‘the […] narrator has always been of significance’ (Barbara Wall). Discuss ideas of narrators and/ or narration within Children’s Literature.
I will begin my reading from A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. In the Introduction, the narration states “If you happen to have read another book about Christopher Robin, you may remember that he once had a swan”. I read this to be a direct address on the “you”. This perspective could be read to be pre-supposing that there is an addressee, but in fact the direct address of “you” is not claiming an address to anyone or anything other than the “you”. There is a shift in the narrative perspective within this extract as it goes from talking about “Christopher Robin” to “he once had a swan”, rather than “Christopher Robin once had a swan.” Later on in the Introduction, it says “You can’t be in London for long without going to the Zoo.” As before, I read this to be a direct address on the “you” – however, the perspective does not state whether or not the text is addressing a different internal “you”. It is not relevant for the text to state which “you” it is addressing.
The Introduction also says “or the swan had Christopher Robin, I don’t know which”. The word “I” shows a shift in perspective once more – it is no longer stating a “you” perspective, but a more personal “I” perspective. The “I” perspective brings into question the narrator itself; by having “I” mentioned, I read this narrator to have some form of consciousness of self, as opposed to being a narrator in the text which is separate to the text. However, the perspective can only claim the “I”. It cannot claim name, identity, consciousness, or where that potential consciousness of the narrator is. The identity of an “I” narrator in the text is something we create by reading it – and the text does not exist to be read. It simply exists, and therefore cannot claim anymore perspective attached to “I” than the “I” itself.
There is another shift in perspective shortly afterwards, as the text says “when we said good-bye, we took the name with us”, moving from the singular “I” perspective to the plural “we” and “us” perspective. This begs the question of who the “us” is. Because the text cannot claim a perspective that requires to be read (the text still exists, regardless of whether it is read or not), I read the “us” to not be referring to an internal narrator and a reader, but instead be referring to some form of plural narration within the text itself; but, just as with the “I” perspective, the text cannot claim anymore perspective attached to the “we” and “us” than the “we” and “us” themselves. The shift in perspective that is definite, however, is that by shifting from “I” to “we” and “us”, the perspective is shifting from singular narration to plural.
I would like to draw attention back to the quote of “If you happen to have read another book about Christopher Robin, you may remember that he once had a swan”, with particular focus on the “if” and “may”. These words are conditional, and therefore I read this to mean that this statement is conditional within the text itself; even “if” another book about Christopher Robin has been read, this does not automatically mean that a swan will be remembered; the word “may” means that the “you” being addressed in the perspective is still not guaranteed to “remember that he once had a swan”. It is conditional, both in the text itself, and in its address to the “you” perspective. The word “happen” confirms this further. It is not a necessity for the “you” perspective to have read another book about Christopher Robin; I read the word “happen” to mean there is simply a chance that the “you” perspective has read another book about Christopher Robin. All of this makes the narrative perspective conditional. None of it implies certainty within the perspective; this quote is entirely a conditional perspective of possibilities.
Later in the Introduction, the text states that “I had written as far as this when Piglet looked up”. This is a retrospective perspective on an already retrospective perspective. The “had written” shows that the perspective claims to be in the past; however, the words “as this” mean that the text had to have been being written at exactly that moment in order for Piglet to have “looked up” just as this had been written. This offers a paradox of sorts – through the word “had”, the perspective is already claiming past perspective, but the additional statement about Piglet claims further past perspective. The perspective is claiming back on an already occurred event.
Another thing that is important to point out is the shift in perspective between this quote and the quotation directly before it: “We did know once, but we have forgotten…”. There is a shift of perspective from the “we” perspective to the “I” perspective; the narrative perspective does not state that “we had written as far as this”, it states “I had written as far as this”, so once again I read a shift from a plural perspective to a singular perspective. The narrative may have been talking about a “we” but only the “I” is doing the writing in the perspective.
In Chapter One, the narrative states “Here is Edward Bear”; but only a few lines later, the narrative then states “Anyhow, here he is at the bottom, and ready to be introduced to you, Winnie-the-Pooh”. These are different names, and in Introduction “Edward Bear” was referred to in the past tense; but there is no shift in narrative perspective on time here – both quotations are in present tense. The shift is between the bear names. This raises the question of the difference between naming, calling, and being. Just because no other bear is referred to in this paragraph does not automatically mean that “Edward Bear” and “Winnie-the-Pooh” are the same bear. They could be the same bear, but with different names; or the perspective could be claiming that they are entirely different bears through the use of the names. The perspective does not openly state anything, however; it simply states that both of these names are used in the present tense perspective.
Whilst on the topic of different bears, in Chapter Three the bear in the illustrations is wearing a red top, whereas throughout the rest of the book the bear usually is not. I therefore think that it is possible to claim that each illustration is a different bear; no two illustrations look the same, regardless of whether the bear is wearing a top or not, so it can easily be claimed that each illustration is a different bear. Additionally, the narrative perspective in the text does not claim that the bear in the illustrations is the same bear as being spoken about in the text; it is simply a link that could be made by a reader between the bear in the text and bears in the illustration. However, as already stated, the text exists regardless of whether it is read or not, so in that respect there is no link between the narrative perspective in the text, and the perspective of the illustrations. Therefore, I read the illustrations of the bear to not only be different bears from illustration to illustration, but also a different bear from the narrative text itself, as there are no claims that link the two together.
