Making Magic: (Hetero)sexual (In)visibility in Scandinavian Young Adult Novels

By Franck, Mia; Fokin-Holmberg, Rebecka | Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Making Magic: (Hetero)sexual (In)visibility in Scandinavian Young Adult Novels


Franck, Mia, Fokin-Holmberg, Rebecka, Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature


In Scandinavia, there is a commonly held assumption that gender equality has already been accomplished. In fictional representations, however, gender and sex roles are more problematic. This study of the depiction of girlhood in Scandinavian young adult novels demonstrates socially and culturally driven constructions of gender power that are markedly conservative. The girl protagonists typically deal with conventional issues of growing up, including coming to terms with what it means to be a girl and how to relate to (hetero)sexuality. However, the complexities of this maturational process can be extrapolated when their otherness is embodied in the trope of a witch-girl.

The witch character in children's and young adult literature is a widespread, stock figure. John Stephens makes this claim specifically in relation to literature for young readers (Stephens 2003, p 195). He schematizes literary representations into three different categories of witch-figures: the wise-witch, the crone-witch and the sorceress-witch (pp. 195-198). In young adult fiction, witch-girls are typically depicted as they develop and mature into their role as witches. Our intentions are to examine the positioning of witch-figures and show how authors use witchhood as a vehicle for female agency and as a subversive strategy in the depiction of girls. This article will therefore explore how the image of the witch girl is related to the concept of friendship and sexuality. In order to do this, we will focus on the ways in which representations of witchhood underscore issues of heterosexuality and lesbianism. Stephens's categories of witch-figures are, therefore, too limited to apply to our analytic strategy.

Our article will scrutinize the witch protagonist within fantastic and realistic narratives. The first part of the article presents analyses of two Swedish young adult novels by Inger Edelfeldt and Katarina Mazetti. Both Edelfeldt's (1982) novel Juliane ochjag [Juliane and I] and Mazetti's (1998) Det ar slut mellan Rodluvan och vargen [It is over between Red Riding Hood and the Wolf] (1) represent witches within a realistic context, although the first novel, Juliane and I. alludes to the gothic. The second part of the article focuses on the Danish author Lene Kaaberbol's tetralogy Skammerens datter (2000-2003) [The Shamer's chronicles 2004-2005], which places the girl witch within a fantastic setting.

The maturation motif, which is so central in young adult novels, is connected to power relations. To examine this motif we have drawn on Michel Foucault's study The History of Sexuality (1978), in which he discusses the omnipresent operation of power. For the depiction of girlhood, power struggles highlight how sexuality is constructed as it shows the tense connection between power and sexuality. Judith Butler's study Gender Trouble (1990, 1999) builds on Foucauldian ideas but applies them directly to the issues of gender and sexuality. Butler argues that through subversive and parodic repetitions sexuality is practised and made visible. Thus agency both constitutes and restricts transgressive actions (Butler 1999, p. 158). In our discussion we will employ Butler's theory of performativity which is further developed in her study Bodies that Matter (1993).

The key questions we raise are: What kind of sexuality can the witch girl perform within realistic and fantastic settings? Do realistic depictions and fantasy open up different understandings of sexuality? How is the girl's awareness of sexuality depicted and what potential is there to question hegemonic preconditions for sexuality? Sexuality and power are closely related and it is, therefore, essential to scrutinize whether the girl protagonists have agency over their own performativity.

Friendship on the edge

Representations of girl witches in Scandinavian young adult novels both subvert and conform to heteronormativity. …

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