La identidad en la literatura infantil argentina



Ser niño en tiempos de guerra

Standard (La guerra en la literatura para ninos y jovenes – bibliografia. Fundacion German Sanchez Ruiperez)

Los desmaravilladores


los-desmaravilladores-elsa-bornemannOkay, so back to thinking about desaparecidos en literatura para jovenes. Another book that touches on the theme is Los desmaravilladores (10 cuentos de amor, humor y terror), by Elsa Bornemann. The final story (Los desmaravilladores, from which the book takes its name) addresses the problem of discovering that your adoptive parents have (in this case unwittingly) adopted you after your biological parents were disappeared.

The story is framed as a short story being submitted under a pseudonym to a historical story competition run by the Academia Nacional de Historia de la Republica de Sudaquia. This short story itself is framed by the book of short stories in which it is published and to which it gives its title. This frame seems full of meta-narrative! But the story itself is fairly straight forward.

(Question: Is setting this story in the Republic of Sudaquia like re-claiming an insult – like has been done more classically with the terms nigger or gay? There is a publishing house by the same name: and a blog but this is new to me and as far as I can tell it comes from an insult that has been reclaimed ( …I don’t know!)

NB One site describes the book: “Un libro de cuentos que habla de los primeros encuentros con el terror. Cuentos que además recrean leyendas populares o acontecimientos reales, con la valentía de quien sabe que para los chicos no existen temas difíciles. Sólo se trata de saber contarlos.”

la memoria de los seres perdidosThe story did also put me in mind of La memoria de los seres perdidos by Jordi Sierra i Fabra, though the two approach the theme quite differently.

anti-authoritarian characters in children’s fiction


hombreSo I just read another book that had me thinking about representation of the dictatorship (Argentina)…

El hombre que creía en la luna, by Esteban Valentino (Ilustraciones de Pez. Bogotá, Grupo Editorial Norma, 2000. Colección Torre de Papel; serie Torre Azul.)

I won’t argue that this is such a representation. (Metaphorically, one might make such an argument, but those kind of extrapolated readings annoy me.) What I could say is that this is a story about a village that is convinced so strongly to turn their back on the moon (refusing to mention it, discuss it, acknowledge it, etc.) that they stop going out at night and chastise their children for even hinting at it. (This is engineered by baddies who want to sell the night to turn a quick profit.) hombrecreia2So, what I really did make note of is the character of the Uncle, the lone voice who speaks out against this regime, leaving propaganda in obvious places, challenging people’s fear, talking about the moon to his nephew and generally trying to rally people back to the moon’s cause, in spite of the climate of fear he finds on his arrival. This story turns on the appearance of his character (even though it is told through the eyes of a child protagonist).

So what other books celebrate such characters?

How do child protagonists respond to such characters? (and how ‘should’ they respond?)

What about the adults in such fiction?

Are these characters contextualised by the presence of other characters (eg. here, Los Vendedores de la Noche)

Are particular characters important to the children’s literature of a society (eg. with regards to making sense of a difficult history for its young)? It seems they must be. Do such characters appear with as much regularity in one society as in another? (eg New Zealand / Argentina)… just wondering

The Screaming Staircase – Jonathan Stroud


A few things that interest me about Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase:


The Screaming Staircase 2Describing the first haunted house we encounter, the narrator writes: “Papered walls, closed doors, dead silence. A piece of embroidery in a heavy frame: faded colours, childish letters, Home Sweet Home. Done years ago, when homes were sweet and safe, and no one hung iron charms above their children’s beds. Before the Problem came.” (p.24)

What I liked about this is that it sets us up to consider what we expect from our homes (in terms of safety and how that is manifested in belongings/art, etc.). This is a book in which we are not safe in our homes… kind of a familiar prospect in terms of urban narrative. Interesting.

the social meaning of ghosts

The Screaming StaircaseAt the beginning of part II (‘Before’), the narrator begins: “Some people claim the Problem has always been with us. Ghosts are nothing new, they say, and have always behaved the same. There’s a story the Roman writer Pliny told, for instance, almost two thousand years ago. It’s about a scholar who bought a house in Athens. The house was suspiciously cheap, and he soon discovered it was haunted. On the very first night he was visited by the Spectre of a gaunt old man in chains. The Visitor beckoned to him; instead of fleeing, he followed the ghost out to the yard, where he saw it vanish into the earth. The next day the scholar had his servants dig at that spot. Sure enough, they soon uncovered a manacled skeleton. The bones were properly buried, and the haunting ceased. End of story. A classic Type Two ghost, the experts [-p.66] say, with a classic, simple purpose – the desire to right a hidden wrong. Just the same as you get today. So nothing’s really changed.
Sorry, but I don’t buy it. OK, it’s a decent example of a hidden Source – we’ve all known plenty of similar examples. But notice two things. First: the scholar in the story doesn’t seem at all concerned that he might be ghost-touched, and so swell up, turn blue and die a painful death. Maybe he was just stupid (not to mention lucky). Or maybe Visitors back in ancient times weren’t quite as dangerous as they are now.
And they certainly weren’t as common either. That’s the second thing. The haunted house in Pliny’s story? It was probably the only one in Athens, which is why it was so cheap. Here in modern London there are dozens of them, with more springing up all the time, no matter what the agencies do. In those days, ghosts were fairly rare. Now we’ve got an epidemic. So it seems pretty obvious to me that the Problem’s different to what went before. Something strange and new did start happening around fifty or sixty years ago, and no one’s got a damn clue why.” (pp.65-66)

