new community for those interested.
I have created a new community for the discussion of childrens literature during its golden age. It is called KiddieLit. For now I have it set as a moderated community but with open posting access, just to get things going. Please join up.

   This forum is for the informative, scholarly and insightful but by no means stodgy and intellectually elitist discussion of all aspects of the golden age of children’s literature. A time period generally considered to have begun with the publication of John Ruskins “the King of the Golden River” and ending with A.A. Milnes “Winnie the Pooh” stories. It is our purpose to discuss all relevant matters pertaining to this genre including but not limited to the authors, illustrators, muses, social and religious motivations, influences and legacy that made this period stand out like none other in the area of literature.

   While we define literature for the young as worthy of the title high literature as much so as the works of Shakespeare or Elliot we recognize that the genre is and should be measured with a healthy dose of whimsy and fantasy. If this forum has a credo it can be found in the words of George MacDonald…

“I write, not for children, but for the child-like, whether they be five, or fifty, or seventy-five."

Writer's Block: Critical mass
How well do you take criticism? Do you deflect it or take it personally? Does it usually inspire you to change? Are you more critical of yourself or others?

I try to take it pretty well. I am very self critical and am always eager to amend any areas of my character that I discover to be in error or insufficient. But there is a point at which criticism ceases to be critical and becomes mean spirited. There are times when certain actions I take or certain things I do are called into question not as areas for growth but as areas of inferiority and that bothers me to no end. For example, I have a terrible relationship with time. It isn’t that I am late or early so much as that I just don’t pay attention to time. I own watches that I never wear. I carry my grandfathers pocket watch, which is rarely set to the correct time. I just don’t have a time centered mind. Because of this I tend to be late to work at times. But I am always the first to stay late, miss lunch or go the extra distance in time related areas because to my mind it all works out in the end. It can never be said that I am a clock watcher at work. 
   This bothers my wife to no end because she has what I would call a compulsive obsession with schedules which is a very foreign concept to me. When I work on something I get it done when it gets done and if I need to hurry up with some task I buckle down and work it to the end. I have been known to complete impossible tasks at near superhuman speeds when I need to get a thing done. I once moved my aunt out of her house, packed up all her things from the attic to the basement in two days, from start to finish, a feat that is still spoken of with some measure of awe in my family. The rest I am content to let happen on their own schedule. For my wife any task, especially those related the domestic sphere, which she has taken to symbolize her own domestic ability as a woman and a wife, must be addressed with immediacy: Cook dinner, eat dinner, no rest to digest but do the dishes, then clean the kitchen, move... move... move... No stop! I, being slow natured like to eat at leisure, sit around the dinner table and converse with those around me. Dinner time for me is time to relax, to speak of the day. It is family time of a most singular important nature. For me, this is not to be rushed. I do the dishes, but if a dinner plate remains in the sink overnight then I am not bothered by it.
  Now to be fair, I know I can tend to put things off too long and I am prone to getting caught in a particular activity and can let things fall to the wayside. I know this is an area I need to work on and I work on it daily. I take on too many projects around the house, but I do them not because I want the house to look nice, to increase its value or to say I have completes something but because I want to make the house a home. In a world where people no longer have homes, but move around willy nilly, jump from apartment to apartment and treat homes as temporary investments this may sound rather antiquated and quaint but to me home is more than four walls and a roof. 
   For example, I am working on stairs. I pulled up carpeting when I laid floor on one level and left it off exposing bare floor on the stairs. The carpet was removed for health reasons (have you ever looked beneath your carpet. If not do so and then pull it up as soon as possible). Now my wife is pregnant and I want to complete the stairs so I stained them, added some paint. It will take many coats but the end result will be wonderful. And not wonderful because they are finished but wonderful because the stairs will from the portal by which we ascend to the place where our child will live. It’s like a landscape painting with a tree as a focul point. You have to surround that tree with something nice to look at even if no one will really look at anything other than the tree. I have been working on the stairs possible longer than I should but as I said, to me, the work of making a home should not be rushed unless some requirement demands it, and so I apply the stain, let it stand for a few days then sand it down a bit for the next coat. That work, though taking perhaps to long is not just the work of my back but the work of my pride. That is where the soul of a hose comes from, the pride its inhabitants give to it of themselves.
   Some might criticize me for taking to long on a task that a professional could have completed in one day. But that professional leaves and never returns, I remain to see any mistake, any shortcoming and every area where I took a shortcut for the sake of time. That is when criticism hits home, and hits personal because it doesn’t criticize the way I work or the speed with which I work but the very nature of who I am.
   In life’s race there is the rabbit and the tortoise. I make no claims to the speed with which I run the race, only that I wont quite the race and will see it through to the very end. It would be nice if the rabbits who run alongside me might understand this as a virtue and not a character failing. So when I take criticism I do try to take it well and fairly, but there is a point when even the tortoise snaps back with surprising alacrity.
Unfortunately, though I am a tortoise in my work ethic I have the traits assigned to me by the Chinese zodiac in many other areas. I am fierce like the tiger, possessed of all the tiger’s vanity and all his arrogance but also the tiger’s determination to protect what he loves and who he loves no matter the personal cost. With tooth and nail I will drive away a threat, no matter how dangerous it may be. This is a virtue. But like so many things virtue is often mixed with a shade of the dark side. When riled up I strike out and sometimes my claws (those of an emotional nature) strike blindly and I hurt those I would protect.
   I make no claims to be superior to my nature, nor do I claim to be my natures slave. I am what I am in all things and in all ways. Good and bad in a measure that is not always easily weighed. And what I am is a man who doesn’t have all the answers, a husband who doesn’t always know how to be part of a team and now soon to be a father with about as much experience in parenthood as a twinkling star. I, like all men hear criticism not only as a voice from without but as a challenge to what lies within and how I meet that challenge is the result of all that I am

