Green Worlds for Children
Suzanne Rahn, The Lion and the Unicorn, 19.2 (1995) 149-170
. . . My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Nearly two hundred years after Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "Frost at Midnight," the connection between children and the natural world still seems natural to us. Whether or not we believe, as the Romantics did, that the natural world makes intelligible the voice of God, we still feel that it is somehow "good for" children to get in touch with grass, trees, streams, [End Page 149] ocean waves, tall mountains, and furry animals. At the same time, we cannot promise them the green world with the simple confidence of Coleridge. We are aware that it is farther from us than it used to be; today's children may never get the chance to wander by a lake alone, or hear a bird sing in an apple tree. 1 And even as we reach out to the green world, we sense its vulnerability, and fear that it may soon not be there to find. What if the singing bird fails to return? It is now more than 30 years since Rachel Carson first forced us to imagine the possibility of a silent spring. As the knowledge of our environmental crisis has grown and deepened, so the perception of possible solutions has changed as well. Clearly, legislation to curb pollution, protect endangered species, and create national parks will not stop the destruction of the natural world. Laws can always be changed. The paper-drawn boundaries of a park give it no real protection from those who live outside them, unless they themselves care enough to protect it. Degraded ecosystems and creatures on the brink of extinction are more difficult to rescue than we realized 30 years ago. Today, what conservationists look for are not ways to seal off the natural world, but ways for human societies to coexist with it--which means, first of all, ways of seeing and feeling about nature that encourage coexistence rather than exploitation and destruction. 2 This quest for a less adversarial relationship with nature has no simple solutions either. In the late 1960s, it was a commonplace to blame the environmental crisis on the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its built-in assumption of "man's" superiority and right to dominate the rest of creation. "Non-Western" traditions--whether Zen Buddhist or American Indian--were believed to result in an ideal harmony between humans and the natural world; one strand of the counterculture was a genuine attempt to recreate that lost harmony through an "alternative lifestyle." Today, we find it harder to believe that any cultural tradition holds the answer. Countries whose traditions are Buddhist, communist, or agrarian have proved scarcely less likely to abuse the natural environment than those whose cultures are Judeo-Christian, capitalist, or industrial. The new field of environmental history has uncovered proof of ecologically destructive practices around the globe and older than civilization. Increasing evidence, for example, suggests that the ancestors of the American Indians--a people held up as models for their harmonious relationship with nature and wild creatures--were chiefly responsible for the extinction of the large and abundant Pleistocene fauna that roamed North and South America up to 10,000 years ago. As environmental geographer Martin W. [End Page 150] Lewis puts it, our cherished "vision of primordial innocence" may have to be replaced with something more like "environmental original sin."
The idea that European and North American civilization is the single, peculiar source of ecological destruction [he writes] is at particular risk. . . . Indeed, this notion rests on an inverted form of Eurocentrism--one that focuses on the West as the center of everything vile and destructive, rather than as the focal point of everything progressive and virtuous, as the old Eurocentrism did. (A56)Rather than a retreat to some ideal--and imaginary--cultural tradition, we are faced with the far more challenging prospect of creating something new, a relationship with the natural world that embraces what we can learn from other cultures, but does not stop there. And understanding and appreciating our own tradition must play an essential part. Our own love of the green world and how it has evolved must shape what it can become. Although the roots of an environmentalist consciousness can be found in Romanticism and (in America) Transcendentalism, environmentalism in its modern sense--which implies an active effort to conserve and protect nature--is little more than a hundred years old. Not surprisingly--if one believes, like the Romantics, that children and the green world belong together--children were informed and involved from the outset. In fact, merely by studying the old volumes of St. Nicholas Magazine that children read in the 1870s and '80s and '90s, one can trace the changes in attitudes toward the wilderness and its creatures with which environmentalism began. By midcentury, Victorians were already fascinated by the natural world. Awakened by Romanticism to nature as a source of poetic and spiritual inspiration, they lived at a time when exploration and scientific discovery were opening up new realms of nature on an unprecedented scale. Bitten en masse by the bug of nature study, they eagerly collected ferns, shells, birds' eggs, and butterflies, sketched wild flowers, and examined algae under microscopes. Children, too, enjoyed these activities, both in the family circle and, increasingly, in the classroom. 3 St. Nicholas offered its readers not only numerous feature articles, often beautifully illustrated, on natural history subjects, but a scientific organization of their own--the Agassiz Association, named after the famous Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz, founded in 1880 by Harlan H. Ballard, and designed to encourage scientific study and the love of nature through personal observation. In 1887, when the fast-growing "A.A." became independent of the magazine, it included nearly 700 chapters across the country, and a [End Page 151] [Begin Page 154] handful in Canada, Great Britain, and Japan, with more than seven thousand active members (Ballard). Some chapters were organized by schools, many by self-directed groups of young people, while others consisted of a single family of parents and children. This intense interest in nature, however, was often bound up with a desire to control it, or even exert dominance over it. Victorian zoos, for example, suggests Harriet Ritvo, not only provided exotic subjects for scientific study, but served as satisfying emblems both of human domination over nature and Euro-American domination over the "uncivilized" world. The highly structured and artificial physical setting of the London Zoo, with its tidy rows of small, barred cages, "re-enacted and celebrated the imposition of human structure on the threatening chaos of nature" (218). At the same time, the wild creatures of Africa, India, and Australia displayed there gave living testimony to "British ability to subdue exotic territories and convert their wild products to useful purposes" (217). Such displays of control and dominance often required the destruction of the natural object itself. The widespread