Nevermoor: A Contemporary Book I Think Should Become a Classic (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What is a contemporary book you think might become a classic?  Or should become a classic?

Nevermoor:  A Book That Should Become a Classic

Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series has enchanted and delighted me right from the start, and I can easily see these books becoming another children’s fantasy classic, along with the likes of the Harry Potter books. Book one introduces readers to Morrigan Crow, a young girl who has been told all her life that she is cursed and must die on her eleventh birthday. Instead, however, a bold and brilliant man named Jupiter North arrives, chased by hell-hounds, to whisk her away to the magical world of Nevermoor. The catch is, Morrigan is not meant to be there at all. To stay, she will have to earn a place in the prestigious Wundrous Society, comprised of members who each possess a remarkable talent. But Morrigan does not believe she has any talent at all.

The world of Nevermoor is gloriously complicated and quirky, and readers who love detailed world-building that makes them feel that they have truly crossed over into another place will adore Townsend’s work. If Hogwarts and its magic ever attracted readers, the wonders of Nevemoor surely will, as well. There are dragons and witches and talking cats. There are secret societies and schools for the talented and trials to be passed. If you looking for something whimsical and magical, you will find it here.

And the cast of characters! Morrigan is a wonderfully sympathetic lead. Born knowing that she was meant to die, and that townsfolk blamed her for all their misfortunes, Morrigan has known very little love. And, as a result, she is often unsure of herself. But she is kind and bold and clever, and it is impossible not to cheer her on. She is surrounded in turn by a group of equally interesting and lovable characters, from the quirky Jupiter North to the stern talking cat Fenestra. Morrigan finds a new family to love in her Nevermoor, and that means everything.

The plot, too, is fascinating and I think readers will be engrossed, not only by the world of Nevermoor, but also by its events. Something is going on that is not quite right, something beyond the trials for new recruits to join the Wundrous Society. These things, of course, just happen to center around Morrigan. Townsend keeps readers intrigued and guessing–she knows how to keep them on the edges of their seats.

Truly, the Nevermoor books are delightful in every way. There are few books that can bear a comparison to Harry Potter. Jessica Townsend’s books do.

What Does the Ending of Lois Lowry’s The Giver Mean? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

How do you interpret the ending of Lois Lowry’s The Giver?

The Ending of the Giver

Spoilers ahead for The Giver and, of course, its ending!

Lois Lowry’s The Giver ends ambiguously with the main character Jonas escaping from his society along with the baby Gabriel, whom he has rescued from being euthanized for the crime of not fitting in. As the two travel through the snow, they reach the top of a hill. Jonas believes he sees lights in the distance. But is Jonas really seeing the lights of a village that can save them? A place where he and Gabriel can start a new life? Or is Jonas dying in the snow from exposure, perhaps only hallucinating?

Now, of course, Lowry has gone on to write a number of companion books to The Giver, apparently answering conclusively whether or not Jonas has survived. For readers unfamiliar with these books, however, the question lingers: Did Jonas and Gabriel make it? And how could Lowry do this to readers? Especially to young readers? Aren’t books for tweens and teens supposed to have happy, uplifting messages? Endings that provide hope instead of confusion?

Personally, I like my stories to have happy endings. When I first read The Giver, I knew that Jonas and Gabriel had survived. I never questioned it. I actually did not realize for some time that there were people out there who believed the two had died. After all, what kind of an ending is that? It would be really awful to believe that Jonas sacrificed so much, gave up his family and his home and the only life he has ever known, just to perish in the snow. Maybe he saved his society in the process, giving them back their memories and their emotions, but for him to have to die for it, so young, would be so unfair!

And I’m sticking to that. I have never read the companions to The Giver because, to me, The Giver stands on its own. I never felt that the story had to continue or that I needed to know more. Maybe one day I will turn to these books, just to see what else Lowry has to say. But, I still know that Jonas and Gabriel survived. They have to. Because they deserve a happy ending, and a new beginning. If the choice rests with me as the reader to decide their fate, I am going to give them the happiness I believe they should have.

