ADVENTURES INTO OTHERNESS MARIA LASSÉN-SEGER - PDF

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MARIA LASSÉN-SEGER CIP Cataloguing in Publication Lassén-Seger, Maria Adventures into otherness : child metamorphs in late twentieth-century children s literature / Maria Lassén-Seger. Åbo : Åbo Akademi

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MARIA LASSÉN-SEGER CIP Cataloguing in Publication Lassén-Seger, Maria Adventures into otherness : child metamorphs in late twentieth-century children s literature / Maria Lassén-Seger. Åbo : Åbo Akademi University Press Diss.: Åbo Akademi University. ISBN Maria Lassén-Seger 2006 Cover image: Catharina Nygård Holgersson Layout: Alf Rehn ISBN ISBN (digital) Ekenäs Tryckeri Aktiebolag Ekenäs 2006 MARIA LASSÉN-SEGER CHILD METAMORPHS IN LATE TWENTIETH-CENTURY CHILDREN S LITERATURE ÅBO 2006 ÅBO AKADEMIS FÖRLAG ÅBO AKADEMI UNIVERSITY PRESS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Writing a thesis is a very personal metamorphic experience, albeit not a lonely one. From the very first letter on that threateningly empty page to the final arrangement of chapters and ideas, a multitude of voices have been woven into that which eventually lies before you as the most curious of objects: the finished thesis. I am delighted to have this opportunity to thank some of you who helped me transform that empty page into this book. Over the years, my supervisor Prof. Roger D. Sell of Åbo Akademi University has taken a constant interest in my work, and for this I am most grateful. His critical eye on both form and content helped me disentangle my thoughts and sharpen my arguments. Without his efforts to make me do better, this thesis would, no doubt, have been much poorer. Prof. Maria Nikolajeva of Stockholm University was also with me from the very beginning, offering expert advice and sparing no personal effort in commenting on numerous versions of the manuscript. Her generosity and constant support has been invaluable. My warm thanks also go to Prof. David Rudd of University of Bolton and Prof. Roberta Seelinger Trites of Illinois State University for providing heartening and useful advice in the final stages of writing. They say that it takes a village to raise a child. To transform me into a doctor, it certainly took (at least) two departments, plenty of seminars, some projects and a network. I am deeply indebted to all my past and present colleagues at the English department; and to Prof. Clas Zilliacus and Prof. Roger Holmström for giving me a second home at the department of Comparative Literature. Room for growth was also provided by the Faculty of Humanities ChiLPA (Children s Literature: Pure and Applied) vii project later continued as the EnChiLPA project led by Prof. Roger D. Sell, where I began my research in Among my fellow chilpas Lydia Kokkola, Yvonne Nummela, Janina Orlov, Kaisu Rättyä, Lilian Rönnqvist and M(ar)ia Österlund, in particular, contributed to early drafts with sound criticism and much-needed encouragement. Later on, the Comparative Literature department s children s literature seminars continued to be a vital forum for the exchange of ideas within our subject area. Thanks to junior colleagues Elin Fellman-Suominen, Rebecka Fokin-Holmberg, Mia Franck, and Anna-Maija Koskimies-Hellman for carrying on the torch. Led by Maria Nikolajeva, the NordForsk-network Norchilnet was yet another invaluable forum for presenting work-in-progress and for receiving hands-on experience in arranging workshops and doctoral courses. Many thanks to all the senior colleagues, in particular Prof. Jean Webb of University College Worcester, for your enduring support and to my fellow Nordic colleagues Nina Christensen PhD, Elina Druker, Sirke Happonen, and Sara Pankenier PhD for your enthusiasm for sharing ideas and collaborating in joint projects. With all of you colleagues near and far I have shared many stimulating literary conversations, as well as life-saving banter on the agonies and joys of doctoral studies. Among the many of you who took the time to read and engage with my work, I want, however, to give special thanks to two persons: FD Lydia Kokkola, without whom I would never have begun this project, and FD M(ar)ia Österlund, without whom I never would have finished. You most gorgeous of women are my pillars of strength. But a doctoral student cannot live on intellectual stimulation alone. For providing the financial support that allowed me to think, write, receive secondary supervision and travel in order to gather research material and present my research at conferences, workshops, doctoral courses and research seminars, I am indebted to the H.W. Donner Fund and the Research Institute of the Åbo Akademi Foundation; Rector and the Jubileumsfond of Åbo Akademi University and Norchilnet. Much practical help was also needed and offered to complete this book. Again, it is a blessing to have talented friends. My warm thanks to Catharina Nygård Holgersson for designing the cover of my dreams and to Alf Rehn for taking layout matters into his expert hands. My