2 September 2009

Alice’s Adventures on The Yellow Woodpecker Ranch

Adriana Peliano

Alice's Adventures in Brazil

Guto Lacaz

Alice reached Brazil thanks to the writer Monteiro Lobato (1882 -1948). The first adaptation of Alice in Wonderland was made by him in 1931, with illustrations by A.L. Bowley (1921) and of Alice Through the Looking-Glass in 33, with illustrations by Sir. John Tenniel (1871). But the presence of Alice in Lobato’s work goes much further. Alice visits some of his stories and interacts with his characters, in an intertextual game of unusual scope. "Curiouser and curiouser!"

It is well known that in the original versions of Alice, several cultural characteristics of Victorian England may be observed. In his adaptation, Monteiro Lobato transforms and relocates these characteristics, in such a way as to approach the Brazilian reality of his day. His aim is to adapt the text to his reading public. In his introduction to Alice in Wonderland, Lobato states that it had been a very difficult translation. Lobato often chose to simply not translate the puns and language games of Carroll and substituted the parodies present in the work for parodies from Brazilian texts recognizable to the Brazilian public. He inserts elements from our national culture, creating a Brazilian setting, with an Alice who recites classic poems from Brazilian literature and has girlfriends called Cléo and Zuleica. Subsequent translators adopted strategies of their own.

The adaptation of the Alice books was part of a broader literary project of Lobato’s, a complex and multiple personality considered by many the most important Brazilian children’s writer of all time. Criticizing the trend of his day to copy the latest Parisian fashions in art, music and literature he translated innumerable English, German and American works like Peter Pan, the Brothers Grimm, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Robin Hood and Gulliver’s Travels, among others. In parallel, the incomparable adventure made possible by reading Monteiro Lobato’s children’s books provided children with a certain cultural globalization. His writings work as hypertexts work today, inviting characters from various tales, fables and mythologies to visit his stories. Lobato’s vast children’s work was later brought together in a collection of 17 volumes.

Lobato also wrote adult literature and was a precursor of some very interesting ideas in the publishing field. He was the first to treat books as products for consumption, with colorful attractive covers and impeccable graphic production. He invented the book industry in this country, participating in the founding of publishers like the Companhia Editora Nacional and Brasiliense and creating a totally new form of book distribution throughout Brazil.

With the publication of “Narizinho arrebitado” (“The Girl With the Turned Up Nose”), in 1920, we may say that Children’s Literature in Brazil and even in South America was born. Previously, we had had collections of tales of European origin by Alberto Pimentel published at the end of the 19th. Century. Among these we find Contos da Carochinha (“Tales of Mrs. Carochinha”, 1896), the first work of Children’s Literature produced in Brazil. This work contained Portuguese and French texts, collecting in this first volume tales by Perrault, Grimm and Andersen, fables, legends and tales to set an example, with moralistic content predominating. From a critical and metalinguistic angle the same Dona Carochinha (a little story-telling cockroach) let’s us know in one of Lobato’s books: “I’ve noticed that many characters in my stories are already bored with living their whole lives trapped inside them. They want something new. They’re talking of running away to get involved in new adventures.” (LOBATO, 1956. p. 11)

The work “Narizinho arrebitado” (“The Girl with the Turned up Nose”) would later be expanded, giving rise tothe classic “Reinações de Narizinho” (“Adventures of Little Nose”, 1931, the same year as Alice’s adaptation). This work includes the first stories set on the Ranch of the Yellow Woodpecker. Most of Lobato’s children’s books take place on the Ranch of the Yellow Woodpecker, a small ranch in the Brazilian countryside, having as characters the lady ranch owner Dona Benta (Mrs. Benta, her grandchildren Narizinho and Pedrinho and the cook Aunt Nastácia). These characters are complemented by beings created or animated by the imagination of the children in the story: the irreverent and mocking doll Emília (Emily), the aristocratic and bookish corncob doll Visconde de Sabugosa (Viscount Corncob), the cow Mocha, the donkey Conselheiro (Counsellor), the pig Rabicó (Little Tail) and the rhinoceros Quindim (the name of a sweet brazilian dessert). However, for the most part the adventures take place in other settings: or in a fantasy world invented by the children, or in stories told by Dona Benta in the early evening.

Already in the early decades of the past century there had been severe criticism, from the Brazilian intelligentsia of the time, of the literary production for children, demanding urgent reforms for the books to be more Brazilian and more stimulating to a child’s intelligence. So Lobato fostered a revolution in the style of writing for children. One of the changes made by Monteiro Lobato is that he begins writing his texts giving priority to the world of the young reader. This concern for his readers is so great that he even exchanges letters and arranges meetings with his public. Many of these meetings were held in the first children’s library in São Paulo, which today bears his name (Biblioteca Infantil Monteiro Lobato).

