The release of the latest Tim Burton tale about a strange boy who isn’t loved by his family…what? Sorry? Not that hoary old chestnut? He’s doing Alice? It’s Alice in Wonderland but not actually Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass but a riff on Alice that involves cherry-picking the bits he likes to make a pop-psychology primer on how to achieve wholeness by you know, being all kooky and Gothed up. And not actually suitable for or interesting to children.
Kill me now.
I don’t care how pretty the design is or the music or the rest. Get your mitts off it, Tim. I can’t take another Where the Wild Things Are debacle. I don’t want these Gen X directors to keep stomping all over my sacred canon of childhood by getting monsters to talk about their feelings, or empowering Alice with some bodacious super-ego weapon to vanquish her Jabber-ID.
These books are whole. They don’t need your imprimatur, or improvements. The only glimmer of hope is that children will find the philosophising of the ‘new and improved’ versions dead boring, and return to the pure, dark matter of the stories.
I have been assembling my own collection of the books that warped/shaped me as a child to present to my own children. They might not like them, but I hope they do. The thing that unites them to a fault is their strange truthfulness. Almost all Victorian, before the invention of childhood and its dreadful pandering, they talk about children like they have brains, and opinions, and understand what is going on. That children notice details and never forget a wrong. That they have good instincts for smelling out tricksters, even evil, if we don’t tell them always to deny their fears. Fear can be appropriate, instinct shouldn’t be dismissed. That is why when my little girl tells me that someone was horrible to her, I say, well, never mind. Go and play over there. Because she’s right. And quite capable of being horrible herself (to say nothing of her scary mother).
So I hope these books help her out a bit.
- Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
- Coles Funny Picture Books
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
- Anything by Edward Lear
- Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc
- The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
- The Phoenix and the Carpet by E Nesbit (and companion books)
- The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
- The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley
- The Selfish Giant and other stories by Oscar Wilde
- All the best, scariest Roald Dahl
- Astrid Lindgren, not just Pippi but The Brothers Lionheart etc
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I heartily agree with this wonderful article by AS Byatt on the incantatory magic of Lewis Carroll. I remember that he and his family used to make little newspapers to impress each other, and that Edward Lear was the twenty-first child in his family and raised by his sister. In short, they made their own amusements, and grew extraordinary powers of imagination nourished by a love of wordplay and the desire to enchant. The northern winters are long. There was no television. These books are hallucinations we can hardly hope to match. How lucky we can read them!
And here’s a lovely link to Gore Vidal on the writing of Edith Nesbit.