collecting of birds' eggs by adults and children, for example, contributed to the decline of many species--and the rarer the species, the more avid the collector. Huge numbers of birds were shot and butterflies chloroformed in the name of scientific study. Sport hunting, too, particularly of exotic species, and not infrequently under the aegis of collecting "scientific specimens," took an increasing toll of wildlife, as did zoos. This aspect of the Victorian relationship with nature was reflected in the realm of children's literature by the many adventure stories combining exploration with hunting exploits, by such authors as Mayne Reid and R. M. Ballantyne. Highly popular with boys, these stories could also be considered good for them. As John M. MacKenzie points out, "The hunter's grappling with the wild not only called for endurance and stamina, but also for qualities of 'character' admired by the Victorians, stoicism, application, command of self and followers, and the capacity to encounter high risk and triumph" (146). Even St. Nicholas, despite its avoidance of the bloodthirsty, published a few stories of this type, including Mayne Reid's last serial, "The Land of Fire: A Tale of Adventure in Terra del Fuego" and Theodore Roosevelt's personal reminiscences of buffalo hunting. Few authors voiced a concern for the effects of unlimited hunting and collecting on the wild animal population, though it was already evident by the 1880s that a number of species, including the once spectacularly abundant buffalo and passenger pigeon, were being rapidly driven to extinction. An 1887 article in St. Nicholas, "How Some Animals Become [End Page 154] Extinct" by Charles Frederick Holder, must be one of the earliest of its kind written for children, in which the focus is on unnatural rather than natural causes of extinction. "When man appeared upon the scene," writes Holder, "he at once began to destroy animals, and from that time to the present, various creatures have disappeared, and others are gradually passing away before our eyes--the direct result of man's attack on them" (760). Holder goes on to describe how the Arctic sea cow was destroyed only 38 years after its discovery, how the last great auks were killed in 1844, and the last Labrador duck in 1852.
In our own time [he concludes], we see the buffalo crowded farther and farther into the mountains, and almost exterminated from our Western plains. And as civilization is also advancing from the Pacific, the buffalo, mountain sheep, prong-horn, and all the noble game animals of the great West, in a few years will be represented only by their stuffed skins and dried bones in our museums. (762)Holder speaks of the extinction of these North American species as a grim certainty. There is no suggestion that it might be prevented, or even protested. Yet in the May issue of that same volume of St. Nicholas, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (the persona of Mary Mapes Dodge) was calling the attention of its readers to a new organization founded for the protection of wild birds, and urging them to join (14.7: 552-53). 4 The Audubon Society was incorporated in 1886, and by February 1887, when the first issue of Audubon Magazine was published, already had 20,000 members ("Review" 16). Surprisingly, for those familiar with Audubon today, the magazine was initially addressed to families, with an explicit emphasis on "young folks." An editorial in the first issue declares that "as the young folks have rendered most material aid in advancing the Society's work, each number will be prepared with special care that there be for young readers a full share of entertainment" ("Audubon"). It is clear that the first editors of Audubon not only hoped to discourage young people from killing birds, but were counting on their active support. This youthward orientation, moreover, may have been inspired by the success of an even earlier conservation organization, one designed exclusively for young people and sponsored by St. Nicholas. In December 1873, only a month after the founding of the magazine, C. C. Haskins announced the formation of the Bird Defenders, a "young folks' army" dedicated to the preservation of wild birds. Its members pledged themselves to "abstain from all such practices as shall tend to the destruction of wild birds . . . use our best endeavors to induce others to do likewise, and . . . advocate the rights of birds at all proper times" (73). Haskins's article [End Page 155] [Begin Page 157] (called, unfortunately, "For the Birds") is remarkable in advocating the protection not only of "useful" birds that eat caterpillars, but of predators such as hawks, crows, and owls. By June 1874, "Commander-in-Chief" Haskins was able to print a "Grand Muster-Roll" containing thousands of names (2.8: i-vi). Numerous letters from children in St. Nicholas testify to their eager involvement in the Bird Defenders, and the organization continued to flourish for a number of years. St. Nicholas gave substantial support to such fledgling attempts at wildlife conservation once again in the early 1900s, through its newly organized St. Nicholas League. The League, open to all young readers of the magazine, conducted monthly competitions in art and creative writing, publishing the best entries in a regular department of St. Nicholas. One of its original "Aims" was "protection of the oppressed, whether human beings, dumb animals, or birds" (27.1 [November 1899]: 80). Its editors, Albert Bigelow Paine and his successor William Fayal Clarke, clearly intended through their choice of such subjects as "First Signs of Spring," "Forest Trees," and "The Call of the Wild" to foster an appreciation of nature in their young artists and writers. Hunting stories--though some children must have submitted them--were never published. Instead, hoping to "encourage the pursuing of game with a camera instead of a gun," Paine added a special prize in January 1900, "for the best photograph of a wild animal or bird, taken in its natural home" (27.3: 277). 5 Wildlife photography was then in its infancy, but children responded to the challenge, and photographs of owls, deer, and raccoons became an established feature of the League. It is possible that Paine succeeded in reorienting some boys toward a more benign form of wildlife recreation, one which has far outstripped hunting in nationwide popularity today. By 1900, as these examples show, American environmentalism had enlarged its scope from the protection of birds (with emphasis on their usefulness) to the preservation of wild animals as well. 6 The beginnings of a system of national forests and national parks had been created; the first conservationist president, Theodore Roosevelt, was about to take office; and pioneering environmentalists such as John Burroughs and John Muir were open advocates for wilderness. One might draw a telling comparison between Charles Holder's 1887 prediction of the buffalo's approaching extinction, with its tone of quiet resignation, and these ringing words on the current status of the buffalo from an 1895 St. Nicholas series on "North American Quadrupeds" by William T. Hornaday:
In a wild state, the AMERICAN BISON, or BUFFALO, is practically, though not quite wholly extinct. . . .