“The Yellow Woodpecker Ranch” is also an essential work of Brazilian literature published initially in 1921 and republished in its current form in 1934. He goes beyond merely moralistic and pedagogical intent, respects the intelligence of the children and values the critical and independent spirit of childhood. “Learning, for Lobato, is much more than reproducing or memorizing, it’s asking, doubting, questioning, disagreeing, wanting to get away, insisting on crossing boundaries.“ (CABRAL, 2005, p.6)

The Ranch awakens the imagination of the child, stimulating an interest in the world, whilst at the same time revealing a quest for national identity and becoming a meeting place for different cultures and identities. Being fiercely nationalistic, Lobato created adventures with characters strongly linked to Brazilian culture, whilst also recovering legends and folklore. But he didn’t stop there: Monteiro Lobato took this “soup” of Brazilian characters and enriched them by “stirring in” characters from world literature, Greek mythology, comics and cinema.

In Lobato, the imagination is built through narrative and in dialogue with other narratives. It’s very interesting to see how the contact between all the characters from the most varied traditions and the Ranch characters is one of total interactivity: they not only talk to each other and exchange opinions but also question their stories of origin and reinvent their adventures.

For Todorov, the marvelous implies that we dive into a world with totally different laws to those that exist in our own; this is why supernatural events that are produced aren’t totally disturbing. (in SOTERO, 2006. p. 17) Marvelous are those narratives that present characters as real as they are imaginary, living in their own world, with their own logic, deeply contrasting with what we call “reality”, like in the Alice books.

One of the things that differentiate the children’s writings of Monteiro Lobato is exactly this rupture of the boundaries between the real and the marvelous. But what really sets this characteristic apart is the search for traditional characters, from the world of the fantastic, to participate alongside characters of his own creation in the adventures of the Ranch do Yellow Woodpecker. The lobatian marvelous creates a kind of parallel reality where the rules of the real world are altered. Its immediate success with readers resulted from one decisive factor: the common and familiar reality of the child’s everyday world is abruptly ruptured by the marvelous or the magical, with the most complete naturalism.

In Carroll’s work, it is known that the episode of Humpty Dumpty, like those of the Knave of Hearts, the twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Lion and the Unicorn, develop incidents recounted in known children’s songs of his time. (CARROLL and GARDNER, 2002. p.200) Lobato condensed characters of almost all origins and media existent in his day. We have noted the presence of figures related to mythology (Hercules, Medusa, Perseus, the Minotaur, etc.), to tales (Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Sinbad, Blue Beard, The Ugly Duckling, etc.), to the theatre (The Blue Bird and The Phantom of the Opera), to cinema (Tom Mix and Felix the Cat), to biblical characters(Saint Peter, Saint John, Judas, Cain and Jonas), to characters taken from oral tradition (Saci and Pedro Malasarte), to characters from History (Plato, the Marquess of Santos and Hippocrates), to Brazilian personalities (Cornélio Pires, the clown Eduardo das Neves and Lampião), to the world of fable (The ant and the grasshopper, The animals and the plague, The wolf and the lamb, The two doves, The milkmaid). We have also noted quotations from children’s books (Pinocchio, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland). (see Ribeiro, 2005. p. 259)

These characters only enter the Ranch once accepted by its inhabitants; once on the Ranch, they join in the life of the lobatian characters. In this way, the entry is allowed of visitors from different fictional worlds who identify with and join in the world inside the Ranch, a fantastic world, where there are no boundaries of time and space, nor limits between reality and fantasy. Once contact has been made, the comings and goings between imaginary world and real world are constant. And the worlds interpenetrate. This mosaic of stories and characters leads the reader to an awakening, his aim was to take the human being to other dimensions by means of creativity and a critical spirit. Jenny’s definition is very appropriate to Lobato’s world: Intertextuality designates the work of transformation and assimilation of several texts, operated by a centralizing text that keeps control of the meaning. (in CASTELLO BRANCO, 2007. p. 58) On the Ranch, all the great narratives are reviewed and modified, adapted to the feel and imagination of the characters. In this way, Carochinha is a storyteller criticized for being stale. There is criticism of the lack of variety with which childhood is treated. The characters want “novelty”, “new adventures”. It’s Pedrinho who says: “If Tom Thumb ran away it’s because the story is stale. If the story is stale, we have to throw it away and buy another one. I’ve had this idea for a long time: to make all the characters run away from the old stories to come here and make up other adventures with us”. (LOBATO, 1956. p. 53)