colleagues at the Åbo Akademi Library have my deepest gratitude for never grumbling when I left on yet another period of research leave. They are also to be commended for their outstanding efficiency in locating even the most obscure reading matter for me from all over the world. viii I extend my deepest thanks to my mother and father, who have always been there for me, and to all my wonderfully supportive friends who keep reminding me that a thesis is just another part of life. Finally, when it comes to thanking the two most important persons in my life, I am at a loss for words of my own. Fortunately, there is a world of literature (in this case Zadie Smith) to borrow from. To my beloved husband and son, Robert and Arthur Seger, who keep showing me that time is how you spend your love I dedicate this book. Without you, I would indeed be lost, not only for words, but in time. Åbo, October 2006 Maria Lassén-Seger ix CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 1 Aims and material 2 Children, adults, and power 10 Literary metamorphosis 20 Terminology 21 Earlier scholarship 23 Myth, fairy tales, and fantasy 27 WILD AND UNCIVILISED CHILD METAMORPHS 32 Animal imagery in children s literature 32 Dionysian/Apollonian children in coming-of-age stories 39 When girls become women and boys become men 45 Negotiating femininity 47 Negotiating masculinity 53 The unpleasures of child-beast metamorphosis 59 Taming the beast within 65 Exposing the beastly child 70 Metamorphoses from subject into object 79 Petrification as crisis and rebirth 81 Abusive and perverted doll fantasies 88 Summary 96 INNOCENT, PLAYFUL, AND REBELLIOUS CHILD METAMORPHS 98 The pleasures of metamorphosis 98 Metamorphosis as power over or power to 101 Constructing the innocent child 112 Adult characters and the horrors of metamorphosis 118 Ludic metamorphs 123 Imaginary role-play 125 Transgressive playful fantasy 133 Carnivalesque metamorphs 144 Metamorphic displacement 148 Beyond innocence 155 Adventures into adulthood 161 Affirming and subverting child/adult relations 169 Summary 172 VICTIMISED AND LOST CHILD METAMORPHS 175 Finding refuge in metamorphosis 176 Withdrawing into animality 176 Imagining monsters 182 Immortalising grief 193 Girls merging with nature 201 Images of female entrapment 205 Breaking with tradition through irreversible metamorphosis 214 The return of the eternal child 215 The feral teenage metamorph 223 Uncanny metamorphs 231 Choosing hybridity 239 Drawn between socialisation and subversion 247 Summary 253 CONCLUSION 257 Wild and uncivilised child metamorphs 257 Innocent, playful, and rebellious child metamorphs 258 Victimised and lost child metamorphs 260 Metamorphic (un)pleasure and power 261 Towards ambiguity and complexity 263 Classical and contemporary metamorphs 264 Metamorphosis continued 267 Epilogue 269 BIBLIOGRAPHY 271 APPENDIXES 292 Appendix 1: Primary texts 292 Appendix 2: Primary texts in chronological order 296 Copyright acknowledgments 299 INDEX OF NAMES 300 INDEX OF TITLES 307 INTRODUCTION Have you read the hilarious picturebook in which a young boy left at the dinner table to finish a healthy meal he finds repulsive decides to change into a series of monsters to spice things up a bit? Or the one in which a mother and father refuse to fulfil their daughter s wish and she works out a way to transform herself into the horse she wants? Maybe you have already shared the longing and the grief that turns a lonely girl orphan into a doll, or marvelled at the turn of events when immanent danger results in a hasty wish that changes a youngster into solid rock? Perhaps you have already shared the thoughts and feelings of distraught teenagers who find an irresistible appeal in the carefree life of a wild fox and a stray dog? If not, you are in for a treat. In fantasy literature, protagonists travel in time and space to experience the past or the future, other worlds and other universes. But the fascination of literary metamorphosis is that it enacts an adventure that takes the protagonists, not necessarily out of this world, but out of their human bodies. What is it like to become someone or something else? The idea is both thrilling and threatening. And so are the stories that place human-other metamorphosis centre-stage. These stories take the fictive human self where it cannot go except in the imagination, whether it be into the body of a wild animal or into the deadening clasp of cold and lifeless rock. Metamorphosis stories always negotiate what it is to be human. When protagonists become an Other through a radical physical transformation, they literally experience the essence of empathy what it is 1 like to put themselves in the place of another as well as the anxiety of alienation as their minds are separated from their own human bodies. Displaced into the shape of someone or something else, they experience a radically new outlook on life. In Ovid s Metamorphoses human metamorphosis becomes the stuff of heart-piercing beauty. When his protagonists merge with nature as trees, plants and animals, they are