A little poetry from me.
I was feeling rather inspired today...

We are the result of yesterdays cast off's;

Worn coats and hats and faded memories.

Of rags and bones and glories bold.

Held within our spirits old as time

Never sold but lost…Discarded, thrown away.

Given to another day, to time, to the passing dust,

Our soul sublime to await! To wait…

To awaken to a dawning day,

When yesterday fades away,

Left behind in entropies wake.

The things once valued, cherished.


Their measure now reduced to broken bits,

Like fallen thrones

We wear our crown,

                   Upon those dusty rags and bones.

(no subject)
I want my as yet unborn child to grow up with a sense of destiny; to reject apathy and indifference. I want him or her to be a hero, to embrace greatness in both large and small ways. I want to be the kind of father that makes this happen.

Why did you not love me enough to let me born?
I walk amidst the shadows of spirits. They are spirits in the most literal sense of the word, beings whose lives were cut short by the very people who should have protected them, their own mothers. But the mothers of some children and indeed, the fathers all too often fail to accept the profound joy that comes with creating life. These mothers would deny all hope and turn their backs on tomorrow, these servants of the immediate, of the now, these slaves of self centeredness.
Once upon a time we called them witches, these women who destroyed their children. Fairy tales are filled with them; locking their offspring in towers, casting them out into the forest, offering them poison apples or simply devouring them like hungry Medeas. But this is no fairy tale world and the spirits of all those dead children surround us, dwell amongst us, whisper to us, pleading with us to answer the question they were never given the chance to ask…Why did you not love me enough to let me born? Anyone can hear them, if only people would listen, but so few people care to listen. It is better to pretend that life has no real meaning that the living don’t give to it. Such selfishness! So eager are we to diminish life it all its wonder.
I was lucky. I should have been one of the forsaken spirits; a dead child. That was my destiny, to die before I was born, had my mother heeded the advice of her doctors, those men who pledge above all else to do no harm. But what harm these unfeeling monsters of medicine have really caused! They make a mockery of their promise, these oath breakers. I was the one who lived of my stillborn siblings, the one who had a chance at survival but society in it selfishness and the doctors in their desire top tweak the laws of nature said I should not be born. Better to abort this one, lest the health of the mother be risked. And besides, I was given such a small chance to survive anyway. Death was already bestowed to me. My mother’s health weighed down upon shoulders still forming in the womb. The choice was clear; so many others chose to serve their own interests at the expense of life. I imagine she too considered the decision heavily, but in the end she chose to be a servant of life, of hope and of the possibility that tomorrow will be better. My mother chose me and so I never had to ask that horrible question… Why did you not love me enough to let me be born?
I was the one who lived, out of all my kindred spirits, the souls whose flesh was never given the chance. It is a burden I bear, but I bear it with great and profound respect and with the knowledge that I am never alone so long as they surround me. All those children, all those dead children. They fell victim to the popular choice, the selfish choice, and the choice that declares in the loudest voice ME! ME! ME!!! Never, no not ever you or we but always me. My mother made her choice, and with it created my legacy and birthright.
Now I am to be a father. What might lie ahead I can not say but god give me the strength to do the right thing should I be asked to make such a fateful choice. God give me the strength of my mother! May I choose, in all things to be a servant and champion of life in all its wonder.