What do you think about the ending of The Giver? And have you read the companion books?

Should Readers Sympathize with Dante’s Famous Lovers, Francesca and Paolo?

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Do you think readers should sympathize with Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s Inferno?

Should readers sympathize with Paolo and Francesca in Dante's Inferno?

In Canto V of the Inferno, Dante meets Francesca da Rimini in the circle of hell reserved to the lustful, along with her lover Paolo. There, they are being buffeted about ceaselessly by winds, to punish them for being guided by their passions in life. Dante asks how they came to this fate and Francesca explains how she and Paolo read a book together about Lancelot. Enthralled by the romantic story, they gave in to their own passionate desires. After hearing Francesca’s story, Dante faints in pity.

The meeting with Paolo and Francesca is one of the most famous scenes in Dante’s Inferno, one that has inspired many artistic renderings. Francesca, the only woman to speak in the Inferno, is a gentle-born noble who tells her story eloquently; it is truly difficult to listen and not to feel sorry for her. Does she deserve to be punished for love?

Readers who know more of Francesca’s background than Dante tells will also be aware that Francesca was married off to Giovanni Malatesta, an ill-formed man, in a political match. She ended up falling in love with Giovanni’s younger brother Paolo, and they carried on their adulterous affair until her husband caught them and killed them both. This knowledge makes Francesca seem even more sympathetic. She never asked to married to a man she did not love! She certainly didn’t deserve to die for it!

However, even though Dante’s description of Francesca and Paolo’s fall is sympathetic, readers have to keep in mind several other things that are happening in the text. The first consideration is that Francesca, and not Dante-Poet (the narrator) is telling her story. Of course she wants to sound sympathetic! But can readers trust her account of what it means to be in love? She is, after all, condemned to hell for the sin of lust. Dante-Poet is suggesting, by placing Francesca and Paolo in hell, that they were wrong. Readers should probably think twice about accepting Francesca’s story, and her interpretation of what love is, at face value.

Also interesting in this scene is that Francesca blames a book for bringing about her fall. She calls the book a panderer or go-between. Dante spent his youth writing erotic poetry–much the same stuff that Francesca says lead to her destruction. In this moment, Dante-Poet is reflecting on his own role as an artist, and the power that words hold. He is implicitly blaming himself for potentially leading readers astray with his earlier work. Now, however, in the Comedy, he uses his talents to try to make his readers understand the nature of sin and its ugliness, and how they should reflect on their lives in order to choose good instead of evil.

So are Francesca and Paolo sympathetic? Certainly! Even Dante-Pilgrim (the character our narrator Dante-Poet is writing about) thinks so! But Dante-Poet also suggests that if readers think the pair are sympathetic, there is something wrong with their perspective. They should never feel sympathy for something that is wrong. And that is the great power of Dante’s Comedy. All at once, he makes us feel the contradictions of what it means to be alive, and to be human. We feel sorry for Francesca and Paolo, and perhaps recognize something of ourselves in them, even as we recognize logically that we should not feel sympathetic for adulterers. How do we reconcile the two views? How do we accept our human emotions but also accept that perhaps there is something beyond emotion? That struggle is at the heart of Dante’s Comedy–and a key reason I keep returning to the text.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts and links in the comments below!

Recommend a Diverse Classic (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Recommend a Diverse Classic

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PBS’s The Great American Read, an eight-part television series celebrating and discussing America’s top 100 novels as chosen by a survey of approximately 7,200 people, introduced me to the Chicano classic Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya back in 2018. Although I learned that the book has made it onto some regional school lists, I had never even heard the title before. I was in for a treat.

Bless Me, Ultima recounts the story of Antonio, a boy growing up on the edge of the llano. Torn between his mother’s love for the earth and his father’s love of freedom, his belief in the Catholic church and the miracles he has seen performed by Ultima the curandera, Antonio struggles to find his place in the world.