In “Reinações de Narizinho” (The Adventures of Little Nose), to get to the marvelous Kingdom of Clear Waters, you have to cross a grotto, which Narizinho had never seen before around there and that frightened him, at first. We have here a true portal of passage, in the mould of Alice’s way of reaching Wonderland or the other side of the mirror. At the same time, in the first edition of “Narizinho Arrebitado” (1921), the adventure of Narizinho, Lúcia ends with their waking up, before replying to Príncipe Escamado’s (the Scaled Prince) proposal of marriage to a fish from the Kingdom of Clear Waters. The reader comes upon the revelation that “everything was nothing more than a beautiful dream”, an ending that placed the narrative in a space where “logic disciplines fantasy”. (CASTELLO BRANCO, 2007. p. 29) As the little girl was dreaming, the presence of the marvelous in the everyday world is dissolved.

However, in the definitive version, expanded and definitively renamed “Reinações de Narizinho” (1931), we can already confirm the dilution of the boundaries between real and marvelous and a total fusion of both, as Castello Branco identifies. So much so that, in “Reinações”, Narizinho returns from her first trip to the Kingdom of Clear Waters “by a very strong gale, that enveloped the little girl and the doll - Emília -, dragging them from the bottom of the ocean to the bank of the orchard stream. They were in Dona Benta’s Ranch once again”, in Lobato’s words. (LOBATO, 1956. p. 20) It is neither stated that the little girl was dreaming, nor that her return to everyday reality was due to waking up.

In this work the characters from “Wonderland” visit the Ranch of the Yellow Woodpecker on two principal occasions: the first time they go to participate in a big party and later to watch a circus show prepared by the people of the Ranch. Alice comes to watch the circus too. Later on an invisible character arrives at the Ranch, Peninha, who everybody suspects of being Peter Pan, who shows the children the map of “Wonderland” and clarifies that it’s located everywhere. It’s essential to note that on the aforementioned map Pedrinho finds the Ranch of the Yellow Woodpecker itself. The sea of pirates, the land of the thousand and one nights, Robinson Crusoe’s island, Lilliput, Neverland and the castle of Sleeping Beauty are all there. Wonderland and Alice’s house are also on the map, in a truly intertextual cartography.

The Map of the World of Wonders. A Peana de Papagaio (“ Parrot's Feather”)
Illustration: Jean Villin, Companhia Editora Nacional, 1930. 

Below, we have transcribed the dialogue between Peninha and Pedrinho:
“ (...) Wonderland is very very old. It came into existence when the first child was born and will continue to do so while there’s still one single old man on earth.
Is it easy to get to?
Easy as pie or impossible. It depends. For whoever has imagination, it’s really easy”. (Lobato,1956. p.254)

Further along in the narrative, it’s the Ranch characters who will visit the world of the famous characters from universal culture. Peninha introduces Pedrinho, Narizinho, Emília and Visconde to “Pirlimpimpim powder”, “the most magical powder the fairies ever invented”, a true subverter of any rational conception of space and time, a bridge to unusual intertextual travels. It’s by sniffing this powder that the children can leave for the World of Fable. Sniffing “Pirlimpimpim Powder” is the equivalent to going through the looking-glass or down the rabbit hole: deterritorialization of consciousness, opening oneself to other “lands” and “kingdoms” and conversing with the figures of the imagination that live within us.

In “Memórias da Emília” (Emily’s Memoirs,1936), a ship called Wonderland arrives at the ranch bringing Alice and Peter Pan along with several English children to see an angel fallen from heaven. (a reference to the book “Viagem ao céu” (“Trip to Heaven”), 1932) Of all the children, it’s Alice who asks the angel a series of questions, curious about life in heaven. Later she eats Aunt Nastácia’s little cakes that are so adorable and Alice asks for the recipe. She becomes enchanted by life on the ranch. On seeing her Aunt Nastácia asks Emília if the little English girl speaks Portuguese. Confirming the fact, Emília gives one of her explanations: “Alice has already been translated into Portuguese.” At the same time, in the introduction to his adaptation of Alice in Wonderland Lobato announces: “Brazilian children are going to read the story of Alice through Narizinho’s doing, this little girl insisted so much on seeing her in Portuguese (Narizinho doesn’t know English yet), that there was nothing else to be done, in spite of its being, as we say, an untranslatable work.” (CARROLL, 1960. p.9)

“Memórias da Emília” (“Emily’s Memoirs”)
Illustration: Belmonte, São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional,1936.
Alice meets the angel among english children.
(This Alice resembles A. L. Bowley’s Alice which illustrated Monteiro Lobato's translation).