(no subject)
Recently there seems to have some threats against democrats who voted for the ill timed, poorly assembled, unpopular, financially ruining health care bill. While I don’t condone threats I have to say it does my heart good to know that the old fires of liberty which once burned so brightly that authorities of the crown were tarred and feathered and had to flee under cover of darkness. I would point out however that in Americas history there have only two other occasions where such bitter acrimony swept the American people and created painful divides separating the will of the people from the imposition of federal authority...

1. The American Revolution
2. The American Civil War

Each saw the will of the people suddenly and irrevocably diverge from the will of the government and each lead to a war that would reshape not only America but also the world.

As an American no one should feel that the war for Independence is anything other than a noble cause. As to the civil war, Let us suppose that the issue of slavery were removed from the equation and it was only states rights being settled. From modern eyes who would not have supported a movement that sought to limit intrusions of the federal government! The question today is, as there have only been two other situations where feelings and opinions were as strong and passions as extreme, will this time be different or are we standing on the precipice.

(no subject)
If a catastrophe struck and you had to leave your home in a hurry (and never return), what items would you grab in your last ten minutes, and why?

An armfull of my books depending on the nature of the catastrophe of course but one of my books on herbology, on naturalism, something diversionary to read and other select titles and of course one chosen at random because in all the movies the day is saved because of some random item no one ever thought about. Oh and my family if there is room left over ;)

