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Literature and Aging

Epic Adventures And Magical Transformations

Adventurous characters such as Lewis Carroll's Alice and Alf Pro/ysen's Little Old Mrs. Pepperpot (1959) suggest that young and old share a concern about bodily transformations. Midlife characters rarely suffer these indignities. Alice alternates between being tiny and very tall, thus mirroring the feelings of young girls, who may seem short one year and tower over their classmates the next. Older women are unappealing in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871). John Tenniel's comic line drawings stress the absurdity of all older characters (Mangum, 1999, 2000), but the drawings of the Duchess and the Red Queen emphasize their ugly and frightening demeanor. The King's face may be weak, but compared to the Queen he appears to be relatively attractive and mild-mannered. Portrayals of witchlike women make it easy for children to believe older women are dragons who must be conquered (Gullette, 1988). In contrast, old Mrs. Pepperpot shares the worries of young children. Returning home from collecting bilberries to make jam, she shrinks unexpectedly. Lacking strength to carry the pail, she has to trick a fox, wolf, and bear into helping her. Robert McCloskey's hero in Burt Dow: Deep-Water Man (1963) undergoes an experience like that of the Old Testament's Jonah rather unexpectedly one fine day. He puts a colorful Band-Aid on an injured whale. When a storm threatens Burt's old boat, his friend the whale swallows him whole. Burt smears the whale's insides with all the bilge and paint he has aboard his boat to encourage the forgetful whale to disgorge him. In the end the old boatman puts striped Band-Aids on all of the whale's friends and then chugs home to his sister under his own steam.

In most of these stories young children make allies of older characters, who are often idealized. Few writers for that age group would introduce the possibility that grandparents and children might not get along, a problem examined in Peter Taylor's short story "In the Miro District" (1977). Instead grandparents in children's fiction generally lack any desires of their own that might conflict with the needs of the young.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 3Literature and Aging - Redemptive Grandchildren, Animal Family Life, Orphans And Substitute Parents, Epic Adventures And Magical Transformations