Finding both place and space in children’s literature

In an earlier post, I talked about Philip Pullman’s opening speech of the Place and Space conference held at Keble College.  The rest of the conference took place on the Saturday was well worth attending.

Peter Hunt’s opening session at the Place and Space conference reflected Pullman’s opening speech the night before in terms of the negotation of space. For him, though, the space is negotiated between the adult author and the child reader and he expanded by exploring Alice in Wonderland and Wind in the Willows.

In his talk about Wind in the Willows, he expanded the theme in that it was never written or marketed as  a children’s book (something that does pop up frequently) and that any rebellion in the book is quashed to maintain the idyll (which he has argued in fractured in his Wind inthe Willows: A Fractured Arcadia). Making mention of the Secret Garden and Puck of Pook’s Hill where the physical spaces get smaller as they become more internal. His argument for Alice was that the novel is  a game between the author and a girl given the amount of local knowledge needed to understands the novel where the reader encounters a known place with new eyes.

Margaret Kean talked about the experience that reading allows for the imaginative space. Speaking about the Botanic Garden, she drew the link between the republic of Heaven beginning in there and the notion that it was originally a Physic Garden so it is also the beginning of the science.

Maria Nikolaeva talked about George MacDonald’s novel, Lilith, and the cult of the childhood. The fairy tale world is entered through the mirror world and use of heterotopia, rather than a plain motion into a fairy tale world. The other world becomes an explicit internal world and even when the child returns from fairy, the world is not the same and nor is the traveller.

In the Fairy Tale Spaces thread, the theme that appeared to combine the panels was the notion that context is defined by the period and also illustrations. Sandra Beckett talked about the Red Riding Hood and how the basic story has been adapted through the details and visual narrative of the illustrator. It adds fun but the story is not implicitly bound into a time and space to be understood. In contrast there was an argument that the tale can only exist within a social and cultural moment as illustrated by the tale of Cinderella and its adoption in Poland.

Susan Cahill talked about Mairin Cregan, an Irish writer of the 1930s and 40s, who was active in the political establishment of the Irish state along with her husband. Cahill explored the dual creation of the fairy tale version of Ireland to create, one on hand, a cultural nation and other the other, create a fairy tale version of the homeland for expatriates in the US where she was also popular. It echoes, in my mind, the use of the fantastic to express nationalist values and to explore the idea of children being the future.

Sylvia Path’s children’s books were discussed by Aneesh Barai as negotiations of domestic spaces which are refigure d into fantastic spaces, perhaps echoing and extending E. Nesbit’s take on children’s fantasy. The garden was re-explored as a space to renegotiate gender and identity through the works of Juliana Horatio Ewing, Kate Greenaway and Christina Rossetti’s Speaking Likenesses. Ewing and Greenaway’s gardens are very much orderly space, an extension of the interior. Rosetti, on the other hand, delights in the forest being dangerous and grotesque. It is somewhat isolated and more of a journey towards growing up and leaving the comforts of childhood.

Kiera Vaclavik spoke about underground narratives in children’s literature: abduction (MacDonald and Ewing) and katabatic (Carroll, MacDonald and Pullman). Katabasis, from ancient Greek,  is a descent and implies a more orderly approach to going underground which is normally a male arena. She talked about Alice losing her language (which she does in Wonderland) but not about the reversal in Through the Looking Glass where she helps to faun in the forest which is in a similar position to her earlier self which suggests to me that there is a change through growing up, though the second book doesn’t deal with going underground.

Amy Boesky talked about Jamaica Kincaid’s work in politicising space in response to Antigua’s history. She talked about Said’s thoughts of memory as imaginative geography and the notion of mourning as a way of dealing with the new homeland in rejecting it in favour of the land that has been left.

Ruth Feingold talked about Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter Duet and notions of transplanted traditions and the colonised space of The Place – a geographic space which is manipulated and not all the population can enter it. Of thise that can, some are Transgressors, the Dreamhunters, and some maintain its role, the Rangers. It is up to the Dreamhunters to delve in to the true nature of the Place. I’ve been meaning to read these books for a while and this paper has pushed them up the list.

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