Alice in Wonderland is the atom bomb of children’s literature. If you want to know why, you only need to read Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice, which will tell you what you need to know. In the same year, 1865, Wilhelm Busch published the German Alice: Max und Moritz.
What is Deutschland’s Alice like? Both poems take as their target the moral children’s story. The idea that a story to be read to a child should teach the child a lesson and prepare her to be a good adult. But where Carroll and Tenniel take that idea and trounce over it, Busch explodes it. It becomes larger than life. Larger than (previous) fiction. Was Busch the first to recognize the comic anarchy of Struwwelpeter? No, but he turned it into something magical as opposed to simply creepy or perhaps a little disturbingly funny.
Max and Moritz, bless their black little hearts, are Deutschland’s tricksters, primordial and archetypal. Spirits of mischief, conspiring with each other, giggling with delight at what they work. When Carl Jung wrote about the Trickster in his books on archetypes, was he thinking of Max or Moritz? He was Swiss, so perhaps not.
Sorry, yesterday I was prepared to write an essay on the brilliance of Max und Moritz
, but today I'm just not feeling it. Yesterday I was full of childlike wonder, but today I'm a hardened adult. I think an unsuccessful night's sleep has left me image-deprived and image-dulled. Children's literature is very much a mood
genre. In both that it is supposed to create a certain mood, but it also requires a certain mood to enter, which is why a book like Coraline
can turn people off so much.
Okay, enough of the bad reviews. Time to talk about something wonderful:
I read Max and Moritz
for the first time this weekend, and it's already become a part of my inner consciousness. I've been seeing Max and Moritz inside my head my whole life, and I haven't known what it was until now. Sure, I had heard of it, and I've always appreciated the idea and recognized its importance in the history of literature, but now I believe in it
. I feel like I should be making some kind of commentary on the psychosocial meaning of the book and its pervasiveness, but all I feel like doing is gushing about it. I'm going to have to write fully about this tomorrow.
Bird by Bird
was assigned reading for a writing class I took, though no sections were ever assigned and few people read the book. I had totally forgotten I had bought it until I was packing up my dorm supplies at the end of the semester. Recently I broke it out and began it to see if I could learn anything from Lamott. While there may be a lot of information in here that could help someone, it's by far the worst book on the craft of writing I've ever started (I gave up around chapter three after spending 2 weeks trying to get through). Lamott wastes no time in telling us that writers drink heavily, smoke marijuana, and are unsuitable for any other jobs. Oh, they also listen to jazz music. The lifestyle is so important to Lamott that you can't help but believe that's the main reason she's in this business.
If you want a book on the craft of writing, please read anything besides this one. Julia Cameron is especially insightful; I'll write more about her works later.