Children's language and children's literature
How does the absence of parents function to provide order (or disorder) in literature written for children?
Children's literature is an essential part of their linguistic, social, and cultural development, providing more than just entertainment, as West stated: “when I am writing for adults, I'm just trying to entertain them. But a good children's book does more than entertain. It teaches children the use of words, the joy of playing with language...” (West 1990). The language in children's literature enables them to compare their experiences with others, notably experiences of falling in love, conflict, or growing up, an aspect which has always been an essential purpose of children's literature. Children's literature can be dated as far back as the middle ages, despite considerable debated assertions that there was none prior to the 17th century. They included fables, biblical stories and narratives of local legends. However during the 17th century, the religious rise of Puritanism witnessed the recognition of the importance of childhood reading. The necessity of biblical knowledge was stressed, along with the notion that children's minds were similar to 'blank slates'. (John Locke 1693). Following this, children's literature continued to expand, hitting a cultural peak during the Victorian era. The romantic movement lead to an abundance of interest in childhood prompting children's literature to blossom, thus there was an explosion of different genres, including school stories, adventure and fantasy.
Imaginative and fantastical children's texts were popularised during the Victorian period, as mentioned before, the most influential text being Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Now if we focus on fantasy adventures in children's books, it is noticeable that in most occasions parents appear to be dead or missing, a classic, beneficial literary devise used by several writers. In some occasions, with regards to Philip Pullman's Northern lights, characters are lead to believe they are orphaned, which is not the case. Particularly in novels such as the northern lights, the narrative benefits from the removal of parents 'cluttering up' the story. For example if we refer to 'Lyra', a spirited, inquisitive character, whose personality and actions would be directly affected if her parents were to be brought into the scenario. Lyra has full run around Jordan College, free to come and go as she pleases. It would be fair to say that if parents were to be included in the story, Lyra wouldn't have the freedom to roam the college grounds, engaging in such farcical adventures with the 'Gyptian' children. Roald Dahl's The BFG proposes a similar case, although 'Sophie' is a true orphan, the absence of parental figures removes any rules or restrictions. Without her parents Sophie is able to commit to various potentially dangerous adventures. “'I cannot help thinking,' said the BFG, 'about your poor mother and father'...'I don't have a mother and father,' Sophie said.'They both died when I was a baby.'(p 38) Here we see a direct reference to the removal of parents. By tackling the moral dilemma of stealing a child away from their parents, it frees Dahl to allow Sophie to do as she wishes. Although fantasy allows us to create things outside of the real world, including parents limits the ventures the child is involved in. No sane parent would permit their children to voyage on such dangerous trips, thus the removal, frees the children from consistent trips home at regular intervals for food or bedtime.
Disorder and chaos is a key component involved in both novels. Roald Dahl appears to incorporate confusion and disarray of the world through many aspects of his writing. Continuous subjects and ideas are turned on their head to represent disorder. The BFG himself reflects this idea, giants are usually seen as grotesque, unruly creatures, yet the BFG is a gentle, caring...
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• PULLMAN, Philip. (1998). Northern lights. London, Scholastic Ltd
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