my cave, all for the sake of lulling it asleep, and then handing it over to the White Witch?” (Lewis, 23) He took advantage of the way that she trusted him to betray her. Lucy’s first impressions of Mr. Tumnus were incorrect, it only appeared that she was welcome in Narnia, when she was in fact seen as a threat to the White Witch.
In The Hobbit, it is not the child who is welcomed into the space, but the dwarves who are intruding. “Bilbo Baggins…is introduced to thirteen different dwarfs, all who have very similar names who proceed to kind of go through his house and get really drunk and tear up the joint…. It’s just this ridiculous series of names. One of the things Tolkien was doing with that was he was making it impossible for the reader to keep track of these dwarves, just like it would have been difficult for Bilbo to keep track of these dwarves. They all have these really similar names and they’re all showing up at the same time. Bilbo is about to embark on an adventure with a bunch of people that he’s just met, going places that he’s never been. So this sense of uneasiness and not being really familiar with what’s happening around you, that’s something [Tolkien] is able to convey by just introducing this foreign culture really quickly and overwhelming you with it.” (Friedlander, lecture) Having to welcome people into your space can be overwhelming and create a lot of pressure. The ones who are inviting people in can experience just as much anxiety as the ones being invited in. We do not get Bilbo’s thoughts about the people who enter his home, but through the descriptive first chapter we note the confusion as actions seem to happen all at once. We do not get Bilbo’s thoughts about people, he does not judge them, but we can see for ourselves that they are probably unwelcome from the way that Tolkien characterizes them. “He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself.” (Tolkien, 19) He is shocked at all the dwarves. He hasn’t got any time to form an opinion of them as they come without warning. He still welcomes them and makes sure that they are comfortable however. He fades into the background and allows them to converse with each other. He is too overwhelmed to give any thought to the intrusion; so he tries to be as polite as possible as he tries to sort out the visitors for himself.
Just like with adults, children do not blindly accept an adults words at face value. They may judge them, either inaccurately or accurately; they may be hesitant and cautious when meeting someone, they may be overwhelmed, and they may change their minds about those who welcome them into their homes, depending on how they act towards them later.
IMAGES (In order of appearance, everything else in alphabetical order)
- Burnett, Frances Hodgson. A Little Princess. Mahwah, NJ: Watermill, 1981.
- Lewis, C.S. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Canada: Fontana Lions, 1980
- Little, Jean. The Belonging Place. Toronto: Puffin, 1998.
- Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. London: HarperCollins, 1998.
- Charlie & the Chocolate Factory- Wonka’s Welcome Song Prod. TimBurtonGreatVideo YoutubeMarch 4 2010 Web. October 19 2012 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHrBS27VlS8>
- Duloc is the perfect place!~Shrek Prod. scubafrubabitch666 Youtube October 10 2010 Web October 19 2012 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rktYIhZPPIg>
- It’s a Small World ride at Walt Disney World Prod. OnlyHDVideos Youtube November 5 2011 Web. October 19 2012 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VzaCy8R5qE>
- Friedlander, Keith. Class Lecture. Restoration to Romantic Literature. Trent University. Oshawa, Ontario. March, 5 2013. “Waverly: Adventure and Romance.”