I often feel drawn to books that explore the struggles characters have with faith. For some people, faith is such a clear-cut thing, a solid truth they can rely on throughout life. Others, however, may find tension in how faith seems to conflict with reason, or how one faith contradicts another. Antonio is confused because he has been raised Catholic, but he sees that Ultima relies on wisdom from her ancestors that the church rejects–and consequently, seems to have great power. How can he reconcile the two worldviews?

Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age story because Antonio must come to the realization that not everything authority figures have told him may be true. He has to work through disillusionment and determine what he believes in, and what kind of life he wants to lead. He no longer has to capacity to accept whatever he is told, because he knows now that the world is full of contradictions. He has to resolve those contradictions within himself.

Some have found Bless Me, Ultima controversial, but I enjoyed the honest look Rudolfo Anaya provides of one boy’s interior life. Antonio is not perfect, it is true. He is human. And so he should be expected to have questions, to make mistakes, to wonder what is true, and to long for more certainty than the world can ever give. Antonio’s story is beautiful because it is real.

My Favorite Roald Dahl Novel (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE ROALD DAHL NOVEL

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My Favorite Roald Dahl Book Discussion Banner

Introduction

Krysta asked me to answer the prompt this week, so I find it a little bit awkward to admit…I do not have a favorite Roald Dahl novel. I have read very few of Dahl’s books, and I have mixed feelings about the ones that I have.

The only three books I can ever choose from here are Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Witches.

Matilda

I have a feeling many people would choose Matilda as their favorite because of the charmingly bookish protagonist, the hint of magic, and the delicious comeuppance that the villains experience by the end of the novel. I’ve actually read this book more than once, so I must like something about it (though it’s been years since my last reread), but because the story centers around child abuse, I can’t exactly call reading it an enjoyable experience. It’s one of those books where I almost can’t stand to reread it because I know so many terrible things have to the protagonist, and I don’t want to see it.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I believe I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory only once, and I probably spent most of the book trying to compare and contrast it with the movie (the Gene Wilder version, though I have seen the newer one with Johnny Depp). Here, I see the appeal of a book about a chocolate factory. There’s practically a whole subgenre of children’s books focused on chocolate/candy/sweet factories or shops. But the book, like most of Dahl’s work, is often simply weird and dark in ways that are sometimes surprisingly.

The Witches

Finally, I also read The Witches years ago, and I remember finding it interesting but also genuinely frightening. (As a kid, I was scared of practically everything, so I don’t know how much credence I should give that reaction as adult; I would like to revisit the novel sometime to find out.) As Krysta points out in her upcoming review of the graphic novel adaptation (to be published here on the blog tomorrow!), there is some light and warmth in the book, particularly in the character of the grandmother, but the fact that the witches really do get around to harming children was pretty terrifying to young me.

Conclusion

So while I admire Dahl’s work for being unique and have always found it interesting how dark his novels are in ways that are unusual for most children’s books…I’m not sure I would ever say I liked them. “Weird and dark” isn’t generally my preferred aesthetic in the books I pick up! I’ve only read three of Dahl’s books, and I’ve never had a real urge to pick up more. If someone wants to throw out some suggestions in the comments, however, maybe I’ll check out some of his other works in the future.

Briana

Middlemarch: A Book Someone Recommended to Me That I Love (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What classic do you read—and love—because it was recommended to you?

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I first read George Eliot’s Middlemarch on the recommendation of a college professor. At the time, I had never read anything written by Eliot and really had no idea who she was–even though I loved reading Victorian novels. She was just one of those names I heard all the time, but never looked into. However, I liked this professor and trusted his recommendations, so I picked up Middlemarch to see what it was all about. I would be blown away by its vision and its power.

Middlemarch is one of those books that deftly ties together the fates of a large handful of individuals, illustrating how the rich and the poor, the old and the young are are all tied together in one rural community. The main characters are arguably Dorothea Brooke–an idealistic young woman who throws herself away in a loveless marriage, believing her husband will give her the power to do good that society denies her as a woman–and Dr. Lydgate, Dorothea’s mirror–an idealistic young doctor who finds his values being eroded away by a small-minded wife and society. However, the scope of the book encompasses a large range of characters, showing how their actions create ripple effects throughout the community. The book becomes an extended commentary on the nature of love, the role of the individual in society and in family life, and the social pressures that shape those individuals.