Additionally, on the outer cover of my edition of Winnie-the-Pooh, it states there are “decorations by E. H. Shepherd”. Even the distinction between illustration and “decorations” is important to me – even though I read the illustrations to be separate from the text, it can be claimed that illustrations are somewhat linked to texts. However, the word “decorations” implies a very strong separation from the text – an addition on top of the text. They are not necessary to the text and therefore are not linked with the narrative perspective in the text. On my edition of Winnie-the-Pooh, the title of the book is right next to an illustration of a bear climbing a tree. Because of the placement of the title and illustration, it could be claimed that this bear is Winnie-the-Pooh; however, I stick with my earlier argument that the perspective does not overtly claim to be linked to the illustrations, so therefore this is not necessarily an illustration of the bear, but merely an illustration of a bear. The text on the cover, “Winnie-the-Pooh”, exists regardless of whether the illustration is next to it or not on the front cover, and therefore the perspective does not claim that the two are linked. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that the text on the cover of “Winnie-the-Pooh” is the same “Winnie-the-Pooh” as mentioned in the narrative text of the book itself – so there is no reason that the illustrations (or “decorations”) should be either.
In the blurb on the back cover of Indigo’s Star by Hilary Mckay, there are several shifts of perspective between named characters. The blurb is written in white against a purple cover, but when a character is being mentioned for the first time, their name is in larger font and is yellow, noticeably different to the rest of the blurb. (For simplicity’s sake, when quoting I will bold the names that are larger). The blurb reads:
“Indigo’s returning to school after a bout of glandular fever and is dreading it. Rose is worrying about Indigo – and her new glasses. Saffy is busy dictating Rose’s homework answers, while Caddy agonises over ways to dump her current boyfriend. And their mother, Eve, is busy trying to dry her painting with a hairdryer.
But Tom has joined Indigo’s class. And that will make all the difference…”
Within this extract, the perspective changes again and again over which character the narrative perspective is wishing to focus on. The first character the perspective chooses to focus on is “Indigo” but what is interesting about this focus is that the “ ’s” after “Indigo” is not made larger, and is not in yellow. I read this to be the perspective focussing on a present, singular Indigo. It is not interested in focussing on a plural Indigo, hence the “ ’s” is noticeably different. The perspective visibly changes to focus on “Rose”, not just because “Rose” is in larger font and yellow, but because “worrying about Indigo” is all in smaller font and white, despite the fact that “Indigo” was in large yellow font in the previous sentence. The perspective has shifted to talking about another character. The same shift happens with “Saffy is busy dictating Rose’s homework answers” – “Rose” was in large yellow font in the previous sentence, but in this sentence “Rose” is in small white font because “Saffy” is the focal point in the perspective, not “Rose”.
The largest shift in perspective is that of the move between the first and last paragraphs of the blurb. The first paragraph finishes with “Eve, is busy trying to dry her painting with a hairdryer.” This is a perspective which is focussed on “Eve”, but is also a present tense perspective. The final paragraph reads “But Tom has joined Indigo’s class. And that will make all the difference”. Firstly, “Tom” is in large yellow font, whereas “Indigo” is in small white font, showing that the perspective is focussing on “Tom” in this sentence. However, in my opinion, the more important change in perspectives is that of tenses.
The word “has” marks the first change in perspective on tense; whilst “has” can be used in either present or past tense, if the perspective on tense was to remain the same between the two paragraphs, it would read “is joining”, not “has joined”. Therefore, I read this to mark a difference in perspective between the first and last paragraphs, from present tense to past tense. In the next sentence, the text states “that will make all the difference”. The “will” shifts the perspective on tense once again – this time to future tense. Within this final paragraph, there are two shifts in perspective on tense; and within the blurb itself, there are three shifts in perspective on tense.
In Chapter Eight, the text states, “Shall you be around to help me this morning?’”. This presents two different perspectives – future tense and present tense. “Shall you be around to help” is asking a question of the future, whilst “this morning” is in present tense – the text is talking about the morning which is happening at that instance. This perspective then shifts immediately after, with the text stating, “‘I helped last night!’ protested Tom. ‘I cleaned out all those smelly runs!’” This shows a shift in perspective from the present and future tense to past tense. The text then shifts back to a mixture of past tense and present tense, with:
“Tom’s grandmother then delivered her Most Boys Your Age Would Jump At The Chance To Work With Animals speech, and while she tidied up the kitchen around him, followed it up with the one that began Most Boys Your Age Are Expected To Help Far More Than You Are Ever Asked To Do.”
“Tidied” is in past tense, showing that the perspective is currently in past tense, but this quickly moves into present tense perspective, through the words “Most Boys Your Age Are Expected”, specifically the word “Are”, which is present tense. Another very interesting thing in this extract is the shift from words beginning with lowercase letters to words beginning with uppercase letters. Personally, I read this to be the perspective shifting focus towards those words – they look different on the page, and so that is what the perspective is focussing on. The name, “Tom” begins with an uppercase letter, and I read this to be a name, so by that logic I could also read all the words beginning with an uppercase letter in this extract to also be names. Personally, I do not read them to be names – I read the shift in perspective to be to highlight those words against the words beginning with lowercase letters, but ultimately the perspective neither claims this to be true or untrue; it simply shifts from lowercase to uppercase on certain words in the narrative.
McKay, Hilary, Indigo’s Star (London: Hodder Children’s Books, 2004)
Milne, A. A., Winnie-the-Pooh (London: Egmont, 2016)
 Milne, A. A., Winnie-the-Pooh (London: Egmont, 2016)
 McKay, Hilary, Indigo’s Star (London: Hodder Children’s Books, 2004)