Children's literature is an amorphous, ambiguous creature; its relationship to its audience is difficult; its relationship to the rest of literature, problematic. As I suggested in the companion volume to this book, Children's Literature: the development of criticism, its critics have had to grapple with fundamental issues of classification and evaluation, to encompass a huge field and a large number of 'adjacent' disciplines, as well as communicating to a largely lay audience.
There is no doubt that these paradoxes have produced a body of criticism with an idiosyncratic range of reference and, very often, a distinctive voice. The essays and extracts reprinted here, and the new essays written specifically for this book, are intended to demonstrate this range, and to suggest the kinds of links increasingly made in the field. It may seem that texts as diverse as Sarah Gilead's contribution to PMLA on closure in children's fantasy fiction, or Lissa Paul's experimental discussion of fractal geometry, or Michael Benton's work on poetry and education have nothing in common except the occasional use of the term 'children's literature'. I would argue that they all share an awareness of working in a new field, where the ability to make links across disciplinary and cultural boundaries is vital, and a recognition of the interaction of audiences and texts is central.
Similarly, behind most of the writing collected here is an awareness of the shifting status of the study of children's literature in the context of a change in the value systems of literature. Increasingly, the ancient 'Verities' of the western cultural tradition are being seen as the tastes of a powerful minority. K.M. Newton has pointed out in his In Defence of Literary Interpretation that the interpretation of texts is bound by the decision of the dominant culture: '[T]he interpreter co-