Alice-Miranda on VacationFeatured
The utterly dauntless Alice Miranda rides (her pony) again!
I adore children’s books from the first half of the 20th century, including the admittedly saccharine Milly Molly Mandy books, as well as the Famous Five and everything else by Enid Blyton. I love Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I do not insist upon gritty realism, angst-filled preteen protagonists or antiheroes. I so love a little bucolic countryside splendor, and a sweet, timeless heroine who is just the tiniest bit more wonderful than is truly likely.
So why then, do I find Alice-Miranda so completely insufferable?
I have thought hard about this, believe me. Alice Miranda is admirable. She is wise, good, patient, kind, intelligent, imaginative, forgiving, brave and sensible. She is also seven and one-half and just returning from her first term at boarding school (detailed in the first book). Once home, she greets everyone with sweet enthusiasm, and astonishingly good manners. She burbles along contentedly, believing the best of everyone, including a spiteful new boy, a dotty granny and a mysterious, handsome movie star visitor – and in the end, solves a crime, saves the day and makes friends with everyone (except the truly dastardly criminal element).
In fact, she is just too darn perfect to be even a little sympathetic. She is not a child at all, or even human. She exhibits no weakness, except perhaps a hint of naivety. She cannot learn anything, cannot grow. She cannot find things out about herself, since she is fully formed. Why, then, should someone want to read her story? What would allow a reader to identify with her?
Perhaps (I thought) the story was intended to be farcical. Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones clearly has twice as many names as anyone needs, and the excessiveness is a clever comment upon the inflated monikers of the upper classes. The equally overblown name of her school (Winchesterfield Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies) also suggests an underlying humor, at least in conception. Yet, although the book veers into the ridiculous, it doesn’t stay there long enough – or veer deeply enough. Indeed, more humor would have tempered the overpoweringly super chirpy tone, and made the story as a whole more enjoyable.
Perhaps (I thought) I am just too old and cynical to enjoy what is simply a sweet story (despite my love for Milly Molly Mandy et al). But then, who is the intended audience? The book runs to nearly 300 pages, which suggests an older readership, but the plot is simple, and the main character very young (even if she does not act it), which suggests a younger audience. As it stands, the book seems to inhabit a sort of grey area.
The secondary characters are often more sympathetic – Alice Miranda’s friend Jacinta, whose mother doesn’t care very much what she does, is athletic and even occasionally fierce. The unpleasant bully is just lonely, and changes once Jacinta offers him true understanding and friendship. I rather like how the Queen turns up in a minor role. I also liked the genius cook, and Bonaparte, the cabbage-munching pony (which turns him into Bonafart, heh heh).
I am ready to admit little girl readers might forgive this book its flaws more readily than I can. There is a bit of every seven-year-old who longs to be completely self-sufficient, completely impervious to unhappiness – and Alice Miranda is a jolly little fantasy. She is wish-fulfillment for every little girl who wants a pony, a big house, devoted parents, pots of money, chocolate brown curls and the knack of winding every grown-up completely around her tiny finger.