Failure to Grow Up: Loss of Innocence and Childhood in the Works ofBlake, Barrie, and Milne “Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of today. It is to have a spirit yet streaming…it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, lowliness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its own soul…”(The Magic of Childhood, Francis Thompson) From as early as the eighteenth century, we can see that writers used children astheir subjects. Children represented, to them, the epitome of innocence, naivete,freshness, and simplicity. In addition, these same writers also wrote of the loss ofchildhood and innocence. Did authors choose these issues because they mirror, in someway, the lives that they have lived? Is it because childhood is a part of their lives thatthey wish to return to? Is it because, in writing about childhood, they create afantasyland to which they can travel to escape the harshness of their adult lives? According to William Blake, J. M. Barrie, and A. A. Milne, each has his own reason forusing the topic of childhood and innocence. To completely understand children’s literature and why writers used children astheir subjects, one must take an historical look at the literature and times. During the1700s, conservativism and obstinacy of British literature produced literature rich infantasy and imagination. This also began the time when illustrations in children’sliterature began to be cultivated, “for it [was] apparent that Children (even from theirInfancy almost) [were] delighted with Pictures, and willingly please[d] their eyes withthese sights” (John Amos Comenius, Orbis sensualium pictus). Authors during the timeviewed childhood as a time of innocence and make believe and when children should beshielded from the harsh realities of the adult world. The illustrations, which paralleled the work, portrayed life as it should be and not how it really was-war torture, death,disease, and misfortunes. The Puritans, during this century, viewed the theme ofchildren’s fiction as “enemies of virtue, nources of vice, furtherers of ignorance andhinderers of all good learnyng” (Francis Clement, Petie Schole, 1576). This view carriedfrom the seventeenth century Puritans to the nineteenth century Americans and was thereason why they could not determine whether or not children should read fairy tales orstories. During this great debate, however, Aesop’s Fables were the only unobjectionablematerial that the Puritans and Americans would allow children to read. Despite this,Aesop’s Fables, until the eighteenth century, were used only as classroom experience andnot as recreation. This was due to the worldly wisdom contained within his works-”presence of mind, trimming ones sails to circumstance, and above all caution” (Hunt,
Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History, 14). At the turn of the nineteenth century, children’s literature went though yet anothertransformation. It moved from the insistence on the child’s need to prepare for an earlydeath to lessons for children’s religious teaching and the understand that childhood wasdifferent from adulthood. This most distinct change was the beginning of the Romanticperiod of literature. During this change, the children’s stages of development were beingmore clearly defined. Later in the eighteenth century, children’s literature emerged withchildhood being celebrated as never before. The writers of children’s literature werebeing touched with the spirit of childhood-its emotion, tenderness, and sensitivity. Furthermore, fairy tales and nursery rhymes were making their mark. The nineteenth century brought forth fairy tales and fantasy literature. This wasinteresting because “ironically the rehabilitation of fairy-tales was beginning at the verymoment when children were being discouraged from reading them” (Hunt, Children’sLiterature: An Illustrated History, 114). The nineteenth century also produced a new development: the Gothic novel. Along with the fairy tales and the Gothic novel, animalfantasies were still popular. Moreover, the Romantic style and characteristics of theeighteenth century were still imminent. During the middle of the nineteenth century, children’s literature began to changeagain due to the adult fiction that began to flourish in the children’s literature. The mostnoticeable change was stylistic. Although the early century writers favored literaryrestraint, the writers during the middle of the nineteenth century “brought enthusiasticwriting to children’s books, the more feeling the better” (Hunt, Children’s Literature: AnIllustrated History, 114). Another change was the return to the Romantic descriptions ofchildhood. The twentieth century offered a combination of all the advancements of children’sliterature throughout the last three centuries. Taking the seventeenth century’s fantasy and imagination, the eighteenth century’s celebration of childhood, and the nineteenthcentury’s rebirth of fantasy, the twentieth century’s version of children’s literatureculminates all thoughts and ideas that were expressed over time and incorporates theminto a new development in children’s literature. British and American literature alsobegan to converge during the twentieth century, showing a changing world of childhoodand literature. Each century of children’s literature created a writer that held childhood and theloss of it close to his heart. William Blake, an eighteenth century Romantic poet andartist, foreshadowed much of what was to come out of the Romantic movement with hisSongs of Innocence and of Experience. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries producedtwo extraordinary writers–J. M. Barrie and A. A. Milne. Barrie’s view on childhood,especially those which mirror his life, set the stage for his dream-child play, Peter Pan. The World of Christopher Robin and The World of Pooh, Milne’s most famous works ofliterature, demonstrate the “brilliance” of childhood.