What caught my eye about this explanatory section is:
– the haunting of homes/houses is a significant aspect of the story
– the telling of stories is part of the history of haunting in this story world
– ‘agencies’ are engaged in trying to solve/monitor/fix the problem that’s rife among peoples homes – a kind of bureaucratisation of hauntings
– the newness and the perpetuity of ghosts and hauntings is significant

the will to exist

“We stood facing the shape in silence. Never attack first. Always wait, draw out its intentions. Watch what it does, where it goes; learn its patterns of behaviour. It was so close now that I could make out the texture of the long fair hairs sweeping down around the neck; see individual moles and blemishes on the skin. It always surprised me that the visual echo could be this strong. George called it ‘the will to exist’, the refusal to lose what once had been. Of course, not all of them appear this way. It’s all down to their personality in life, and what precisely happened when that life came to an end.” (p.36)

This section connected (for me) with the paragraph below (under childhood agency) in which the narrator fights the ghost with her own will to live.

the power of emotions

Lockwood tells the narrator “you need to calm down, Lucy. She’ll feed off your anger super-fast, and grow strong.” (p.38) Lucy continues: “‘Yeah, I know’ I didn’t say it gradefully. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and then another, concentrating on doing what the Manual recommends: mastering myself, loosening the hold of my emotions. After a few moments I regained control. I withdrew from my anger, and let it drop to the floor like a discarded skin.” (p.38)

Interesting to me how emotions are conceived of here:
– ‘things’; objects which can be dropped or discarded;
– as being ‘animated’, in that they can grasp on to the person experiencing them;
– and, also, a potential source of energy for ghosts.

“Frailty was what Visitors fed on; frailty and loose emotions. Good agents needed the opposite: firm control and strength of nerve.” (p.111)

Also interesting is how thoughts and feelings are conceived – metaphorically as objects that can be set aside: “I …tried to rid my mind of thoughts as best I could. I set aside all the rushing, garbled feelings of the day-to-day.” (p.191)

emotions and place

“Ever since Marissa Fittes and Tom Rotwell conducted their celebrated investigations, way back in the first years of the Problem, finding the Source of a haunting has been central to every agent’s job. Yes, we do other stuff as well: we help create defences for worried households and we advise individuals on their personal protection. We can rig up salt traps in gardens, lay iron strips on thresholds, hang wards above cradles, and stock you with any number of lavender sticks, ghost-lights and other day-to-day items of security. But the essence of our role, the reason for our being, is always the same: to locate the specific place or object connected to a particular member of the restless dead.
No one really knows how these ‘Sources’ function. Some [-p.46] claim the Visitors are actually contained within them, others that they mark points where the boundary between worlds has been worn thin by violence or extreme emotion. Agents don’t have time to speculate either way. We’re too busy trying to avoid being ghost-touched to worry about philosophy.
As Lockwood said, a Source might be many things. The exact location of a crime, perhaps, or an object intimately connected to a sudden death, or maybe a prized possession of the Visitor when alive. Most often, though (73 per cent, according to research conducted by the Rotwell Institute), it’s associated with what the Fittes Manual calls ‘personal organic remains’. You can guess what that means. The point is, you never know until you look.” (pp.45-46)

childhood agency

“An ordinary person might have stood there, helpless, and let the Visitor work its will upon them. But I’m an agent. I’d dealt with this before. So I wrested savage, painful breaths from the frigid air, shook the mist clear of my brain. I forced myself to live. And my hands moved slowly towards the weapons at my belt.” (p.32)

This comes some pages after the woman employing them for the haunting this book opens on worries that they are too young for the job (pp.6-7). I like the agentic self-worth of the narrator; she is obviously young, but considers herself powerful. I like this and I find it interesting, too…

food and childhood

I couldn’t help noticing that these ‘agentic’ youths who are looking after themselves, self-employed and having to protect themselves from the adults of the world… also have a penchant for unhealthy snacks. Do children left to their own devices really always go for doughnuts and biscuits? Food as signifier of childishness… or something… not sure. Some examples of what I’m thinking include:

“Lockwood squeezed my arm. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow. Something will turn up. Let’s get home. I fancy a peanut-butter sandwich.’
I nodded. ‘Cocoa and crisps for me.'” (p.234)

When the VIP John William Fairfax visits… “I ducked back inside, where Lockwood was frantically plumping cushions, and George brushed cake crumbs beneath the sofa. ‘He’s here,’ I hissed.” (p.253)

“A week after our return to London, when we’d slept long and fully recovered from our ordeal, a party was held at 35 Portland Row. It wasn’t a very big party – just the three of us, in fact – but that didn’t stop lockwood & Co. from properly going to town. George ordered in a vast variety of doughnuts from the corner store. I bought some paper streamers, and hung them up around the kitchen. Lockwood returned from a trip to Knightsbridge with two giant wicker hampers, filled with sausage rolls and jellies, pies and cakes, bottles of Coke and ginger ale, and luxuries of all kinds. Once this lot was [-p.431] unloaded, our kitchen virtually disappeared. We sat amid a wonderland of edible delights.” (p.430) [Is the ginger ale a piss-take?!]

adulthood and the captains of industry

The relationship between adults and children in this novel is not a positive one. The narrator’s father died an alcoholic – and their only concern at his death was whether or not he’d return as a ghost (p.68). Her mother was too busy to give a damn. Her first supervisor kills five of her child friends through his neglect and fear – and nearly her, too. He is protected from taking responsibility for his actions by legal mumbo jumbo (pp.80-81). Then once she gets to London, she can’t cut through the red tape (created by that supervisor’s neglect) to get another job. Finally, the main sequence of events described in this novel revolve around adult misbehaviour and adult disregard of children. Inspector Barnes from DEPRAC comes across as stupid and unkind (p.157) and causes half their troubles.

Youth, on the one hand, must live as adults – working the night shifts, going through job interviews, struggling to find work (chapter 6), and struggling to keep it etc.. The experience of one’s first job is unquestionably part of childhood in this world, but Lucy still describes Lockwood’s house as ‘puzzling’ – “a large house, filled with expensive, grown-up things, and yet there were no adults present anywhere.” (p.104)

Adults are entirely dismissive of the young, though – in spite of their need of them in this ghostly climate. After they set fire to a house they were supposed to be clearing of ghosts, a very negative piece is run in The Times on them, much of the criticism focusing on their youth (in spite of the youthfulness of this industry): “In the Problem Pages where prominent hauntings were covered daily, an article entitled INDEPENDENT AGENCIES: MORE CONTROL NEEDED? described how an investigation carried out by Lockwood & Co. (‘an independent outfit run by juveniles’) had resulted in a dangerous, destructive blaze.It was clearly implied that Lockwood had lost control. At the end of the piece a spokeswoman for the giant Fittes Agency was quoted. She recommended ‘adult supervision’ for nearly all psychical investigations.” (p184)

There is also some connection, in my mind, behind the failings of bureacracy, industrialisation and centralised government (in caring for the community) and the failings of adults in caring for children. Passages that caught my eye:

“It was generally accepted that the Problem afflicting the British Isles was a bad thing for the economy. The dead returning to haunt the living, apparitions after dark – these things had consequences. Morale and productivity were low. No one wanted late shifts. In winter, businesses closed mid-afternoon. But some companies did flourish, because they fulfilled a vital need. One of these was Fairfax Iron.
Already a leading manufacturer of iron products when the crisis began, Fairfax Iron had immediately set about supplying seals, filings and chains to the Fittes and Rotwell agencies. As the Problem worsened, and the government began to mass-produce ghost-lamps, it was Fairfax Iron that provided the vast quantities of metal required. This alone secured the [-p.253] company’s fortune. But of course there was more. Those ugly iron gnomes that people dotted around their gardens? Those naff ProtectoTM necklaces? Those little plastic bracelets with the smiley iron faces they put on babies’ wrists before they left the hospital? Fairfax products, every one.
The company’s owner, John William Fairfax, was in consequence one of the richest men in the country, up there with the silver barons, with the heirs of Marissa Fittes and Tom Rotwell, and with that bloke who owns the great lavender farms on the Linconshire Wolds. He lived somewhere in London, and when he snapped his fingers, the ministers of whichever government was currently in office scampered hot-foot to his house.” (p.252)

This theme of power, prestige, and the tanglings of bureacracy and central government are familiar from the Bartimaeus books, but here they connect with the failings of adulthood in some way. Interesting (interesting also SPOILER that Fairfax turns out to be one of the adult villains who threaten the survival of our young heroes.)