A.L. Bowley.

“Memórias da Emília” (“Emily’s Memoirs”)
Illustration: Paulo Borges, São Paulo: Editora Globo,2007.
Alice, Pedrinho and Peter Pan look at Emília with the angel.

“Memórias da Emília”(“Emily’s Memoirs”)
Illustration: Belmonte, São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional,1936.
Almirante Cook (Admiral Cook), Dona Benta (Mrs. Benta), Tia Nastácia (Aunt Anastácia),
Emília (Emily), english children and Alice. (Back cover)

“Memórias da Emília” (“Emily’s Memoirs”)
Illustration: Paulo Borges, São Paulo: Editora Globo, 2007.
Alice, Emília (Emily) and tia Nastácia (Aunt Anastacia) in the Ranch’s kitchen.

In a letter sent to Godofredo Rangel, Lobato speaks about his project of writing a book that children would like to live in, experiencing the same feeling he had lived through in his own childhood, by reading Robinson Crusoe. (in CASTELLO BRANCO, 2007. p. 33) For him, a children’s book should have the quality of transporting the child to a world internal to the text and not reveal the adult reality that had always sought to transmit moral precepts.

If the fairy-tale characters, in “Reinações de Narizinho”, showed dissatisfaction with always living out the same adventures, when they come to the Ranch, in “The Yellow Woodpecker”, their stories are modified, subverted. In this work the characters from Wonderland move to a plot of land neighboring the ranch, but on Dona Benta’s condition that they don’t trespass on the ranch or jump over the fence. They stay on the other side of the fence and she and her children stay on their side of the fence, on the old part of the ranch. When someone wants to visit them, they have to ring the bell of the door-keeper and wait for the Viscount to open it. These terms are accepted, and a week later is begun the move of the characters from the World of Fable to Dona Benta’s New Lands. Tom Thumb is first in line. Close behind are Snow White with the seven dwarves. And the Princesses White Rose and Red Rose. And Scheherazade, with Alladin, the genies and everybody from the ‘Thousand and One Nights’. And Little Red Riding Hood comes. And Cinderella comes. And Peter Pan and the Lost Boys from Neverland’ come, and Captain Hook with the crocodile behind him and all his pirates; and La Fontaine in the company of Aesop, along with all his fables; Blue Beard with his hatchet for killing women; and Baron Munchausen; and all the characters from the tales of Andersen and Grimm. D. Quixote also comes, accompanied by Sancho Panza. “But they didn’t come just for a visit, no; they came armed and with luggage and with their castles and palaces to be able to live there for the rest of their lives.” (LOBATO, 1968. p.22) Alice also comes “with the whole crowd: Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, the mock turtle...” (Lobato, 1968. p.24)

In a more recent adaptation of Monteiro Lobato’s work (POPPOVIC,1979.), the characters from Yellow Woodpecker Ranch go visiting several stories, among them Alice in Wonderland. Emília, the Viscount, Pedrinho and Narizinho follow in Alice’s footsteps and retell their adventures adapted to the perspective of the Ranch characters, who comment on and interact with the story.

With Lobato’s book “A chave do tamanho” (“The Size Switch”, 1942) the ranch characters are confronted by the reality of war. “the postman arrives at the Ranch bringing newspapers in which Pedrinho reads several pieces of news about the war: “New bombardment in London, granny. (...) Countless fires. Loads of deaths’” (LOBATO, 2003, p.8). And Emília, full of initiative, uses the “super powder” and manages to reach the House of Switches. That’s where all the switches that “control and gauge everything in the world” are (LOBATO, 2003. p.9). None of them though give any hint as to what they opened. Among the various keys available, Emilia chooses one at random but it isn’t the key of the war: it’s the switch key that, instantaneously, reduces all humanity to the size of insects. She comes to measure 1cm in height, according to her own calculations. This alteration in size reminds us directly of Alice in Wonderland, an allusion textually confirmed in the voice of Emília in the book: “Something happened to me that sometimes happened to Alice in Wonderland. At times she became so enormous she couldn’t fit in houses, at times she became the size of a mosquito. I became tiny.” (LOBATO, 2003. p.11) Differently from Alice all humanity shrinks like Emília and from that time on has to create a society with new rules, in direct criticism of world events at the time.

