Do Rozario – The Gothic Architecture of Children’s Books

Standard

“The words shone momentarily on the page and they too sank without a trace. Then, at last, something happened. Oozing back out of the page, in his very own ink, came words harry had never written. (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, cited p.209 Do Rozario)

“Back to his own world, created from paper, printer’s ink and an old man’s words.” (Cornelia Funke, Inkspell, cited p.209 Do Rozario)

Following on from the above quotes, Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario presents a rather interesting argument about Gothic children’s literature. She writes:

InkspellThere is a Gothic architecture of books, both as objects of and within children’s literature: books filled with secrets and potentially dangerous passages, the narratives as labyrinthine as any castle interior or ruins, the dust jackets as intimidating as any fortress walls. Entering such a book is, potentially, as perilous to the reader as to the characters within the story. These are children’s books of a Gothic persuasion; they include ever-more peculiar books that are magic or that have magical potential, that are devious and complex. The books comprise a fascinating Gothic library marketed to children, through which their fictional counterparts conspire and scheme to counter the intertext of Gothic ruins and enigmas which hem them in and threaten them with intertextuality itself. Deidre Lynch notes the Gothic tradition’s literary impulse, arguing that early Gothic authors ‘are remarkable […] for the density of their intertextual allusions’ (2001: 31). In making these allusions, authors create characters who are, as Lunch indicates, ‘surrounded by books, ink and paper’ (29). In regard to children’s books, material [-p.210] rather allusive intertextuality – the book, ink, and paper – becomes the Gothic manifestation.
This shift, essentially from allusion to materialisation, is a response to the more commonplace intertextuality of children’s literature itself. John Stephens argues that children’s literature is ‘radically intertextual because it has no special discourse of its own,’ occupying, as it were, ‘the intersection of a number of other discourses’ (1992: 86). Responding to the ‘ordinariness’ of intertextuality in the genre, these particular children’s books reinvest it with significance by actualising it as Gothic peril. They subsequently realise absence in the dearth of a founding discourse, alongside the profusion of discourses that are fragmented, alternated and hidden so as to re-emerge mysterious. The discourses become the stuff of the bibliophilia of children’s literature, its compilation and rewriting of myth, fairy, folk, and other tales. As Lynch suggests, bibliophilia infuses Gothic novels, but in children’s books, it also destabilises the fundamental ontological distinctions between text and lived experience. Bibliophilia, manifested in its intertextual excesses, becomes the architecture of the Gothic novel through which the secrets of children’s literature can be endlessly whispered and through which the distinctions between reader and text can be repeatedly dispelled.” (pp.209-210)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsHmmm! I really like Do Rozario’s argument here.She draws on JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy and Jonathon Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy in particular, with reference to Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, and Marcus Sedgwick’s The Book of Dead Days and The Dark Flight Down. Her interest is in the presence of books within these books – and textual fragments that hint at other tales – alongside characters that become aware of their literary nature, eliding the distinction between reader and text. The possibility of entering and exiting texts (and one’s textuality), of being menaced by books (think JK Rowling), etc. is seen as a Gothicisation of text itself in children’s literature…. The supernatural and the literary become one and the same.

More than that, Do Rozario also highlights the gothicisation of traditional literature and of literariness in these texts. In a digital age of information networks, bound paper books are being represented as (or have come to represent) the Gothic and the supernatural; the books in these texts have heavy bindings, intricate lettering, elaborate engravings, etc. and their very ‘bookishness’ serves to reveal their Gothic and supernatural nature. I like the argument!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 2For example, Do Rozario observes: “The act of writing itself may release dangerous secrets. J.K. Rowlking’s Harry Potter series creates a Gothic parallel to our own ‘Muggle’ world, one in which books can scream, snap, become invisible, put spells upon the reader, or simply yield perfectly horrendous curses. The magic of Rowling’s wizarding world infuses its books, creating, across the series, an imagined library of fantastical books to serve the supernatural. The series, however, likewise raises the more personal, ordinary, spontaneous, and contemporaneous kinds of books to Gothic status. The diary, [-p.215] for example, becomes a central text in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998). The diary is an everyday repository of deeply personal secrets, but when the ink of those secrets becomes absorbed into the paper of T.M. Riddle’s diary, the secrets themselves feed a fragment of soul hidden between the covers. The diary is quite ordinary, purchased rather prosaically from a news agency on Vauxhall Road. Riddle, whom Harry, Ron and Hermione discover is the real name of Lord Voldemort, concealing his origins in an act of anagram, had left an imprint of his schoolboy soul within the diary, one that could only be manifested through the ink invested by a new diarist, in this case Ginny Weasley ‘I grew stronger and stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets’ (Rowling 1998: 228).
The ultimate secret of the diary, therefore, can only be manifest by other secrets, hence it is a very secret diary, as Chapter 13’s title indicates. Yet that deepest secret is itself obsessed by that other Gothic occupation: history. Riddle seeks to discover Harry Potter’s history, the diary fragment of Riddle having been bound in its own textual temporality and so unaware of Harry’s incomplete defeat of his mature self. Even such a textual phantasm is bound to the historical continuum, to a longing and loathing for pastness as it reveals the mystery of his present.” (pp.214-215)

