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"Magical Worlds and Journeys," submitted by Mara Grossman, PhD program in psychology
In the following stories, children find an ancient amulet, befriend fanciful creatures, and walk through a looking glass, enabling time to enter worlds which exist in another theme, where animals talk and magic is real. A common theme through other works is the children's ability to exercise power otherwise inaccessible to them in the adult-ruled world of their everyday existence. Also, throughout these stories, children experience the negative consequences, as well as the excitement, of such opportunities, as they are challenged to make decisions and protect themselves in worlds without parents or guardians to whom they can turn.
Some of the children's adventures are allegorical, others are adventure for adventure's sake, still others involve real-life consequences; all are wonderful stories and not mere conventions for the teaching of a moral lesson, as many earlier fantasy stories for children haven been characterized. Lastly, these books are united by their ability to retain their magic for me into adulthood.
Most of the books in my collection I originally borrowed from the library and read as a child, and did not purchase until I was in college. I began collecting first editions in 1988, with my purchase of Edith Nesbits's The House of Arden. Her children's books remain a focal point of my collection; they continue to inspire me to believe that at any moment I might stumble across a magical amulet or a secret doorway to another time and place.
The works of Madeleine L'Engle form the other focal point of my collection (if one can have two focal points). As I am interested in the historical development of this genre, I find the L'Engle books an interesting juxtaposition with Nesbit, as Nesbit's "magical" component is superseded by L'Engle's science and the Victorian children's playfulness by the sense of responsibility of their late-twentieth-century counterparts.
Both Nesbit's and E'Engle's stories usually involve groups of children, but my collection also includes books with solitary child adventurers. All of the protagonists, whether alone or in groups, are "regular" kids, who enter magical worlds where they wield powers exceeding those even of the adults in their everyday world, and face dangers and challenges they must overcome as the stories unfold.
I have listed my collection chronologically by date of original publication, rather than alphabetically by author, to better capture the historical development of this type of literature.
1. Carroll, Lewis (1866, 1982) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Berkeley: University of California Press. Illustrated by Barry Moser. In this first of two "Alice" books, Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a peculiar and often terrifying world. True to earlier conventions in children's fantasy literature, Alice falls asleep before her adventure begins and awakens when it concludes.
The Alice books differ from most of the books in this collection, in that I did not enjoy them when I read them as a child. Also, in this first Alice book, far from exercising greater powers in the world of make-believe, Alice is exceptionally powerless. However, the Alice books belong in the collection as classic examples of a child's travel to a magical realm. The illustrations by Moser capture the everything-out-of-kilter feel of the story.
2. Carroll, L. (1888, 1924) Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. New York: Macmillan. Illustrated by John Tenniel. Although I like the Moser illustrations in my other two Alice volumes, the Tenniel illustrations are the ones I see as the "real" Alice. I also like this particular volume because it is compact and covered in soft red leather.
3. Carroll, L. (1983) Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Berkeley: University of California Press. Illustrated by Barry Moser. An older Alice walks through a mirror after her kitten, into another world. This time, she does not let events and characters control her, but rather overpowers her strange, irrational companions with her own grown-up logic and assertiveness.
4. Nesbit, Edith (1899) The Story of the Treasure Seekers. Being the Adventures of the Bastable Children in Search of a Fortune. London: T. Fisher Unwin. First edition. Illustrated by Gordon Brown and Lewis Baumer. This is not a tale of magic, but it is the first story of the Bastable children, and so an important piece in a collection which focuses on Nesbit. It is also difficult to find today in a first edition, because it was so well read at the time it was published. (See Quayle, Eric , The Collector's Book of Children's Books, New York: C.N. Potter). A common problem, of course, in collecting of old editions of children's literature which real children actually read and enjoyed.
While Nesbit (her real name was Edith Bland) has a place in history as one of the founders of the Fabian Society, she was also a tremendously prolific and popular writers when I was a child.
5. Nesbit, E. (1902; 1959) Five Children and It. New York: Penguin Books. The children find a thousand-year old magical creature, the Psammead, which grants them a wish a day (rather grumpily). The wishes expire at sunset; an interesting twist on earlier Victorian fantasies where the fantasy begins at bedtime and ends at sunrise (and so might be a dream). Also, unlike the Alice books, a group of children shares the experience of the magical world. Now there are other children to confirm for each other that the magic is "real" and not merely a dream.