Middlemarch is a large book, and its size can be intimidating. However, Eliot’s astute sense of character, her ability to balance the stories of a large cast, and her keen social observations all make it worth picking up. She is a master of the Victorian novel–and one not to be overlooked.

My Favorite Character in The Lord of the Rings (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS?

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I want to preface this by saying I’m not certain I have a favorite character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There are a number of characters I like, including Eowyn, Faramir, and Legolas, and a number of characters I think are fascinating even if they might not be “my favorite.” (For example, see Krysta’s post on reconsidering Boromir.) However, for the sake of this post, I want to talk about why Aragorn has always been one of my favorite characters.

A lot of Tolkien scholarship extols the presence of hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, comparing them to the Everyman and suggesting that Frodo and company are what make the story really “relatable.” Hobbits are the small people with no particular power or previous role in great world events, yet their decisions, their perseverance, and their commitment to doing what is right are what drive the novel and help free all of Middle Earth from the evil of Sauron and the Ring. As Elrond states:

“This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?”

All this love for the importance of ordinary people means, however, that Aragorn often gets tossed to the side. Scholars–and general readers–sometimes think that Aragorn simply is not interesting: he’s a king, a skilled warrior, a leader, etc. Liking the “traditional hero” is just too obvious for them.

Well, I like traditional heroes.

I enjoy a good epic adventure, whether it’s an old story like Beowulf or a new fantasy like Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and I love that Aragorn is a strong, admirable character who brings a sense of gravity to the novel. Sure, he’s not “relatable” because I will never be a monarch or a leader of an elite group of fighters or even a mysterious and forbidding character in a tavern, but the feeling that he’s a bit larger than life is what’s beautiful about him–and the book as a whole. He’s also something I think most of us would aspire to be: brave, confident, and wise. He’s willing to sacrifice everything to keep others safe, going so far as to lead what most think is a suicide mission to distract Sauron at the Black Gate so Frodo and Sam have a final chance to destroy the One Ring.

Dismissing Aragorn as some sort of run-of-the-mill hero type also does a disservice to the sadness that surrounds him. First, he has some personal sorrows. He is in exile from his own kingdom; though he does serve Gondor under a pseudonym, he spends years in the wild with the Rangers, protecting Middle Earth for little thanks. He’s also separated from the woman he loves, as Elrond will not give his blessing for Arwen and Aragorn to marry until Aragorn is king and “worthy.”

Second, he brings a sense of sorrow and things passing to the story as a whole. After Aragorn is crowned king (only after he is assured the people of Gondor desire his coronation), readers know he is essentially the last of his kind–the last truly great king of royal Númenórean descent. Although he has children, one gets the sense that Middle Earth has lost something awe-inspiring and beautiful when Aragorn dies. In another parallel with Beowulf, one can feel the passing of an age with the passing of a final great king.

Aragorn is a hero, yes, but labeling him one as if that explains everything about him and he is uninteresting as an individual character overlooks the complexity Tolkien weaves around him. Also, basically everyone in The Lord of the Rings ends up being a hero, and isn’t the exploration of heroism in many forms one of the things fans like about it?

Briana

Les Misérables: My Favorite Musical Based on a Classic Novel (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What is your favorite musical based on a classic novel?

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For me, Les Misérables is pretty much the perfect musical! I love the sheer breadth of it, the way it follows a cast of characters over many years, revealing how their lives intertwine with one another even as they are swept up into the upheaval of rebellion. And so many important themes are touched upon: justice vs. mercy, the possibility of redemption, and the need for social justice, to name only a few. The scope of the production blows me away every time!

For me, Les Misérables is pretty much the perfect musical! I love the sheer breadth of it, the way it follows a cast of characters over many years, revealing how their lives intertwine with one another even as they are swept up into the upheaval of rebellion. And so many important themes are touched upon: justice vs. mercy, the possibility of redemption, and the need for social justice, to name only a few. The scope of the production blows me away every time!

