'Talking-animal tales have conveyed anticruelty messages since the 18th-century beginnings of children's literature. Yet only in the modern period have animal characters become true subjects rather than objects of human neglect or benevolence. Modern fantasies reflect the shift from animal welfare to animal rights in 20th-century public discourse. This revolution in literary animal-human relations began with Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and continued with the work of Kenneth Grahame, Hugh Lofting, P.L. Travers and E. B. White. Beginning with the ideas of literary theorist Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, this book examines ways in which animal characters gain an aura of authority through using language and then participate in reversals of power. The author provides a close reading of 10 acclaimed British and American children's fantasies or series published before 1975. Authors whose work has received little scholarly attention are also covered, including Robert Lawson, George Selden and Robert C. O'Brien.' (Publication summary)
Contents indexed selectively. This monograph also discusses the work of international authors, including Hugh Lofting and E.B. White.
'P. L. Travers's series about Mary Poppins and Hugh Lofting's about Doctor Dolittle are unified by the extraordinary beings whose names appear in each title. Although both sets of books exhibit carnivalesque qualities, their central figures engender quite different responses. Lofting's Doctor is a great but flawed human being and, as demonstrated in the last chapter, readers' reactions to him fluctuate over the course of the series. Travers's nanny is a figure of mythic proportions, a still point at the center of the whirling changes she instigates, and she is consistently beloved and admired by the books' characters and readers. Whereas Doctor Dolittle is unfailingly kind, he is also unworldly and occasionally buffoonish; he is clearly a figure of misrule. Mary Poppins, by contrast, though frequently rude, is a figure of great authority, yet she uses her powers to subvert the status quo as much as the Doctor does. Although Doctor Dolittle acquires facility in animal languages through dedicated study, Mary Poppins is able to talk with animals simply because she is the Great Exception" (Mary Poppins 140),' the one being who continues to understand in adulthood the language spoken by animals and all human infants. Readers of Travers's series recall that Mary Poppins, like the Doctor, does on occasion act as translator and arbitrator for individual animals. She also narrates stories to her child charges about animals, both real and mythic, and mediates between the children and wild animals they encounter on magical adventures. Although Travers turns the tables in true carnival fashion and engineers scenes where the powerless become empowered, her series is not so much concerned with the social-justice issues of human cruelty to animals as it is with the spiritual exploration of shared animal-human origins. Travers's messages on this subject remain unchanging throughout the series, unlike Lofting's shifting tone. The idea of the interconnectedness of all life that is highlighted in "Full Moon," a chapter set in the zoo that occurs during Mary Poppins's first visit with the Banks family, is equally emphasized during her last visit in a chapter entitled "High Tide," a companion piece set at the bottom of the sea.' (Publication abstract)