Children’s literature being the inheritor of the folksy fairy tale plays an important role in the emotional, intellectual and imaginative development of the child and in fact, so profound is the effect some books have upon the child that their power lingers well into adulthood where they still work their subtle magics in new and often wonderous ways. It is then no wonder when lists are compiled of books that had the most lasting impact those written for children top the list.
The fairy tale grew from the hearth and what it promised; safety, comfort, warmth and family unity. The hearths have long since vanished but the hearth fires still burn and with them so do the promises. They burn with the sparks we ignite when reading these books as children, or when we read them to our children and we bask in their glow even when frightened by what lurks just in the shadows. They become the demigods (or human-god) of our psyche, What Joseph Campbell called our “private pantheon of dreams“. So Alice, Peter Pan, Max, Harry Potter, Coraline, Benjamin Bunny and their kindred function in very much the same way as the ancient Greek demigods once functioned to the mind of our ancestors. That is to say through them we could encounter the mysteries of the universe in a way that was safe and free of harm. In small ways we live vicariously through these literary and mythic creations. Alice is not simply a story, she becomes the maximum girl of childhood, just as Max or Peter Pan were the maximum boys. By Maximum what I mean is they represented real boys and girls at an iconic level; They were the utmost examples of what could be, the Beowulf’s, the Perseus’s, the Pandora’s of childhood. And they remain with us forever continuing their deeds and adventures unobserved until we look within and take notice.