Four years ago there were over three hundred head in the Yellowstone [End Page 157] Park, thriving and increasing quite satisfactorily. Through them we fondly hoped the species would even yet be saved from absolute extinction. But, alas! we were reckoning without the poachers. Congress provides pay for just one solitary scout to guard in winter 3575 square miles of rugged mountain country against the horde of lawless white men and Indians who surround the park on all sides, eager to kill the last Buffalo! The poachers have been hard at work, and as a result our park herd has recently decreased more than one half in number. It is a brutal, burning shame that formerly, through lack of congressional law adequately to punish such poachers as the wretch who was actually caught red-handed in January, 1894, while skinning seven dead buffaloes! and now, through lack of a paltry $1800 a year to pay four more scouts, the park Buffaloes are all doomed to certain and speedy destruction. (674) 7Here, unmistakably, is the voice of an activist! Just one year later, Hornaday was to become the first director of the Bronx Zoo and one of the foremost American environmentalists of the early twentieth century. In 1902 he was pressing Congress to pass the Alaskan Game Act. In 1905, he became founding president of the American Bison Society, and took on the seemingly hopeless task of saving the buffalo. In 1909 he was urging Congress to adopt an international treaty--the first of its kind--to preserve the Alaskan fur seal; in 1910 he was campaigning against the sale of wild bird plumes; in 1929, after a 10-year struggle led by Hornaday, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The international scope of his campaigns is worthy of note; already environmentalists were having to think beyond their national boundaries. The burgeoning environmental consciousness of the 1890s and early 1900s made its influence felt beyond the ranks of activists, and in diverse ways--in the new popularity of camping, for example, and the success of Ernest Thompson Seton's Woodcraft League for boys, in the trend in zoos toward more natural settings, and in the gradual disappearance of wild bird feathers and carcasses from women's hats. Its influence on children's literature seems far greater than on literature for adults. Whereas the traditional boys' adventure stories pitted the protagonist against nature (and against peoples who lived close to nature, such as American Indians and African tribesmen), one could now find a significant number of stories in which the protagonist lived close to nature and in harmony with it. After Tom, an early forerunner in Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies* (1863), came Bevis in Wood Magic (1881) and Bevis: The Story of a Boy (1882) by Richard Jefferies, Mowgli in The Jungle Book (1894), Yan and Sam in Two Little Savages (1903) by Ernest Thompson Seton, Martin in A Little Boy Lost (1905) by the naturalist William Henry Hudson, Elnora in A Girl of the Limberlost (1909) by Gene Stratton Porter, and Mary and [End Page 158] Dickon in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (1911). And one of the most striking developments in the history of children's literature is the sudden rise of the animal story, both realistic and fantastic, at just this time--particularly, the story of wild animals. Before 1890, the few animal protagonists had been nearly all domestic animals such as dogs and horses, or occasionally, small, harmless, semidomestic creatures such as mice and robins. Now a flood of wild things--Beatrix Potter's rabbits, frogs, and squirrels; Kenneth Grahame's mole, water rat, toad, and badger; Selma Lagerlöf's wild geese; Rudyard Kipling's mongoose, elephant, camel, and kangaroo--poured into the nursery. Though few of [End Page 159] these animal stories were overtly environmentalist, all encouraged a sympathetic attitude toward nature and wild creatures. And some went further. Rudyard Kipling's "The White Seal" (published in The Jungle Book in 1894) is as strongly environmentalist as any story written today. Fifteen years before Hornaday's campaign began--18 years before the international treaty to preserve the Alaskan fur seal was finally signed--Kipling was describing the fur seal's slide toward extinction and creating a seal hero called Kotick, who travels the Pacific in search of a safe haven for his people. The long-extinct Arctic sea cow plays an important part in the story. Selma Lagerlöf's Swedish classic Nils Holgersson (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils), published in 1906, tells how a boy shrunk to elf size travels the length of Sweden with a flock of migrating wild geese led by the wise old Akka of Kebnekaise; it, too, incorporates a plea for wildlife preservation. 8 At the very end of the story, as she bids Nils farewell, Akka asks him to remember that the earth is not for human beings alone:
"Remember you have a large country and you can easily afford to leave a few bare rocks, a few shallow lakes and swamps, a few desolate cliffs and remote forests to us poor, dumb creatures, where we can be allowed to live in peace. All my days I have been hounded and hunted. It would be a comfort to know that there is a refuge somewhere for one like me." (322-23)Some environmentalist authors who wrote mainly for adults were also widely read by young people, particularly Ernest Thompson Seton, one of the first to use wild animal protagonists in books such as Wild Animals I Have Known (1898), The Biography of a Grizzly (1900), Lives of the Hunted (1901), and Animal Heroes (1905); and Gene Stratton Porter, who wove her concern for the vanishing Limberlost Swamp into Freckles (1904) and A Girl of the Limberlost (1909). 9 Perhaps the most startling innovation in the animal stories of this period is the appearance of wild predators in sympathetic roles. In boys' adventure stories, tigers and bears served as antagonists for a young hero to slay in hand-to-hand combat or with a well-aimed rifle shot. Wolves, the most thoroughly demonized predator, were not allowed even the status of worthy foe. In an 1886 St. Nicholas series on large predators, the entry on the wolf is headed "Savage and Cowardly," and few then would have argued with John R. Coryell's characterization:
It would be difficult to imagine a more vicious brute than the wolf. It is so bloodthirsty that when one of its fellows is disabled by wounds or illness, it will fall upon the helpless animal and tear it in pieces. On the [End Page 160] other hand, it is so cowardly that when it is captured it is so stupefied by fear that it makes no effort to defend itself.
