The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to Le Guin

By Brian Attebery | Go to book overview

FOUR
Fantasy for American Children

AMERICAN ROMANCE offered a compromise between realism and fantasy. It enabled artists who were not content with setting their creations in the flat, sunny, everyday world to superimpose on it a shadowy, timeless, inner world of magic and myth. But by the end of the nineteenth century the romance tradition had dwindled to a set of formulas in the hands of milk-and-water writers like Hawthorne's son Julian or his would-be successor Edward Bellamy. Hawthorne's Puritan Other World slipped farther into the past, beyond the powers of lesser writers to invoke it, and Melville's slippery ocean universe was dispelled by the invasion of steampowered merchant ships. The elements once fused into romance broke apart and formed new genres: realism, psychological suspense, and science fiction. Other genres grew out of the dawning discovery that America had, after all, a past and a society: local color, naturalism, and the genteel social novel. Some writers ceased to comb American folklore for its remaining fragments of supernaturalism and began to build a new literature out of its more solid elements -- humor, verbal play, lively characterization, and generous sentiment.

Where, then, did the element of wonder go? There is awe in the contemplation of a vast and powerful nature and there is fascination in the complex workings of the mind; but open and avowed wonder, the sense that the world holds timeless mysteries, that an object may be a key to something greater than itself -- did that burn itself out of our literature after Moby-Dick? It did not; rather it was consigned to an audience who, it was assumed, did not need to worry itself about the problems of a growing, altering society. The Victorian era discovered children as a unique and enthusiastic audience, for whose benefit the author could overcome his

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The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to Le Guin
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • One - Locating Fantasy 1
  • Two - Fantasy and the Folk Tradition 16
  • Three - Belief, Legend, and Romance 33
  • Four - Fantasy for American Children 59
  • Five - Oz 83
  • Six - Fantasy and Escape 109
  • Seven - The Baum Tradition 134
  • Eight - After Tolkien 154
  • Notes 187
  • Bibliography 200
  • Index 210
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