immortalised. Metamorphosis makes them truly belong somewhere in the natural world, yet at the price of losing their unified human selves. As a student of literary metamorphosis, I am not surprised by mankind s long-lived fascination with this complex and slippery motif. To me, the attractions of metamorphosis are the attractions and the essence of story. Narratives in which human characters suddenly find themselves living the lives of stray dogs, caged birds or scaly dragons celebrate the power of imagination. The task of the author, as I see it, is to turn these supernatural events into plausible mental experiments that awaken wonder in readers and provoke them to probe beneath the surface of the story. The task of the scholar, in turn, is to explore the literal and symbolical readings that can open up these alluring and repelling supernatural events to further kinds of meaning. I share previous scholars fascination with the profoundly ambiguous nature of the motif, which in a children s literature context is especially associated with conflicting issues, such as the ultimate freedom from self or the ultimate loss of self, personal growth or regression. Authors who use this motif may interrogate identity or establish identity, and may affirm or subvert power relationships. They may preach or entertain, and may use the motif to liberate or entrap the fictive child. The central fascination of such stories is in the essentially human issues raised, rather than the ambiguous answers offered. In addition to which, the motif can inspire some truly gripping story-telling. aims and material The main driving force behind this thesis has been a search for a further understanding of our need to keep producing and reading tales of human metamorphosis. It explores a selection of late twentieth-century English-language literature for children and teenagers in which young protagonists metamorphose into animals, insects, monsters, plants, 2 minerals or objects. My aims are to examine how children s writers of this period use the motif and what representations of children and teenagers they thereby offer. 1 The metamorphic protagonists, as well as the intended audience, of the narratives examined are all non-adult, that is, children or teenagers who are under-age and therefore the focus of adult concerns to protect, enlighten and guide the young. The uses of child-other metamorphoses are closely tied up, I shall be suggesting, with the question of whether, as a result of the physical transformation, the young protagonist is empowered or disempowered. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, empowerment means to be made powerful or to gain power over, whereas disempowerment correspondingly stands for being deprived of power. These terms are not used here to signify power over others as simply physical strength or the ability to exercise control over others. Instead, empowerment refers to what Roberta Seelinger Trites (1997: 8; 2000: 5), a children s literature critic with feminist interests, defines as agency, subjectivity, positive forms of autonomy, self-expression, and self-awareness. In short: the scope children may have to carry out their own decisions without having to stifle their sense of self in order to fit (adult) hegemonic expectations of what a young person male or female ought to be like. For the purposes of my research, I can thus rephrase my key questions as follows: does the physical change entrap, silence or repress child characters in a manner that undercuts their individual agency and forces them into submission or regression? Or does the experience of otherness increase their agency and self-awareness in a manner that enhances the equality of children with adults, or subverts adult authority? In order to suggest 1. In my general discussions I shall from now on use the terms children and child metamorphs to refer to both younger child (pre-adolescent) and teenage protagonists. Here I follow the decree of Article 1 in the 1989 United Nation s Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years. Available: [19 September 2006]. However, in discussions where I refer specifically to younger child characters (approx years old) I shall use the term pre-adolescent metamorphs. Correspondingly, in discussions where I specifically refer to older child characters (approx years old) I shall use the terms teenage metamorphs or adolescent metamorphs. 3 answers to these questions, I will use narratological tools to explore narrative perspective, focalisation, voice and agency. The empowerment or disempowerment of fictive children particularly interests me because it relates to what I see as the central issue for a poetics of literature for children and teenagers. 