Like the other Penguin Editions of Nesbit, which follow, this an inexpensive trade paperback. Finding Nesbit in first editions, or even in hardback editions, is rather pricey, and I have chosen to purchase some inexpensive editions in order to have a more complete collection of her work. Many of her books, which I borrowed as a child from the downtown L.A. Public Library, are no longer in print, however, and so are only obtainable in older editions.
6. Nesbit, E. (1904, 1959) The Phoenix and the Carpet. London: T. Fisher Unwin. Penguin edition. The five children find a magic carpet and an opinionated phoenix, with whom they travel through time and space.
7. Nesbit, E. (1907, 1979) The Story of the Amulet. London: Penguin Books. The sequel to Five Children and It. The children rediscover the cranky Psammead and half a magical amulet. They travel through time to find the other half of the amulet. According to Lynn, this is the first time-travel fantasy with modern children as the protagonists (Lynn, Rush Nadelman , Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults [third edition], New York: Bowker, p.179).
8. Nesbit, E. (1907, 1979) The Enchanted Castle. New York: Penguin Group. Three children climb through a hole into a magical garden complete with enchanted castle and princess.
9. Kipling, Rudyard (1908, 1937) Puck of Pook's Hill. London: R and R Clark. The children in this Kipling story learn about English history first-hand as they travel through time in the English countryside with the help of magical Puck. Like Through the Looking Glass, above, I selected this small, red leather volume at a second-hand bookstore, because it has a size and texture which feels comfortable in my hand.
10. Nesbit, E. (1909) The House of Arden. A Story for Children. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company. Illustrated by H. R. Millar. First U.S. edition (originally published in Great Britain in 1908). Another magical creature (a Mouldiwarp, not a Psammead, this time) sends two children through time. Note how the children in these books move back in time and not forward, so the emphasis is on history and not technology.
11. Barrie, J. M. (1911) Peter Pan and Wendy. New York: Grosset and Dunlap. Illustrated with scenes from the Photoplay "Peter Pan," a Paramount Picture featuring Betty Bronson. I found this book in a second-hand bookstore and was intrigued by the photos from a silent film version of Peter Pan which were used to illustrate it. Given the popularity of this story in its play format (which continues through today with the Walt Disney animated version, to Sandy Duncan's Broadway performance, to a recent movie version), I find the movie references in this edition particularly apt.
12. Nesbit, E. (1912, 1988) The Magic World. London: Penguin Group. A collection of Nesbit's short stories for children with a variety of magical adventures (some better than others).
13. Lewis, C. S. (1950, 1975) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. Pictures adapted from illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Like much earlier predecessors, these books are strong on morality and allegory. Magic is the ability to believe in what is beyond our understanding, in religion as well as in play. I must admit that these stories lost much of their appeal for me when I learned, as a teenager, about Lewis's religious writings and message. Also, not all of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia are immediately about adventures of real children.
14. Eager, Edward (1954, 1982) Half Magic. New York:Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. Illustrated by N.M. Bodecker. This book is unabashedly inspired by E. Nesbit; the children are reading Nesbit as the magic begins. Like Nesbit's characters, they are granted wishes through a magical talisman. Adding a more contemporary note is the issue of their mother's re-marriage.
Like the Nesbit books, I had originally read Eager in library copies. I was surprised and pleased to find that Harcourt Brace had reprinted many of his books in hardback several years ago and picked up two of my favorites.
15. Eager, E. (1957, 1988) Magic By the Lake. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. Illustrated by N.M. Bodecker. The characters in Half Magic return to meet a talking turtle. The turtle introduces them to the magic of the lake where they are vacationing, which eventually leads them to a treasure they can share with others. (Has the Victorian moral lesson never left us?)
16. Juster, Norton. (1961, 1964) The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Random House. Signed by the author. Bored beyond belief, at the end of a typically boring day, Mil discovers a magical tollbooth in his usually dull bedroom. He manages to motivate himself enough to drive through and discover a world even he finds interesting. While the issues differ, the book's emphasis on learning to be a better person reminds me of its Victorian predecessors. This is also a story which can be happily re-read even by adults who do not usually enjoy children's literature, as much of the humor is more for adults than for children.