The wolf is a native of every portion of the globe, from the hot tropics to the freezing polar regions, and everywhere he is dreaded by both man and beast. When hungry, and they are seldom otherwise, wolves collect together, and set out in a band, ready to devour the first hapless creature that comes along. (346)Even the environmentalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had no use for the wolf; when Yellowstone and the other national parks were established, government hunters systematically exterminated every wolf and mountain lion within their borders. Eliminating predators was thought essential to preserving such "big game" animals as buffalo, elk, moose, deer, and mountain sheep. Both Seton and Kipling, then, must be considered revolutionaries--Seton for writing stories such as "Lobo, the King of Currumpaw" in Wild Animals I Have Known, about a heroic wolf's last stand against his human enemies, and Kipling for putting good wolves at the center of The Jungle Book. What leader in children's fiction is nobler than his Akela, or what mother more splendidly heroic than his tiger-defying Mother Wolf? The long-term effects of children's books, on a single child or a whole society, are always hard to pin down and impossible to quantify. But the public image of the wolf had already somewhat improved by 1903, when Jack London published The Call of the Wild. London's heroic dog-protagonist, Buck, chooses to join a wolf-pack after his beloved master is killed--a choice that would have seemed inconceivable to readers 20 years earlier. In 1913, a young contributor to the St. Nicholas League ventured even farther. Kipling's wolves and London's are still adjuncts to human or dog protagonists. Responding to the assigned subject of "The Call of the Wild," 16-year-old Lucile Fitch imagines herself into the wolf skin:
Cagèd! I shall go mad within this place:
How civilization scorches with its breath!
All night I howl and look and long for death,
As back and forth I tread this narrow space.
That wan star points above the frozen north,
And I have fixed my flaming eyes on it;
With all the fire of wolfish breed relit,
I let my longing, unheard cries go forth.
--Call not. I cannot come, O Wilderness!
To fly once more, lord of the hungering pack,Kipling's friend Lord Baden-Powell had The Jungle Book specifically in mind when he designated the wolf as totem animal for the younger branch of his Boy Scouts (founded in 1908). The "Cub Scouts" were actually to imagine themselves as wolf cubs! We can never know for sure that the flowering of wild-animal stories at the turn of the century--some of them classics of children's literature--helped bring about such changes in attitude toward the natural world and its creatures, or furthered the widespread acceptance of environmentalism that exists today. Yet it seems unlikely that without the generations of stories about good wolves, from "Lobo" and The Jungle Book to Never Cry Wolf and Julie of the Wolves, the weight of cumulative public opinion could ever have overcome centuries of hatred and allowed the wolf's return to Yellowstone in 1995. 10 Like the wild creatures themselves, animal stories have seen their share of controversy. Talking animal stories, or stories in which animals lead virtually human lives, have sometimes been criticized for giving children false notions about what animals are like. And at the turn of the century, some authors whose animals never talked were attacked merely for suggesting that animals could think or feel. In a 1903 essay in The Atlantic, the nature writer John Burroughs charged Ernest Thompson Seton and William J. Long, an author of nature study books for children, with telling out-and-out tall tales. Wild Animals I Have Known, said Burroughs nastily, should be called Wild Animals I Alone Have Known. For him, as for virtually all scientists of his day, animals were essentially machines driven by instinct, incapable of feeling emotions, solving problems, or possessing individual personalities. When Long published an angry rejoinder, scientists and amateur naturalists all over America joined in the fray. President Roosevelt himself came in on Burroughs's side, calling Long and his kind a bunch of "Nature Fakers"--a name that stuck. 11 Although Seton, at least, had based his stories on deep knowledge and personal observations of wild animals, his reputation was badly damaged. Only recently, after a generation of long-term animal studies [End Page 162] under natural conditions by scientists such as Konrad Lorenz and Jane Goodall, has it become acceptable to speak of individuality and reasoning ability in a wild goose or a chimpanzee--and to credit Seton with having won the war. Lorenz has even defended classic tales of talking animals from the charge of falsehood, paying them personal tribute in his own classic of animal ethology, King Solomon's Ring:
Across the silent snows with wingèd feet! [End Page 161]
Where fields on fields of blinding whiteness meet.
To scent the giant caribou's soft track!
Or, 'neath the glory of the Northern Lights,
When all the brooding darkness lies athrill,
To point the keen nose heavenward and fill
With mournful incantations the weird nights.