InkheartOf Inkheart, though it could also be said of each of the books she is pointing to, Do Rozario notes that “In the absence of an actual castle, books themselves create the architecture, libraries, shelves, boxes, and piles of books configuring paper and ink secret chambers and passages, dungeons and wild woods.” (p.216)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario ‘Fantastic Books: The Gothic Architecture of Children’s Books’ pp.209-225 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to:Lynch, D. (2001) Gothic libraries and national subjects. Studies in Romanticism, 40(1), 29-48

Stephens, J (1992) Language and ideology in Children’s Fiction. London; New york: Longman

Advertisements

Vandana Saxena – the dynamics of adolescence in Harry Potter

Standard

According to Vandana Saxena: “The subgenre of adolescent fantasy can be characterized as a mix of illusion, escape, entertainment, formula and also instruction and guidance. Fantasy and adolescence…reinforce each other. An adolescent can be seen as an ‘other,’ an outsider to the categories of child and adult, embodying the gap between the two states of being in the chronology of growth. Many critics agree that young adult literature expresses the trials of adolescence, the process of individual coming-of-age set against a specific social and cultural background. [-p.6] Sarah Herz and Donald Gallo point out the situational archetypes and themes in YA fiction, which include coming-of-age rituals, quest and search for self. The literature centers on the youthful protagonist as much as it centers on the cultural background that frames his/her growth.” (pp.5-6)

Saxena continues: “Robyn McCallum defines adolescent fiction in relation to the essential humanist ideology that traditionally underscored the idea of child and children’s literature: “preoccupation with a personal maturation … is commonly articulated in conjunction with a perceived need for children to overcome solipsism and develop intersubjective concepts of personal identity within this world and in relation to others’ (7). This feature of YA literature derives from the unique position that an adolescent occupies in society. On the one hand, an adolescent is an outsider to the social and political frameworks of the society. At the same time, s/he occupies an important position in the collective psyche – preparing adolescents to become responsible members of the community is a major cultural preoccupation. It is important to contain adolescence through the discourses of growth, development and maturity since an adolescent, by the virtue of his/her position on the cultural periphery, has the potential to question and subvert these very discourses. According to Roberta Trites, ‘the distinction between a children’s and an adolescent novel lies not so much in how the protagonist grows – even though the gradations of growth do help us better understand the nature of the genre – but with the very determined way that YA novels tend to interrogate social constructions, foregrounding the relationship between the society and the individual’ (Disturbing [the Universe] 20). Rowling’s series portrays this two-way relationship that characterizes adolescence. Adolescence …emerges not as a stage of life, but as a state of being – an existence on the margins and in a constant dialogue with the center, always challenging and negotiating with the attempts at containment. Thus, young adult literature emerges as a volatile field of engagement with institutional politics and dominant social constructions.” (p.6)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Vandana Saxena (2012) The Subversive Harry Potter: Adolescent Rebellion and Containment in the J.K. Rowling Novels. McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC and London.

Monster metaphor and film

Standard

Harry Benshoff notes: “Since the 1970s, the genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction (and often hybrid combinations of two or more of them) have become driving forces in contemporary media culture. Whereas once these genres were ghettoized as B movie fodder for immature adults and precocious children, today they are central to the very formula of mainstream blockbuster franchising. Their fantastic spaces invite audiences into imaginative worlds and allow for the metaphoric exploration of actual human differences, even as that trend potentially reclosets human differences behind monstrous signifiers. For example, it has been noted that Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth in his Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–3) contains no black characters— only black-coded monsters. Avatar (2009) uses the color blue to signify its racial Others, barely disguising the fact that they are meant to suggest Native Americans caught up in the white Western world’s genocidal imperialism. Similarly, gay people [-p.103] in the Harry Potter universe are mostly metaphorized as bachelor wizards or werewolf schoolteachers. (The uproar that author J. K. Rowling created by “outing” the wizard Dumbledore demonstrates that many audiences actively seek to deny such readings.) It seems that contemporary Hollywood prefers metaphoric antagonists to real-life ones, since monsters and wizards (unlike real-life minorities) do not have antidefamation leagues. Thus a science fiction western like Serenity (2005) can feature stereotypical bloodthirsty Indians, as long as they are refigured as cannibalistic monsters from outer space called “Reavers.”” (pp.102-103)

“Far from being meaningless fluff, fantasy franchises like Dark ShadowsHarry Potter, Twilight, and The Lord of the Rings penetrate deep into Western cultures and continue to contribute to the ongoing hegemonic negotiation of real-world issues and ideologies.” (p.103)

Ref: (italics in original) Benshoff, Harry M. (2011) Dark Shadows. Wayne State University Press [http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780814336328]

Quest narratives

Standard

There’s this book I really like on the new demands on learning in the twenty-first century. Written by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, it uses massively multiplayer online games as its model. There’s a paragraph that got me wondering how quest narratives in literature might function in such an ‘age’ of learning:

“Games have grown up,” Thomas and Brown declare, “and playing with them is no longer reserved for children. In fact, the ability to play may be the single most important skill to develop for the twenty-first century. In this context, play involves what we think of as a questing disposition. Questing is an activity that is central to most large-scale online games, and it presumes a number of things. Chief among them is that the world provides multiple resources and avenues for solving problems and that solutions are invented as much as they are implemented. The key to questing is not typical problem solving. It is innovation.” (p.114)

What do quest narratives offer their readers?
How are quest narratives shaped by character disposition? …by the opportunities for innovation taken up by each character?
How is ‘success’ framed in quest narratives?

Ref: Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, Ky. : CreateSpace?