2 Such a poetics cannot be adequate in my view unless it deals not only with aesthetic questions but with pragmatic and ethical dimensions as well. My thinking here is very much along the lines of David Rudd (1992, 1999b, 2000, 2004a, 2004b) and Roberta Seelinger Trites (2000, 2002), who have presented fresh perspectives on children s fiction as a form of literature that stages ongoing negotiations of power between child and adult. This thesis is written in dialogue with that wider scholarly debate on the poetics of children s literature. Underpinning my argumentation is the view that literature can function as a significant and democratic channel of human interactivity (Sell, 2002: [1]) and that children s literature should not be regarded as either necessarily hegemonic or as a form of distorted communication between adult authors and young readers. In the 1980s and 1990s, children s literature scholars showed an increasing interest in what came to be known as the dilemma of children s literature (Wall, 1991): i.e. the fact that the vast majority of books for children are written by adults and thus inevitably reflect adult images of what children and childhood are like, or ought to be like. I do not deny that adult desires to educate, instruct and even control young readers are inevitably part of the history of children s literature. But I will strongly argue against essentialist assumptions about the nature of children s literature and childhood, in an attempt to show that children s literature criticism must also acknowledge that books for children and teenagers comprise a variety of genres and artistic intent, including even an ability to interrogate and subvert child/adult power structures. Adult authors need to address both adult and child readers if their texts are to pass the adult gatekeepers who publish, review and buy 2. From now on I shall be referring to both literature for children and teenagers with the umbrella term children s literature unless I mention otherwise. In cases where I speak in particular about literature addressed to a teenage audience, I shall be using the terms teenage literature/novels/fiction. This usage is more established within a British context than the terms young adult literature/novels/fiction or adolescent literature/novels/fiction, which are more frequent in American and Australian scholarly contexts. 4 the majority of children s books. But contrary to the views of the semiotician Zohar Shavit (1986, 1995) and, to some extent, the narratologist Barbara Wall (1991), I argue that this circumstance need not be regarded primarily as a problem or a dilemma. Instead, in accordance with Maria Nikolajeva s (1996) semiotic and narratological understanding of children s literature as a form of ritual or canonical art, the double-voicedness of children s fiction can be seen to contribute to a complex richness of codes in books for children. The potential duality of address, and the ongoing negotiation of power between adult and child that is featured in fiction for children, are what I have come to regard as two of the most fascinating topics in contemporary children s literature criticism. Considering the continuous popularity and rich variety of the metamorphosis motif in children s literature, I have found it necessary to formulate a clear set of selection criteria. First of all, my study will deal only with texts where child protagonists transform into animals, plants, insects, minerals, objects or monsters. Metamorphosis must constitute a kernel event and not appear only in the form of a threat, as in Georgess McHargue s Stoneflight (1975) or David Elliott s The Transmogrification of Roscoe Wizzle (2001). A wide variety of other forms of metamorphosis have also been excluded from this study. Stories of gender transformation, as in Anne Fine s Bill s New Frock (1989) in which a young boy protagonist turns into a girl for just one day, are not covered, 3 for instance, and neither are stories where young protagonists undergo a partial change into inanimate objects, as in Gillian Cross s Twin and Super-Twin (1990), or sprout wings and start to fly, as in Beatrice Gormley s Mail Order Wings (1981) and Bill Brittain s Wings (1991). Stories where child characters change colour, turn into other people (usually in connection with a fantastic journey in time), acquire supernatural powers, become dazzlingly beautiful or hideously ugly, also fall outside the scope of this study. Of all the metamorphoses imaginable, children s writers seem especially preoccupied with magical changes in physical size and age. Stories featuring child characters shrinking or growing include well-known 3. Whereas actual gender metamorphoses are rare, stories of gender transgression through cross-dressing is a frequent motif in teenage novels. The motif of crossdressing has been studied from a gender and power perspective by Victoria Flanagan (2004, 2005) and Maria Österlund (2005). 5 children s classics such as Lewis Carroll s Alice s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Florence Parry Heide s The Shrinking of Treehorn (1971), as well as more obscure tales such as Jeff Brown s Flat Stanley (1964), about a literally two-dimensional boy, who has been flattened by a billboard. Young protagonists grow instantly old in, for instance, Allen Say s Stranger in the Mirror (1995) and Dia
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