Oh, what a torture 'tis to be not free
When all the awful Wild is beckoning me!
--Call not. I cannot come, O Wilderness! (40.4 [February 1913]: 377)
The mental development of my own early childhood was, without any doubt, influenced in a most beneficial way by two books of animal stories which cannot, even in a very loose sense, be regarded as true. Neither Selma Lagerlof's Nils Holgersson, nor Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books contain anything like scientific truth about animals. But poets such as the authors of these books may well avail themselves of poetic license to present the animal in a way far divergent from scientific truth. They may daringly let the animal speak like a human being, they may even ascribe human motives to its actions, and yet succeed in retaining the general style of the wild creature. Surprisingly enough, they convey a true impression of what a wild animal is like, although they are telling fairy tales. In reading those books, one feels that if an experienced old wild goose or a wise black panther could talk, they would say exactly the things which Selma Lagerlof's Akka or Rudyard Kipling's Bagheera say. (xviii)Would Lorenz himself have been able to perceive the individuality of wild creatures, had he not been exposed to this concept so memorably as a child? Would he have been able to make fundamental discoveries about animal communication, if he had never known talking animals like Akka and Bagheera? The case of Dr. Lorenz also suggests that a children's book can communicate a loving respect for nature and wild creatures without an explicit "message" of the type common in environmentalist children's books today. 12 As a child, Lorenz met Kipling's wolves; as an adult, he became the first scientist to defend the moral character of the long-demonized animal, after observing the posture of submission that inhibits one wolf from killing another in a fight:
I think it a truly magnificent thing that one wolf finds himself unable to bite the proffered neck of the other, but still more so that the other relies upon him for this amazing restraint. Mankind can learn a lesson from this, from the animal that Dante calls "la bestia senza pace." (197)In his "Note to the Reader" in Lives of the Hunted (1901), Ernest Thompson Seton confirms from his own experience that the feeling [End Page 163] generated by an animal story may have more effect than an environmentalist lecture:
My chief motive, my most earnest underlying wish, has been to stop the extermination of harmless wild animals; not for their sakes, but for ours, firmly believing that each of our native wild creatures is in itself a precious heritage that we have no right to destroy or put beyond the reach of our children.
I have tried to stop the stupid and brutal work of destruction by an appeal--not to reason: that has failed hitherto--but to sympathy, and especially the sympathies of the coming generation. (12-13)As a writer, Seton's strategy was to create sympathy through "animal heroes," individual wild animal protagonists like Raggylug the rabbit or Redruff the grouse, whose lives are shared in imagination by the reader. It has since been employed in countless stories, from Bambi to Watership Down. One might also see an analogy in the "flagship" strategy adopted by today's environmentalists. Because it is difficult to generate much public interest in abstract concepts such as biodiversity or large entities such as ecosystems, environmentalists choose an endangered "flagship" species of animal to stand for the whole. Thus, the spotted owl is used to focus public attention on the entire ecosystem of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, and the golden lion tamarin on the Atlantic forest ecosystem of Brazil. If the species is sufficiently appealing, people may become emotionally engaged with it, and motivated to preserve the ecosystem on which it depends for existence. (The instance of the spotted owl illustrates the danger of the strategy, which can backfire and create actual hostility toward the creature, if its needs seem to be given priority over those of humans.) Because people sympathize most readily with their fellow mammals, flagship species tend to be mammals too, particularly attractive mammals like the giant panda with its cute, round face--a perfect choice by the World Wildlife Fund to represent the general concept of endangerment. Large, handsome birds such as eagles, parrots, and peregrine falcons have also had their share of success. Perhaps the earliest and one of the most successful instances of a flagship animal was Smokey the Bear, chosen by the U.S. Forest Service in 1950 to personify the concept of forest fire prevention. Here a real-life individual bear was actually transformed into a humanized fictional character--like a bear in a children's book. 13 In the area of wildlife preservation, what works with adults seems remarkably similar to what works with children. Seton was aware in 1901, as the Audubon Society had been aware in 1887, and as environmentalists are certainly aware today, that they must win "the sympathies of the coming generation." Mainly, of course, [End Page 164] because the children of today are the voting, power-wielding, money-spending adults of tomorrow--but for another reason, too. When aware of a threat to the green world and its creatures, children can be its most passionate and committed advocates. Anyone in touch with today's children must be aware of their intense concern for the environment; what may surprise us, looking back at the children of a hundred years ago and more, is that they, too, were ready to be Bird Defenders. In that deep sense, the children have not changed. But today, with more power to act and with the threat of ecological destruction grown far more acute, they are seizing more opportunities. Children are raising thousands of dollars yearly for environmental organizations, sometimes with the encouragement of adults, sometimes entirely on their own. Children have founded their own environmental organizations--groups such as the Environmental Children's Organization and the Children's Alliance for Protection of the Environment. They have initiated successful campaigns to start recycling programs in their schools, or in their towns, and to clean up polluted streams. In 1992, the 12-year-old founder of the Environmental Children's Organization addressed the Plenary Session of the Earth Summit. Severn Suzuki and three friends had raised the money to come 6,000 miles to Brazil, to speak for the children of the world. 14 "I am fighting for my future," she told the delegates.
Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market.
I am here to speak for all generations yet to come.
I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard.
I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet--because they have nowhere left to go.
