Fantasy in 20th Century Children's Literature

Topics: Fantasy, The Chronicles of Narnia, Literature Pages: 8 (2860 words) Published: July 14, 2013
Most critics agree that children’s literature is a diverse paradoxical area of study combining different literary genres. Like the concept of childhood, children’s literature is a social and cultural concept that evolves over time. Since the fourteenth century, children’s literature has gone through different literary periods each defined by its own divisions and genres. Many children’s novels, such as J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were published in the twentieth century and became classics. These books were marked with an increased diversity of literary genres such as mystery and fantasy literature. Fantasy literature has been a dominant literary genre in twentieth century children’s literature, particularly in Barrie’s and Lewis’s novels. In general, as a genre, fantasy literature integrates imaginative elements that shift away from reality into a secondary world. Fantasy literature in the twentieth century, namely in Barrie’s Peter and Wendy and Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wadrobe serves to help children develop vast imagination, and through imagination it allows children to understand and resolve real-world social issues.

Doubtless, most people would be able to name some of the features of fantasy literature. Richard Mathews in his book Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination describes fantasy as a distinct literary genre that may be best thought of as a “fiction that elicits wonder through elements of the supernatural or impossible” (Matthews 2). Fantasy literature assumes the existence of supernatural elements within the framework of a certain text. These supernatural elements can exist in many locations throughout the text: they may be buried in, or leak into the apparent real world setting, the case of the boy character Peter Pan and his fairy Tinker Bell in Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. Supernatural elements may also appear in a secondary world where characters are drawn into a world with such fantastical elements. Narnia in Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is an example of such setting. The fictional realm of Narnia contains various mythical creatures, and magical occurrences. Narnian inhabitants such as Tumnus and the White Witch are themselves supernatural creatures with unusual traits often seen in European mythology and preceding British fairy tales. Fantasy literature can be categorized into two main sub-genres; high fantasy, which consists of a distinct entirely fictional secondary world, and low fantasy, characterized by being set in the real or primary world with the inclusion of supernatural elements. In almost all cases, supernatural elements shift events away from reality. The secondary world operates according to its own rules and altered laws of reality, different in many ways from those in the primary world. Fantasy and supernatural occurrences in the secondary world are depicted as being “natural” within its boundaries. This feature is important in keeping the secondary world internally consistent. To maintain this inner uniformity, fantasy in this modified world must be realistic. Improbable fantastical events must appear probable within the framework of rules and laws in the secondary world. As Aristotle puts it, “you can have a text that is improbable with reality as long as it is consistent. As long as the improbable is consistent, then fantasy is realistic”. Probable fantasy in the imaginative world is hence an essential prerequisite for Fantasy literature. The secondary imaginative world and the fantastical events that contain within play an important role in shaping the way Fantasy literature elicits a child reader response. Perhaps one of the most recognized characteristics of Fantasy literature is its appeal to imagination. Fantasy stretches the imagination, enforces creative thinking and encourages dreams. Through the use of the supernatural elements in the secondary world, children travel on a journey fueled by...
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