Tolkien, Wonderland, and chronology

I was thinking today about J. R. R. Tolkien reading Alice in Wonderland as a child (which we know he did because he makes more than one reference to it in the essay "On Fairy Stories," e.g., "I had no desire to have either dreams or adventures like Alice and the account of them merely amused me."). It's fun imagining Tolkien, as, say, an eight-year-old, reading Wonderland or having it read to him. But then I was thinking how a "book from the past" hits with a child differently, depending on how long ago it was written. Tolkien was born in 1892, and Wonderland was 27 years old when he was born. Not exactly an old book, but not a new one, either. It would have been a relatively new book when people of his mother Mabel's generation were children (she was born in 1970), so I wonder: did Tolkien discover the book on his own, or was it handed to him by an adult who said, "I read this when I was a child and loved it"?

Further, though, thinking forward in time, an eight-year-old child (call her Mabel) reading The Hobbit at a similar chronological point would have been born in 1962 (Mabel would be about 60 today). For her, though, Alice in Wonderland was written 97 years before she was born! The two books would land very differently, it seems to me. Certainly, speaking for myself (I was born in 1966), the two books landed very differently, and not just because of the difference in their plot, setting, subject matter, etc.

By way of further comparison, think of a child (Mary Ann? sure, why not) reading A Wizard of Earthsea (published in 1968) in the same chronological relationship. Mary Ann would be born in 1995, and for her, a book written 97 years before she was born would be, say, The Reluctant Dragon (published 1898).

What I would like to know from people is 1) what are children's books that you read as a child that were written (respectively) approximately 97 years, and approximately 27 years (give or take), before you were born, and 2) were you aware of the difference? Did they land very differently for you because of the chronology? And then, 3) what books written more or less 27+8 years ago and 97+8 years ago are kids reading, or having read to them, now?

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
It's too much work to go through all the children's books I remember and find their initial publication dates, but I have always been a big reader, and it seems to me that I have always been aware of differences between "recent" and "old" books, but it's just not that clear-cut. Anything set in a foreign country has the same "oh, this is different" feel as a book that's a century old.

Charlotte's Web was recent when I was a child, but it depicts a rural life that could easily have been a century older.
Winnie the Pooh is almost a century old, but it's pretty much timeless, I'd say. Same for The Wind in the Willows.
The Harry Potter series, of course, is recent, but it sure has the "this is different" feel to it! I wonder if it does so as much for British readers?