We can't afford not to be heard.This child is angry and afraid; she knows, better than many of her elders, how short the time for change has grown. If there is still room for hope, it lies in the coupling of committed idealism like hers--the undiminishing resource born fresh in every generation--with the greater understanding gained in the last hundred years.
I'm only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong; in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil--borders and governments will never change that.
I'm only a child yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal.[End Page 165] It seems natural for this child to think long-range, not just of her own future, but of "all generations yet to come." It seems natural for her to think holistically; for her, starving children and dying animals cry out with a single voice. She describes how she and her friends have talked with the street children of Brazil, and links their poverty with the wasteful affluence she has grown up with in Canada. It seems natural for her to think globally; to her, "we are all part of a family." Here, indeed, are some of the new ways of thinking and feeling that environmentalists are hoping for. Looking back across a hundred years, we can better see and appreciate other hopeful signs of change. There are wolves in Yellowstone again. It is now widely, though by no means universally acknowledged that wolves are needed there to complete the natural pattern of its ecosystem--even, perhaps, to benefit the deer and elk that were once so carefully protected from them. Many people today actually admire the wolf, and wear its
bold image on their T-shirts. And William Hornaday was wrong when he predicted in St. Nicholas that the buffalo would soon be extinct. Today, buffalo still survive, more than 120,000 strong, thanks to the efforts of those like Hornaday who fought for their survival when it seemed hopeless. In his beautiful picture book Buffalo Woman, Paul Goble retells for children a legend of the Plains Indians about their special relationship to the buffalo. Because he respects the animals he kills for food, a young hunter is privileged to marry a she-buffalo who has assumed human form. Although the people of his village are unkind to her, forcing her to leave, the young hunter remains faithful to her and their son Calf Boy, tracking them across the plains and risking his life to face the angry herd she has rejoined. As a reward, he himself is allowed to become a buffalo, creating an eternal bond between the two peoples, human and animal. Clearly, this pourquoi story says much about the Plains Indians' dependence on the buffalo and their respect for the creatures they hunted. But to consider it in the light of what environmental historians believe about the Paleo-Indians suggests an even deeper meaning. If the Paleo-Indians did indeed overhunt the Pleistocene megafauna to extinction--the mammoths, the camels, the giant sloths--they may at some point have faced an environmental crisis of their own. Perhaps they realized that in order to ensure their remaining food supply, they must change their attitude toward the creatures they hunted, from one of thoughtless exploitation to one of care and restraint. So rituals might have been created; if they killed an animal, they would apologize to its spirit and [End Page 166] thank it for providing them with food. And so stories might have been created, which taught children to regard animals with respect and love. When Europeans first arrived on the North American continent, they found it teeming with animal life and the Indians living in a harmony with nature unlike anything they had ever seen. Perhaps we too are capable of such profound cultural change. If so, we can be sure that stories--perhaps, especially, stories for children--will play their part. This issue of The Lion and the Unicorn is dedicated to the exploration of the many and varied green worlds to be found in children's books. * See Naomi Wood's article A (Sea) Green Victorian: Charles Kingsley and The Water-Babies in this issue of The Lion and the Unicorn. Suzanne Rahn is an associate professor at Pacific Lutheran University, and director of the English Department's children's literature program. She is the author of Children's Literature: An Annotated Bibliography of the History and Criticism (Garland 1981) and Rediscoveries in Children's Literature (Garland 1995), as well as numerous articles on children's literature. She is currently editing an anthology of research and criticism on St. Nicholas Magazine with Susan Gannon and Ruth Anne Thompson, and writing a book for the Twayne Masterwork series on The Wizard of Oz.
1 A recent attempt to articulate children's special relationship to the natural world and their need for it is The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places, a book of essays by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble (New York: Beacon, 1994). 2 Millicent Lenz supplies a useful introduction to the philosophical principles of "deep ecology," on which such new ways of thinking and feeling might be based, and their application to children's literature in "Am I My Planet's Keeper? Dante, Ecosophy, and Children's Books" in ChLA Quarterly 19.4 (Winter 1994-95): 159-64. In terms of practical action, international conservation organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Wildlife Preservation Trust, and the World Wildlife Fund have changed their main focus from the protection of single rare species to the protection of whole ecosystems, and to finding ways for human communities to coexist with and benefit from these ecosystems without destroying them. Articles on this theme appear in nearly every issue of Nature Conservancy, Audubon, and Wildlife Conservation. See, for example, "Farming for the Future" ("Sowing the seeds of cooperation between farmers and conservationists along Ohio's Big Darby Creek") by Mary Mihaly in Nature Conservancy 44.5 (Sept/Oct 1994): 24-29; or "The People and the Tiger" by Geoffrey C. Ward in Audubon 96.4 (July/Aug 1994): 62-69, about coexistence between people and tigers on the borders of one of India's national parks; or "The Costa Rican Connection" by Chris Wille in the March/April 1995 issue of Nature Conservancy (45.2: 10-15), which describes how some local communities in Costa Rica are organizing to protect the natural area that gives them their livelihood. 3 For a delightful picture of a Victorian family immersed in nature study, see Juliana Horatia Ewing's Six to Sixteen (Chicago: M. A. Donohue, ). The female narrator becomes an expert on fresh-water shells, explaining, "I had taken to the latter as being 'the only things not yet collected by somebody or other in the house'; and I became so infatuated in the pursuit that I used to get up at four o'clock in the morning to search the damp places and water-herbage by the river, it being emphatically 'the early bird who catches' snails" (217). Ewing was writing from her own childhood; indeed, her mother, Margaret Gatty, the founder of Aunt Judy's Magazine for children, was a recognized authority on seaweeds. 4 Jack goes on to print a poem by a boy of 10 who had just joined the Audubon Society. It tells of a cruel hunter who shot a beautiful singing bird, but got his just deserts from the condor who swooped down and seized him. The poem concludes triumphantly:
