Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 11. Fanciful Tales; Stockton; Uncle Remus

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VII. Books for Children

§ 11. Fanciful Tales; Stockton; Uncle Remus

But in one way, equally characteristic of the American temperament and American adult literature, children’s writers have lagged behind the European world. In the domain of pure fancy very little has been accomplished. As the century entered its closing decades protests were heard against the prevailing realism, and appeals for the restoration of those idealistic qualities which enkindle the child’s imagination elsewhere. In fairy tales, Frank R. Stockton stands almost alone in having done any considerable quantity of work possessing literary value. The wise humorous style of his fanciful tales and their grotesque droll material make them exceptional. Howard Pyle also did work of distinction in this field, much assisted by his eccentric illustrations; and his Robin Hood (1883) is capital romance. In nonsense books, the imitators of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear were many in the last years of the century; but the best of them, Charles Carryl in Davy and The Goblin (1885), only invite comparison. Somewhat earlier, Lucretia P. Hale in Peterkin Papers (1882) created a new form of nonsense of a more literal sort; and this for spontaneous fun and clever foolishness is remarkable. Fairy tales seem to have no foothold in America—the stories in verse of Palmer Cox, the Brownie books, being perhaps the sole instance the century afforded of nation-wide popularity (and these owing more to the author’s illustrations than to the text). For this condition publishers may be somewhat responsible, as they can sufficiently supply the market with uncopyrighted European material for which no royalties need be paid. Less likely to have been discouraged by unfair foreign competition, and certainly in themselves more indigenous, are stories which endow animals with human motives and speech. A local counterpart of European folk-lore is the lore of Uncle Remus, created by Joel Chandler Harris. He was far more successful than Hawthorne in the setting he gave these tales, which, like the Greek myths, are the common property of a race; Uncle Remus himself is a fine characterization, well-observed, humorous, and full of reverent kindliness.