The essays for this issue of The Lion and Unicorn circulate around the idea of transformation—of perspective, genre, identity, and form.
In “Art and Data: Children’s Mark-Making and Modernity,” Joan Menefee explores the social history of children’s drawing by offering an analysis of the theory, practice, and commercialization of this understudied yet pervasive childhood activity. We currently praise children’s artistic productions for their unmediated expression of childhood consciousness, Menefee explains, but this valuation is a product of Romantic childhood ideology. Particularly noteworthy is her account of the educational and commercial responses to the new definitions. By historicizing the changing perceptions of what children’s art means, we are better equipped to understand its function in picture books and other media.
Two of our essays deal with adaptations (or, in one case, perhaps a usurpation) of children’s works and the ways they have been transformed for social or political purposes. “Whose Fear Is It Anyway?: Moral Panics and ‘Stranger Danger’ in Henry Selick’s Coraline,” by Lindsay Myers, takes to task a popular children’s film for its corruption of the original work. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, which challenges social conventions and stereotypes, is given, Myers contends, an entirely different social message by Selick. Myers argues that Henry Selick’s 2009 film version turns Gaiman’s original story into “a fundamentally unprogressive vision of childhood, trading off the novel’s underlying theme of child empowerment for adult fears about child welfare.” Myers particularly points to the film’s protagonist, who is altered from Gaiman’s “autonomous” child challenging social conventions and stereotypes into a passive tool designed to address “adult anxieties about child abuse.” Thus, Myers posits, the moral message of the Selick film subverts what she sees as Gaiman’s more subtle literary creation, which in fact has its roots in the traditional fairy tale and fantasy. [End Page v]
Jennifer Askey’s essay, “Oz in Germany: Alexander Volkov’s Der Zauberer der Smaragdenstadt,” explores a work little known in the English-speaking world—or really anywhere outside of Germany, perhaps. Volkov adapted (or, some might say, co-opted) L. Frank Baum’s fantasy classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, for East German children in the 1940s and 50s, and it was widely popular. Askey examines the broad appeal of Baum’s original idea and the curious way in which children’s literature can be transformed socially and politically, in this case how the seemingly innocent literary fairy tale was recast as ideological propaganda. More importantly, Askey argues that this literary phenomenon demonstrates “the flexibility of Baum’s ‘modern fairy tale’ to cross borders, languages, and cultures and remain relevant and interesting,” and that “[r]eading Volkov’s adaptation of Baum’s texts . . . encourages a focus on more universal, modern themes in the Oz story: the tale as a vehicle for expressing distrust of authority, the struggle of the little people to live in peace on their land, and the value of banding together in the face of oppression or danger.” Askey’s essay describes an interesting journey of a familiar story as it wended its way into a new and unfamiliar time and place.
Jonathan Padley also takes on a classic of children’s literature in his essay, “Peter Pan: Indefinition Defined.” Padley tackles the perplexing issue of Peter Pan’s identity—or is it his lack of identity? His argument is that in Peter Pan we find a protagonist “who is imagined, written, and thus defined above all else by his resistance to definition.” By examining Peter’s ancestry—or the absence thereof—in his amorphous origins and his equally amorphous future, and his relationship with the various characters in Barrie’s story (Mr. Darling, Captain Hook, Wendy, and others), Padley sees the character of Peter Pan as a metafiction. As such, he remains forever fixed, unchanging, and “Betwixt and Between.” Herein, Padley argues, lies his magical quality and his ultimate power over us.
In their collaborative essay “‘Roses are planted where thorns grow’: The 2012 Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry,” poetry award judges Michael Heyman, Michael Joseph...