Then that awful condor, he5 After Yellowstone Park became popular with tourists, in the early twentieth century, Paine refined the rules of the wildlife photography competition to disallow animals photographed in a preserve or protected area. Animals in such a preserve, he reasoned, could not be "pursued with a gun" in any case. 6 The Boone and Crockett Society was founded in 1887 by a group of wealthy New York hunters concerned for the future of the "big game" animals of North America; Theodore Roosevelt was its first president. One of their achievements was the creation of the New York Zoological Society, the organization responsible for the creation and operation of the Bronx Zoo. In Britain, the Selborne Society was contemporaneous to the Audubon Society and similar in its aims. But conservation organizations in Britain took a different path from those in America with the founding in 1895 of the National Trust. The Trust, unlike any American organization at this time, set out to acquire land, and aimed to preserve both places of "historic interest" and those of "natural beauty." It has become the largest private landowner in Great Britain, with its properties awarded a special, inalienable status by the British government. Wildlife preservation as such, then, was not one of the Trust's primary aims, but a byproduct of the protection of "natural beauty," one which assumed increasing importance after World War II. 7 The situation Hornaday describes will have a familiar ring to readers conversant with environmental issues; the same chronic underfunding and scarcity of guards exists in "paper parks," as they are known, in many parts of the world today. In the Summer 1995 issue of Nature Conservancy, for example, an article titled "The Guardian of Eden" by William Stolzenburg is summarized, "Living on bare necessities and beggar's wages, Latin American park guards defend the front lines in some of earth's most beautiful and deadly places" (45.4: 24-29). In Noel Kempff National Park, "Gualbert Gomez and his fellow guards . . . are 15 men looking after a Bolivian wilderness larger than North America's Yellowstone. They are charged with maintaining the nature of Noel Kempff against a constricting ring of poachers and pirate loggers, without a paved road to transport them or a firearm to back them" (26). 8 For further discussion of environmentalism in The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, see "The Boy and the Wild Geese" in my Rediscoveries in Children's Literature (New York: Garland, 1995). 9 For Gene Stratton Porter's environmentalism, see "Of Epiphanies and Poets: Gene Stratton-Porter's Domestic Transcendentalism" by Anne K. Phillips in ChLA Quarterly 19.4 (Winter 1994-95): 153-58. 10 For a vivid picture of the last-ditch struggle over wolf reintroduction and its background, see "One for the Wolves" by Nicholas Dawidoff in Audubon 94.4 (July/August 1992): 38-45. 11 The story of this controversy is told in detail in The Nature Fakers: Wildlife, Science and Sentiment by Ralph H. Lutts (Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1990). 12 In her introduction to a special section on "Ecology and the Child" in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Betty Greenway discusses the problems involved in evaluating children's books with environmentalist "messages." See "Introduction: The Greening of Children's Literature" in ChLA Quarterly 19.4 (Winter 1994-95): 146-47. Mary Harris Veeder also addresses this issue in "Children's Books on Rain Forests: Beyond the Macaw Mystique," in ChLA Quarterly 19.4 (Winter 1994-95): 165-69. 13 The original Smokey was a four-pound bear cub who was discovered by park rangers, badly burned, after a forest fire in Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico. He lived most of his life in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and was buried in what is now Smokey Bear Historical State Park, in Capitan, New Mexico. His grave marker in the park, the visitor center where a film on Smokey's life is shown, and the Smokey Bear Museum nearby constitute the same type of tourist attraction associated with famous human beings. 14 I am indebted to Millicent Lenz for drawing my attention to Severn Suzuki's speech and supplying me with a copy of it.
Made his breakfast and dinner and tea
Of the man who laughed with scorn
When the Audubon Society was born. (St. Nicholas 14.7: 552)
Works Cited"The Audubon Magazine." Audubon Magazine 1.1 (Feb. 1887): 5. Rpt. as a supplement in the 89.2 (March 1987) issue of Audubon. Ballard, Harlan H. "A Report Concerning the Agassiz Association." St. Nicholas 15.1 (Nov. 1887): 76. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Frost at Midnight." Rpt. in English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967. 422-23. Coryell, John R. "Savage and Cowardly." St. Nicholas 13.5 (March 1886): 346-47. Goble, Paul. Buffalo Woman. New York: Bradbury, 1984. Haskins, C. C. "For the Birds." St. Nicholas 1.2 (Dec. 1873): 72-74. Holder, Charles Frederick, "How Some Animals Become Extinct." St. Nicholas 14.10 (Aug. 1887): 760-62. Hornaday, William T. "The Buffalo, Musk-Ox, Mountain Sheep, and Mountain Goat." St. Nicholas 22.8 (June 1895): 674-82. Lagerlöf, Selma. Further Adventures of Nils. Trans. Velma Swanston Howard. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1911. Lewis, Martin W. "Environmental History Challenges the Myth of a Primordial Eden." Chronicle of Higher Education 4 May 1994: A56. Lorenz, Konrad. King Solomon's Ring. Trans. Marjorie Kerr Wilson. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1952. Mackenzie, John M. "Hunting and the Natural World in Juvenile Literature." In Imperialism and Juvenile Literature. Ed. Jeffrey Richards. Studies in Imperialism. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1989. "A Review." Audubon Magazine 1.1 (Feb. 1887): 15-16. Rpt. as a supplement in the 89.2 (March 1987) issue of Audubon. Ritvo, Harriet. The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1987. Seton, Ernest Thompson. Lives of the Hunted, Containing a True Account of the Doings of Five Quadrupeds and Three Birds. New York: Scribner's, 1901. Suzuki, Severn. "Speech at the Earth Summit." Brazil, 1992.