the world is a book and we are but stories
When I was a small boy my family took roadtrips. These were our family vacations and I loved each and every one of them, though some few do stand out in my recollection more than others. One of those I recall with the greatest joy was summer trip to Virginia. Now before I begin let me say that summer along the James River is, at times less a vacation than it is an exercise in mans ability to produce sweat. I say this to remind everyone of how difficult life must have been for those earnest settlers who crossed the vast ocean to make new homes in this unknown and frightening wilderness. And a wilderness it was. It is easy to forget amongst the subdivisions, town homes, shopping malls and gas stations that once upon a time this whole area was a wilderness as dense as foreboding as anything to appear in a fairy tale. And while there no witches living in this forest the settlers no less saw a certain witchcraft among the native peoples, whom they found to be both fascinating and terrifying! The “Indians” danced naked around bon fires, painted their faces with bear grease and the dye from berries, created masks to hide their true selves behind mythical images. They were a pagan ideal which these Christian newcomers could never quite understand so they labeled them as best they could. That story would eventually lead to tragedy and though it is a story worth the telling it is not the story I have to tell today. My story, that is to say one of the stories that is about me, or by me, or from me, is about a little boy on a summer vacation with his family and that little boy, as you must have guessed by now was my own true self!
It was an especially hot summer and although I am myself a southern boy born and bred I never developed the reslianincy against hot, languid summers which had been the salvation of my hard working ancestors. It wasn’t that I was a soft boy, or frail. In fact in autumn climes, when the temperature drops and night falls a little early I come alive. My family always said I had New England Skin draped over Southern bones. I suppose they were right! I was also a hopeless book worm. Some people might use the term in a derogatory light but tome it was a badge of the greatest honor. Put a book in my hand and I could lose hours and days. And because I always had a book in hand I lost a lot of time. I know it passed because my hair grew longer and I eventually grew a beard and somewhere along the way I was married and am having a child. But where the time actually got off to is anybodies guess. I like to think that it is waiting for me at the end of the road and when I arrive it will wave and say Hiya, where have you been all this long while? This is one reason family road trips were always so enjoyable. I could sit back with my book and let the car take me to where it was I was going. Of course, it was my father who did the driving and so, after many years passed I discovered that for some reason his recollections of road trips were somewhat different from my own? I can’t account for the discrepancy. Perhaps dad should have been reading his own book!
Virginia is a curious place. Named after a virgin queen and begun along the banks of a river named after a tribal confederation. The settlers were fond of renaming things so the Powahtan River became the James River, but since both names relate to political dominance it might just as well have been called river of politics. I suppose James does fit on a map nicely anyway. The first city, America’s first city, if you could call a collection of hovels surrounded by a haphazard log wall a city was Jamestown. Today the city is an archeological site featuring holes and black lines in the dirt. For the convenience of tourists there is another Jamestown where people wear costumes and pretend they are living as settlers. Of course, they don’t smell bad and no one dies of scurvy or gets killed by a wild animal at this other Jamestown, but at least you can see more than holes and black lines in the dirt. We Americans have a fondness for recreating kinder and gentler versions of our history. It isn’t that we don’t love our history, we just don’t like to think we were making it while we smelled bad and had dirt on our noses.
These first settlers eventually found out that the spot they picked to build their city was, contrary to what they thought a rather dismal spot. The river grew stagnant for weeks at a time and mosquitoes swarmed like a biblical plague so they decided to expand. I imagine the conversation went something like this… “So you want to move? Of course! It’s miserable here.” And so they moved, spreading out like tributaries off a major river. For the most part they followed the rivers, building plantations that turned into small towns from time to time, and some of these grew into larger towns and some of them, white to the astonishment of the local Indians turned into bustling little cities. One of the first was called Middle Plantation founded by Dr. John Potts. He was a man who had the distinction of being a founder of one town and a decimator of the population another.
After the settlers at Jamestown decided their home was rather dismal they packed up and moved there, only they changed its name to Williamsburg. Like I said they loved to change names around and Burg sounded more cosmopolitan than Plantation. This became the new capitol of Virginia and one of the finest cities in all the new world. And by virtue of the Patriots Pass I, that is to say the me that was around when I was ten years old could enter this city stuck out of time. I felt like I was in an H.G. Wells story the modern adventurer going back in time. It was a good thing I, that is the me who was there then loved history because Williamsburg is like an adrenaline needle to the heart for a history buff.
It started like an amusement park, in the gift shop. It seems that not only do Americans like to pretended they made history without having dirt on their noses but that there was a gift shop nearby while history was being made. This particular gift shop sold pewter spoons and reproductions prints or Washington crossing the Delaware and tri corn hats for kids my size. Of course, I made my parents buy one for me. The gift shop was also the welcome center but I didn’t notice the welcome at the time. They also sold the Passes that would allow us to enter the gates and walk the venerable old streets. There was a certain colonial social structure to the passes the lower passes not allowing people to enter certain buildings while the highest pass, the Patriots Pass was all access. We might as well have been visiting dignitaries in shorts and flip flops. My first impression can’t be easily summed up in words. There was a magical quality to the place, it was oddly familiar. The cobblestone streets, the simple colonial buildings, the parade ground, the apothecary and the cobbler and the taverns all seemed to belong to some part of my life I had not noticed before, or that I had not acknowledged anyway. It took me a while to understand this sensation. It was somewhere between the hat blacksmith who was busy making nails and the parade grounds where soldiers in patriot blue were drilling awkwardly. It didn’t feel familiar, it was familiar. These were things I had read about in countless books. The time I had lost wasn’t waiting for me at the end of the line; somehow, someway it had found its ways to Williamsburg and mingled with the re-imagined history. The whole place, the streets, the sky, the trees and the buildings and people were all from the pages of a book, and I, being a reader recognized them! It was at that moment, as a ten year old little boy on a family vacation I discovered that history can write itself and the pages upon which the pen rolls is the very landscape beneath our feet. Shakespeare said the world is a stage, but he was wrong.
The world is a book and we, all of us are characters. And just as history writes itself on the landscape, it is up to each of us to write our stories. Will we be heroes or villains? The next time you consider doing something, anything stop for a moment and consider this… What will people think when they read the story of you, in the book written on the landscape of the world? Take a breath, exhale… And make your story memorable!

Alice in Wonderland (Underland) by Tim Burton: A criticism
I had been eagerly awaiting the release of this film for some time. As an avowed Fan of Lewis Carroll's (Dodgson’s) wonderful book my expectations of a film adaption are never high however, Tim Burton is the one director who had the best chance at capturing the sense of whimsy and general oddness of Wonderland. And Johnny Depp is the one actor that could best convey the overall feeling I believe Carroll was striving for. I was anxious to see the result. I was sadly disappointed!

The film itself was a stunning example of visual sorcery, and its being shown in 3D only enhanced this. The colors literally flowed across the film like a rainbow river. But the story itself was disjointed and lacking that unique attribute of quirkiness that sets Burton apart. The whole movie felt contrived, as if Burton wanted desperately to make sense of the non-sense at the heart of Alice. The acting by the secondary characters was actually very enjoyable, the two standouts being Alan Rickman as Absalom the Caterpillar and the Red Queen, played with delightfully sinister whimsy by Helena Bonham Carter.