And, amazingly, I love pretty much every song in Les Mis. I could admittedly do without “There Is a Castle on a Cloud,” which I find sickeningly sweet. But every other song is phenomenal and powerful. From “I Dreamed a Dream” to “On My Own,” each song reveals the inner lives of the characters, making individuals society has cast away–the poor, the orphaned, the criminal, and the “ruined”–come alive as fully realized and sympathetic people. Les Mis has a vast scope, but its heart is the characters, and the reminder to “look down” at the people and the conditions society longs to forget.

Les Mis has all the emotions, bringing audiences from sadness and despair to hope at the possibility of redemption and a happier ending, even if not in this lifetime. Its poignancy is perhaps what really draws me to the musical. It takes a hard look at the divide between the rich and the poor, emphasizing over and over again the responsibility the privileged have to treat everyone with dignity, and to see to their needs. It is a message that continues to be timely, long after Victor Hugo first sought to change hearts and minds in his 1862 novel.

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Runner-Up

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite Charles Dickens novel. It is, in my opinion, Dickens at his best. Dickens is known for writing long, sprawling tales with verbose prose. (He did, after all, get paid by the word.) But with A Tale of Two Cities he actually manages to be somewhat concise, giving readers a sweeping saga of the French Revolution that finds its heart in telling the story of how the political chaos affects one family in particular. The narrative is tight, perpetually gesturing forward to its conclusion while also linking the present to the past. No word or thread of the tale seems out of place. It is masterful.

Because I love A Tale of Two Cities so much, I was excited to discover that a musical based on the book was released in 2007. I never saw the production on Broadway, though I did see a local production that seemed almost professional! (I expect to see the actor who played Sydney Carton on Broadway one day himself.) The songs are powerful, and they do an excellent job of filling in the gaps that readers may feel Dickens left. Lucy, for instance, gets to sing about her feelings about Darnay leaving her for France without even consulting her opinion on the matter. She feels like a well-rounded, and understandably angry, woman, not the doormat some readers have found her. And Sydney’s despair at his inability to turn his life around also comes through very poignantly. Some changes were made to the plot to work around problems like the actors for Darnay and Carton not looking like twins. But all the changes seem reasonable and work well with the plot. Altogether, this is a very beautiful and moving musical, and I would love to see it performed again!

Why Did Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “Little Lord Fauntleroy” Fall Out of Favor? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

During her life, Frances Hodgson Burnett received more acclaim for Little Lord Fauntleroy than for The Secret Garden.  Today the reverse is true.  What do you think prompted the change?

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Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy was serialized from 1885-1886. It tells the story of seven-year-old Cedric Errol who lives in New York with his widowed mother. One day, the news arrives that his uncles, like his father, are dead. He is now the heir to his grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt, and must move to England to be trained to take over the estate–despite the fact that the Earl despises Mrs. Errol for being an American and marrying his son. The Earl is a crotchety old man, known for living only ever to please himself. But the new little Lord Fauntleroy’s sweet temperament and belief in the inherent goodness of everyone begins to change the Earl for the better.

Little Lord Fauntleroy was incredibly popular when it first appeared in print–so popular that it inspired a new fashion, the Fauntleroy suit, modeled after the outfit Cedric wears in the book. No doubt its rags-to-riches theme appealed to the masses, as did its status as a sentimental novel, a novel that plays heavily on the readers’ emotions in order to inspire virtue. Burnett’s story relies on the readers feeling sympathy for little Cedric as he transforms his grandfather from a selfish old man into one capable of feeling love and empathy for others. She does this by making Cedric a veritable paragon of virtue, always saying just the right thing, always seeing the good in others, always thinking of other people before himself. Young and old, everyone loves him. And, oh yes, he’s also a “perfect” physical specimen, “straight” and strong with golden curls. Nineteenth-century audiences would have definitely been in love.