The Stone Age Child in Us All
Paver M., The Stone Age Child in Us All, in the Times (Features; Weekend Review 10) London, 21st May 2005
Michelle Paver describes how Wolf Brother has taken readers back in time
I'm often asked why I stopped writing for adults and wrote Wolf Brother "for children". I didn't. In fact, I never planned to write it at all, and when the story took hold, it was inconvenient. I was under the gun to write the third part of an historical trilogy, and I had no time to spare for anything, let alone a six-book series about Stone Age hunter-gatherers.
Then, one afternoon when I was leafing through some old notes, I came across a manuscript I had written at university, 20-odd years before. It was about a boy and a wolf struggling to survive in a forest. Something about it quickened my pulse. I wanted to rewrite it.
So I started running scenes in my mind's eye, like a film. The demon-haunted bear rampaging through the forest...Torak, the 12-year-old hero, watching his father die...A stampede of reindeer seen through the eyes of a wolf ...
Soon the story had taken over, and I was scribbling in Sainsbury's. I lived the adventures alongside Torak and Wolf. The research took me to places I had never thought I'd see, and I ended up sleeping on reindeer skins in Lapland.
The style grew out of the story. This is the world of 6,000 years ago, so the language had to be simple and straightforward, but never childish. That was what I concentrated on as I wrote; not age-groups. I couldn't have written the story if I'd been aiming at the "nine to 12" market, or "young adults"; it would have been too confusing. You can't be in two places at once, and when I was writing Wolf Brother I was in the forest, not the bookshop.
Somebody once said that one's real life is often the life that one does not lead.
That's true for me, and I think it's probably the essential ingredient of a "crossover novel" (that is, one which appeals to both adults and children). The Wind in the Willows, the Discworld novels, Harry Potter. All have that in common: the creation of a world that's deeply felt -that's inhabited by the author and therefore completely real.
When I was a child, I wanted a wolf. And a bow and arrow, and to live like the Stone Age people. I wanted to build my own shelter and go hunting in the forest. I tried it, too. I got rid of my bed and slept on the floor for three years. I skinned a rabbit and cured its hide. I brewed obscure herbal remedies, and fed them to my little sister.
When I became an adult I didn't grow out of all that, but it went underground. The childhood obsessions became a love of archaeology and the natural world; a fascination with the myths of Inuits, Native Americans and other hunter gatherers; a lasting interest in wolf behaviour. These stayed with me through 13 not very happy years as a lawyer; and sometimes a chance encounter would drag them to the surface: like the time in the Sierra Nevada when I met a large black bear, and learnt what it is like to be prey.
If I'd sat down and listed all these different elements, then tried to synthesise a novel from them, it would have been just that: synthetic. Instead, the story of the boy and the wolf sat in my filing cabinet, and came to life only when I realised that this was the world I had lost. This was the life I hadn't led.
I think that's what readers respond to: when a story helps them to live the life they haven't led. You can't engineer that, and you can't fake it. It doesn't work every time and you can't predict when it will. But you know when it does, because of the response from readers.
One little girl longs to speak authentic wolf talk to her collie. A ten-year old boy wants to do the "hunting and survival stuff" like the Raven Clan. A vegetarian 20-year-old is fascinated by the way Torak honours the spirit of the deer he has just killed. A fortysomething executive cried when Torak's father died.
Whether you're 8 or 80, there will always be a life you haven't led. Some stories can give you that, at least for a few hours. When a teacher reads aloud to her class, or a family listens to an audiotape in the car, they're doing what people have been doing for thousands of years. It's no different from the hunter-gatherers of Torak's time, sitting around the fire, listening to the clan leader. It's one person telling his companions a story, and making them care about what happens next. That's the real crossover.
Wolf Brother, by Michelle Paver, appears in paperback on May 27 (Orion, Pounds 5.99; offer £5.09 plus 99p p&p, from Books First: 0870 1608080), and is also available on audiobook, read by Ian McKellen.
Spirit Walker, the second in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, will be published in September
FOR ADULTS AND CHILDREN ALIKE
The biggest-selling crossover books of recent years are J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. All have been published in both adult and children's editions.
* It is predicted that more than a quarter of a million adults will buy the adult edition of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on publication day in the UK.
* According to Waterstone's, Wolf Brother is the seventh most popular children's book with adults, just behind Tolkien's The Hobbit.
* In January Michelle Paver signed a film contract worth more than £2 million. Ridley Scott will be directing Wolf Brother the movie.
* There has been a tenfold increase in the number of new children's books launched every month from 2000 to 2005.