Do Rozario – The Gothic Architecture of Children’s Books

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“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

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