Failure to Grow Up: Loss of Innocence and Childhood in the Works of Blake, 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 thatthe y 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 for using 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 the 1700 s, conservativism and obstinacy of British literature produced literature rich in fantasy and imagination. This also began the time when illustrations in children " sliterature began to be cultivated, "for it [was] apparent that Children (even from their Infancy almost) [were] delighted with Pictures, and willingly please[d] their eyes with these sights" (John Amos Comenius, Orbis sensualism pict us). Authors during the time viewed childhood as a time of innocence and make believe and whe children should be shielded 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, nour ces of vice, further ers of ignorance andhinderers of all good learning" (Francis Clement, Pete Schol e, 1576). This view carried from the seventeenth century Puritans to the nineteenth century Americans and was the reason why they could not determine whether or not children should read fairy tales or stories. During this great debate, however, Aesop's Fables were the only unobjectionable material 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 another transformation.
It moved from the insistence on the child's need to prepare for an early death to lessons for children's religious teaching and the understand that childhood was different from adulthood. This most distinct change was the beginning of the Romantic period of literature. During this change, the children's stages of development were being more clearly defined. Later in the eighteenth century, children's literature emerged with childhood being celebrated as never before. The writers of children's literature were being 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 was interesting because "ironically the rehabilitation of fairy-tales was beginning at the very moment 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, animal fantasies were still popular. Moreover, the Romantic style and characteristics of the eighteenth century were still imminent.
During the middle of the nineteenth century, children's literature began to change again due to the adult fiction that began to flourish in the children's literature. The most noticeable change was stylistic. Although the early century writers favored literary restraint, the writers during the middle of the nineteenth century "brought enthusiastic writing to children's books, the more feeling the better" (Hunt, Children's Literature: An Illustrated 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 literature culminates all thoughts and ideas that were expressed over time and incorporates the minto a new development in children's literature.
British and American literature also began to converge during the twentieth century, showing a changing world of childhood and literature. Each century of children's literature created a writer that held childhood and the loss of it close to his heart. William Blake, an eighteenth century Romantic poet and artist, foreshadowed much of what was to come out of the Romantic movement with his Songs of Innocence and of Experience. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries produced two 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 of literature, demonstrate the "brilliance" of childhood..