17. L'Engle, M. (1962) A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. Signed by the author. No more chasing rabbits down holes and kittens through mirrors. No more just hanging around, poking in old gardens looking for something to do. Madeleine L'Engle's characters have important missions to accomplish. These children must find their father by actively and intelligently accessing another world.
18. Sedak, Maurice (1963) Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper and Row. Max's bedroom turns into a jungle peopled by strange creatures, right before his eyes. Unlike its contemporary, A Wrinkle in Time (above), and instead like its Victorian predecessors, the blurring of reality and make-believe occurs as wakefulness blurs with sleep.
19. L'Engle, M. (1973) A Wind in the Door. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. First edition in original color dustwrapper. Once again a life hangs in the balance, this time Charles Wallace's. He is seriously ill, and only with the aid of a "cherubim" can Meg, Calvin, and, of all people, Charles Wallace's elementary school principal go on an incredible journey through micro space to save him.
20. L'Engle, M. (1978) A Swiftly Tilting Planet. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. First edition in original color dustwrapper. The universe is falling out of harmony, and a devastating war on earth may result unless Charles Wallace and a unicorn accomplish their mission. Unlike most of the books in this collection, adults come to the aid of the main child protagonist. Charles Wallace's sister Meg, a central character in A Wrinkle in Time, has grown up. Unlike most adults in these books, Meg is sufficiently sympathetic to children to participate in their world. She stands out as an adult who functions ably in the real adult world (she marries, has children), yet still retains the ability to believe in the unbelievable. Her participation, like the participation of the school principal in L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, also adds an element of seriousness to the adventure, reminding us that this is not mere child's play.
21. L'Engle, M. (1986) Many Waters. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Signed by the author. The Murray twins have an adventure this time, when they type a wish into their parents' new computer and are transported to another world. Like the experiences of their brother and sister, not all is fun and games: they become involved in adult-like conflicts which they must resolve before they can return home.
22. L'Engle, M. (1989) An Acceptable Time. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Signed by the author. Mysterious strangers and coincidences combine to draw Polly O'Keefe into a world of time travel and mystery, like her parents before her.
23. Meyere, Susan E. (1987) A Treasury of the Great Children's Book Illustrators. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. John Tenniel, of Alice in Wonderland fame, is prominently featured in this survey of illustrators of Victorian children's literature. Also interesting is the tale of the controversy over new illustrations for the Alice books, when the Tenniel copyright expired (and Arthur Rackham agreed to illustrate the first of the Alice books).
Edith Nesbit's books form the centerpiece of my collection, and I would like to eventually collect all of her books of this type. The following are my first choices:
1. Nesbit, E. (1937 edition or 1958 edition) Wet Magic. New York: Coward-McCann. This is actually one of the few children's books by E. Nesbit of this type (i.e. not counting her Shakespeare for Children, etc.) which I have never read. According to Quayle, it is one of her best books, yet it does not appear to be in print. It is rare as a first edition, so I would like to try to find it in one of these two later editions.
2. Nesbit, E. (1909) Harding's Luck. London: Hodder and Stoughton. Illustrated by H. R. Millar. OR Nesbit, E. (1961) Harding's Luck. New York: Coward-McCann. This is the sequel to The House of Arden. Like Wet Magic, it appears to be out of print. I would be happy to find either the original, British edition, or the later published, American edition.
3. Briggs, Julia (1987) A Woman of Passion: The Life of E. Nesbit, 1858-1924. London: Huchinson. I knew nothing of E. Nesbit's personal and political life when I read her books as a child. I have tended to keep my adult knowledge of her unconventionally lifestyle and political philosophy divorced from any enjoyment of her books, which are full of conventional Victorian children, just as Nesbit herself keeps adults at a distance in her own stories. Nevertheless, given the emphasis I have on her in my collection, I would finally like to add a recent biography.
I would also like to enlarge my group of Edward Eager books, as he was so directly influenced by Nesbit. Also, my elementary school library had a complete collection of his magical world stories, so they are old favorites. The following are all available in recently-published trade editions.
4. Eager, E. (1959, 1989) Magic or Not? San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
5. Eager, E. (1962, 1989) Seven-Day Magic New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
6. Eager, E. (1958, 1990) The Time Garden San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.