Today, however, the sentimental novel has fallen out of fashion, as has Burnett’s tendency to emphasize the moral virtues of her characters. Little Lord Fauntleroy may appear to many as sickeningly sweet, as may his mother, who, like a good woman of her time, is even-tempered, soft-spoken, prone to going among the poor to do acts of charity, and entirely devoted to raising her son up to be a man of integrity. Burnett wants readers to see Mrs. Errol as honest and kind, but contemporary readers may be just as likely to think of her as stifled and boring.

Even as the popularity of Little Lord Fauntleroy has waned, however, another of Burnett’s works continues to be beloved by contemporary readers. The Secret Garden tells the story of Mary Lennox who, after being orphaned in India, arrives on the moors in England to live with her uncle. He is grieving for his long-dead wife and not home very much, so the spoiled Mary spends her time outside, eventually finding her way into her aunt’s locked garden. There, she begins to plant and prune, and soon the power of nature transforms her from a selfish and hot-tempered little girl to a healthy, happy, and pleasant one.

I think The Secret Garden appeals to readers today in part because Mary is not a “perfect” child like Cedric, but rather a plain and spoiled one who likes to get her way and is not very nice to the servants at first. She may be unpleasant to live with, but she is interesting to read about–and, because she is imperfect, she also, unlike Cedric, gets to experience a character arc. Watching her transformation is one of the highlights of the story.

However, The Secret Garden also has wonderful prose that draws readers into the story. Burnett makes nature come alive through her descriptions, and readers may close the pages pondering whether they should not begin a garden themselves. In contrast, Little Lord Fauntleroy spends very little time on scenic descriptions or anything that really grounds the book in a specific place–a good deal of the book seems to be Burnett explaining Cedric’s virtues and how they make everyone love him. The Secret Garden does not suffer from dull patches like this, but remains pretty dedicated to its striking setting, as well as to its plot and to its characters–characters who are drawn more vividly, unlike Little Lord Fauntleroy’s Mr. Hobbs, for example, who seems just a little like a caricature of a “common” grocery man.

I actually enjoy Little Lord Fauntleroy myself, but I can see why contemporary audiences might find it a little too dull for their tastes. Children’s books in particular often tend to rely more these days on fast-paced plots–books focused on boys’ moral qualities are not exactly bestsellers. In contrast, The Secret Garden has a more interesting main character and a more vivid setting, as well as a plot with a bit more action. Tastes in literature change. In this case, the changes left Little Lord Fauntleroy behind.

A Classic Picture Book with Beautiful Illustrations (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Tell us about a classic picture book you love for the illustrations.

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The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres

I have never actually liked the story of Peter Rabbit. At best, it’s too obviously didactic with its lessons about listening to your mother and being a good little bunny (child), and at worst it’s pretty dark. Mrs. Rabbit flat out says that Mr. Rabbit “had an accident” in Mr. McGregor’s garden and “he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor!” This was nearly traumatizing to me as a young reader, but she throws it out so casually. Oh, don’t go into the garden next door–you might be murdered and eaten! I simply was not a big fan as a child, and rereading the story recently hasn’t suddenly made me think it’s the epitome of children’s literature.

However, my family had this Little Golden Book edition of the story when I was growing up, and the illustrations are adorable! I believe I read the book multiple times simply because the pictures are so cute, while also detailed and rather evocative. Just look at that plump fluffy bunny on the cover, wearing his stylish coat and shoes!

I loved looking at the pictures, and I still think they’re astounding. I still want to just pick up all the bunnies and hug them, and I still love looking at all the details in the background, like the mother mouse with her baby mice in a cradle or all the little furnishings in Peter’s home. I also love the expressions on Peter’s face during his adventures, the single tear on his face when he gets caught in a net in Mr. McGregor’s garden and his anguish when he’s lost and can’t find his way home. The story is often sad and dark, but the illustrator really works with that! You start to feel for Peter, even when he brought all his troubles on himself.

Beatrix Potter I can take or leave as an author in general, but I really do love Cyndy Szekeres’s illustrations for The Tale of Peter Rabbit!

Briana