It was in the performance of the two stars the failings of the movie are most evident. Alice and the Mad Hatter seem to be competing for the spotlight and both are ultimately diminished. Alice, played by a relative newcomer failed to live up to the admittedly high expectations of literatures most precocious little girl. This film, set a few years after the events of the book finds a confused girl on the cusp of womanhood but her confusion lacks the adolescent quality which made Alice such a delight. The literary Alice was at all times a proper Victorian girl meeting the nonsense of wonderland in the sort of rebellion one might expect from such a girl. She was not a burgeoning feminist! By making Alice something of an anti-establishment figure her believability is reduced.
Her constant self assurances of "this is only a dream" lack the potency of her predecessors "curioser and curioser". The original Alice met wonderland head on, noting it’s oddness without allowing herself to become infected by it while this current Alice attempted to come across in a more theatrically heroic vein but seems only to stumble through "underland" as a hapless victim.

* One interesting note, worth mentioning for the true fan of Victorian children’s literature is choice of name for Alice. Of course the real life Alice is the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church and Charles Dodgson’s mentor, Liddell. The story was dedicated to Young Alice Liddell in remembrance of a sunny day spent by the lake (Even though the day in question was actually rainy and likely didn’t really happen as he recalled it). For the film her name was Alice Kingsley whose father was Charles. Charles Kingsly was of course the author of the story the Water Babies, which was a near contemporary and some argue inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Though Kingsly and Carroll never met their two stories did more for the field of children’s literature than most know? Both were Reverends, though Carroll only for the sake of his position and both had very specific ideas about the correct reading material for children. Since any modern bookstore carries a copy of Alice and Wonderland and this criticism is about the film inspired by Carroll’s story it is no difficult guess as to who one the debate.

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter was perhaps the most disappointing, coming across as a half hearted, comedic clown rather than a truly Mad Hatter, conveying his "Madness" as a desire for vengeance against the red queen. But in making his madness so easily understandable we lose something of the measure of insanity which the literary hatter possessed. Carroll conveyed the Hatter as a man truly insane. Burtons attempt at making a heroic figure out of this character was at odds with the nature of the story. In truth, the Mad Hatter, though certainly among the most memorable and remarkable of characters in children’s literature does not belong in a starring role.

In the end this is a classic Disney effort at retelling a famous and beloved children’s story. It is well done, with high production values, intriguing enough for adults but simplistic enough for children and utterly lacking the punch and power of the story from whence it came. It is Disneyfication at its finest.

My name is...
My name is Adam Slade… Well, it isn’t really my name, but it could have been. When I was born my parents named me, which is nothing uncommon. Rarely do we as infants have the privilege of choosing our own names. We are given them, assigned them sometimes with great care, sometimes with reckless abandon and then we are stuck with them. Our names grow along with us and we try to fit our mutable identity to the name, or the name changes to fit our growing identity. Either way our name and our identity are chained together.
My name; my other name, the name I have always known to be mine is Tory Shane. It is not Adam Slade and until last night I never knew this other person I might have been, had I been labeled something different. It was a revelation, a moment of pure clarity in which everything made sense. I, that is Tory is an imposter, a lesser twin meek and bookish, growing up awkwardly, distant from my social peers while Adam Slade was out living my life, a life of adventure.
It all made so much sense. As a child there were moments where I just felt out of place as if my skin belonged to another person and now I know there really was an “other” person. My twin, the Ferrante to my Roberto had been there, lurking in the shadows unseen perhaps, engaged in subtle manipulations designed to conceal the truth of our common parentage. Spilt milk, broken toys, drawings on the wall were as clear as the writing on the wall. I pleaded my innocence; I created phantom culprits to take the blame never knowing how close I was to the truth of it. My twin, the cunning Adam Slade had been there, his misdeeds staining my reputation when we were both only children. Clearly Adam Slade was a worthy opponent. I wonder now did my parents know of his presence, was he loved or shunned, banished from our home for some heinous act while I, mild mannered Tory was embraced and accepted. Such rage against me he must have felt and rightly so I imagine. It must surely have been this exclusion which sent my twin down that shadowy path from whence he emerges only occasionally.
Now as an adult, and now that the secret is out I wonder if he still lives, my twin, using his skills of subterfuge and deceit to get along in a world absent of the parental love denied him in our youth. Would I know if he had died, Adam Slade, my twin? Would anyone ever know or would his death have been only a faint barely audible whisper and what would his last words have been? Would he have uttered my name... Tory Shane… thus releasing me from the burden of being the one who was loved, the one who was accepted.

Oh, my dear brother Adam Slade. Cruel, cunning Adam Slade, my youthful shadow, my alter ego and my twin what has become of you?

It is perhaps best for a parent never to tell their son who they might have been, if only!


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