For love of Brazil and childhood, Lobato created a children’s literature where fictional Brazilian children and characters from our folklore live on equal standing alongside the most celebrated characters of universal culture (as in the case of Alice), which is to say, in relationships of deep affection and complicity, but without the paralyzing reverence that impedes new ways of being, thinking and creating. Lobato’s intention, we may say, was to make child readers critical of the world. To achieve this, he created a characteristically Brazilian children’s literature for them without giving up the treasures of other cultures: on the contrary, he knew how to gulp down whatever was most powerful in foreign cultures and introduce them into his own literature. And participated in the transformation of thousands of children creating books in which they wanted to live.

AZEVEDO, Carmem Lúcia; CAMARGOS, Márcia Mascarenhas e SACCHETTA, Vladimir. Monteiro Lobato: Furacão na botocúndia. São Paulo: Editora Senac, 1997.CABRAL, Gladir da Silva. “Imaginação e construção da identidade na obra de Monteiro Lobato”. I Seminário Educação, Imaginação e as Linguagens Artístico-Culturais, 5 a 7 de setembro de 2005.
CARROLL, Lewis. GARDNER, Martin. ALICE: Edição Comentada. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Ed., 2002.
CARROLL, Lewis. “Alice no País das Maravilhas.” Tradução e adaptação: Monteiro Lobato. Editora brasiliense, 1960. 9a. ed.
CARROLL, Lewis. “Alice no País do Espelho.” Tradução e adaptação: Monteiro Lobato. São Paulo: editora brasiliense, 1961. 3a. ed.
Castello Branco, Thatty de Aguiar.” O maravilhoso e o fantástico na literatura infantil de Monteiro Lobato”. Rio de Janeiro: Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro. Departamento de Letras, 2007. Dissertação (mestrado).
LOBATO, Monteiro. “A Chave do Tamanho.” São Paulo: editora brasiliense, 2003.
LOBATO, Monteiro. “Memórias da Emília”. São Paulo: Círculo do livro, 1984.
LOBATO, Monteiro. “O Picapau Amarelo.” São Paulo: editora brasiliense, 1968. 13a. ed.
LOBATO, Monteiro. “Reinações de Narizinho”. São Paulo: editora brasiliense, 1956. 6a. ed. POPPOVIC, Pedro Paulo. (ed.) “Livro de Histórias: baseado na obra de Monteiro Lobato.” Rio de Janeiro: Rio Gráfica Editora, 1979.
Ribeiro, Maria Augusta Hermengarda Wurthmann. “Guia de leitura de reinações de Narizinho.” UNESP-Reitoria: Núcleo de Ensino do Campus de Rio Claro, 2005. Pesquisa de iniciação científica.
SOTERO, Alessandra Garrido. Contos, Fábulas, “Mitos e Le Avventure di Pinocchio.” Caderno Seminal Digital - Vol. 6 - No 6 - (Jul-Dez-2006). Rio de Janeiro: Dialogarts, 2006. pp. 7-33.
VASQUES, Cristina Maria. “Uma viagem pela intertextualidade em Reinações de Narizinho.” Araraquara: Universidade Estadual Paulista “Julio de Mesquita Filho”. Faculdade de Ciências e Letras: 2007. Dissertação (mestrado).
VIEIRA, Adriana Silene. “Um inglês no Sitio de Dona Benta” Estudo da apropriação de Peter Pan na obra infantil lobatiana. Campinas: Universidade Estadual de Campinas - Instituto de estudos da Linguagem: 1998. Dissertação (mestrado).
WESTPHALEN, Flávia et al. “Os tradutores de Alice e seus propósitos.” In: Cadernos de Tradução. Florianópolis: NUT, 2001, v. 2, n. 8, p. 121-144

Translation: Peter Price

About Me

My photo
“Always in search of curious objects, broken toys, bits of things and traces of stories, Adriana Peliano stitches together desires, monsters and fairy tales. Her collages and metamorphic assemblages are magical and multiple inventories, where logic is reinvented with new meanings and narratives, creating language games and dream labyrinths. Everything is transformed to tell new stories that dislocate our way of seeing, inviting the marvellous to visit our world.” “Sempre em busca de objetos curiosos, restos de brinquedos, cacos de mundos e rastros de estórias, Adriana Peliano costura desejos, monstros e contos de fadas. Suas colagens, metamofoses e assemblagens despertam inventários mágicos e múltiplos, onde a lógica do cotidiano é reinventada em novos sentidos e narrativas, criando jogos de linguagem e labirintos de sonhos. Tudo se transforma para contar novas estórias, abrindo portas para o maravilhoso.”