Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism

By Peter Hunt | Go to book overview

separate fictional realms of the frame and the central narrative may suggest a fixed hierarchy of realities, with extraliterary reality supreme, the fantasy narrative at the lowest level of reality, and the fictional reality of the frame segments in the middle and possibly mediating between the other two. But this hierarchy is unstable: the fantasy may satirize the reality claims of ordinary modes of perception and experience, and the frame reality may be more consoling and escapist than the preceding fantasy narrative. The return frame may establish the hierarchy of realities by classifying the foregoing fantasy as dangerously-or safely-remote from extraliterary reality; or it may, ironically, reveal the equal or even deeper fictionality of both literary and extraliterary versions of reality. Thus, instead of restoring or inverting conventional orders of significance, the return may function as the point at which the text most dramatically turns on itself to reveal its duplicities and discords.


Notes
1
Recognizing the double appeal that children's literature has for the adult reader, U.C. Knoepflmacher suggests that the superimposition of outward frames or bridges may reflect the author's conflicts of intention and selfhood (Knoepflmacher 1983:500).

Humphrey Carpenter (1985:11, 13) and Peter Coveney (1967:31) characterize children's literature as an escapist exercise for adult authors. Christopher Clausen offers as a taxonomic criterion for the genre the thematics of home, often in the form of a closural return, and sees the homecoming as the fulfilment of an escapist impulse, a retreat to safe domesticity. So considered, is the return an escape from fantasy rather than from reality? I take up this question in discussing the Alice books later in this essay. Eric S. Rabkin defines literary fantasy as 'the continuing diametric reversal of the ground rules within a narrative world' (Rabkin 1976:73). Fantastic reversal is both escape from and constant reminder of the world diametrically escaped (ibid.: 48), presumably the extratextual world as well as the narrative locus. He does not discuss the frame-narrative structure but does consider the use of a nominal child audience for adult fantasy projects (ibid.: 96, 97).

Tzvetan Todorov derives the literary fantastic from characters' and readers' 'uncertainty' regarding the laws that govern reality (Todorov 1973:25). Presumably, a closural return to reality would eliminate the fantasy element by resolving the uncertainty. Todorov is in fact unclear in discussing closure as a generic determinant. At one point he seems to define the fantastic as an 'evan-

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Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Ideology 18
  • 2 - Criticism: the State of the Art 41
  • Notes 102
  • 3 - Internationalism 110
  • Notes 125
  • 4 - Poetry, Response and Education 126
  • 5 - Connections 140
  • References 196
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