It’s a theme tangled with ‘the Problem’ itself; explaining the origins of the Problem, our narrator states: “In those days, ghosts were fairly rare. Now we’ve got an epidemic. So it seems pretty obvious to me that the Problem’s different to what went before. Something strange and new did start happening around fifty or sixty years ago and no one’s got a damn clue why.
If you look in old newspapers, like George does all the time, you can find mention of scattered ghostly sightings cropping up in Kent and Sussex around the middle of the last century. But it was a decade or so later that a bloody series of cases, such as the Highgate Terror and the Mud Lane Phantom, attracted serious attention. In each instance, a [-p.67] sudden outbreak of supernatural phenomena was followed by a number of gruesome deaths. Conventional investigations came to nothing, and one or two policemen also died. At last two young researchers, Tom Rotwell and Marissa Fittes, managed to trace each haunting to its respective Source (in the case of the Terror, a bricked-up skull; in that of the Phantom, a highwayman’s body staked out at a crossroads). Their success drew great acclaim, and for the first time the existence of Visitors was firmly imprinted on the public mind.
In the years that followed, many other hauntings started to come to light, first in London and the south, then slowly spreading across the country. An atmosphere of widespread panic developed. There were riots and demonstrations; churches and mosques did excellent business as people sought to save their souls. Soon both Fittes and Rotwell launched psychical agencies to cope with the demand, leading the way for a host of lesser rivals. Finally the government itself took action, issuing curfews at nightfall, and rolling out production of ghost-lamps in major cities.
None of this actually solved the Problem, of course. The best that could be said was that, as time passed, the country got used to living with the new reality. Adult citizens kept their heads down, made sure their houses were well stocked with iron, and left it to the agencies to contain the supernatural threat. The agencies, in turn, sought the best operatives. And because extreme psychic sensitivity is almost [-p.68] exclusively found in the very young, this meant that whole generations of children like me found themselves becoming part of the front line.” (pp.66-68)

“He tossed the magazine across. It consisted of endless photographs of smartly dressed men and women preening in crowded rooms. ‘You’d think the Problem would make people consider their immortal souls,’ Lockwood said. ‘But for the rich, it’s had the opposite effect. They go out, dress up, spend all night dancing in a sealed hotel somewhere, thrilling with horror at the thought of Visitors lurking outside… That party there was thrown last week by DEPRAC, the Department of Psychical Research and Control. The heads of all the most important agencies were there.'” (p.128) [NB this is when we get our first impression of DEPRAC, and the negative image is later accentuated by the difficulties caused for our heroes by DEPRAC Inspector Barnes.]

“We ducked out across the road, stepping over the open drain, or ‘runnel’, of running water that separated the pavement from the tarmac. The wandering dead were known to dislike moving water; consequently narrow runnels crisscrossed many of the great shopping streets in the West End, allowing people to walk in safety well into the evening. Earlier governments had hoped to extend this system across the city, but it had proved prohibitively expensive. Aside from ghost-lamps, the suburbs fended for themselves.” (p.198)

Examining old editions of the Richmond Examiner, the narrator comments: “I soon found it contained more local fetes, lost cats and best-kept allotment competitions than I could have believed existed in the universe. There was quite a bit about the Problem too, the nature of which was beginning to be discussed. I found early calls for ghost-lamps to be erected (they eventually were) and for graveyards to be bulldozed and salt-sown (they weren’t: it was far too expensive and controversial; instead they were simply ringed with iron).” (p.202)

The adult supervisors are clearly of little to no use in this book. In fact, the narrator’s first supervisor gets five of her friends killed. She refers to another supervisor later in the following terms: “He had four or five [-p.204] medals pinned to the breast of his jacket, and in the pommel of his rapier was a glittering green stone. Not that he could use the sword much these days. I guessed he was about twenty, so his days of active service were behind him. His Talent had mostly shrivelled up and gone. Like my old leader, Jacobs, and all the other useless supervisors choking the industry, all he could do now was boss the kids around.” (pp.203-24)

[On the subject of useless supervisors, NB also p.423]

In their final moments with Fairfax, she shows him as a captain of industry who was murderous behind doors: “I was watching the old man’s face as I spoke; I saw how his eyes drew tight in pleasure, how his mouth curled sensuously into a secretive half-smile. And something about the expression, fleeting as it was, opened a cracked and dirty window for me onto his truest, deepest nature. It was something he generally kept hidden beneath the bluff, bombastic veneer of the captain of industry; it even underlay the dry regret of his long confession.” (p.414)

In the end, however, Fairfax is not exposed to be a murderer and the government agency do a coverup to avoid scandal: “‘I’m just sorry,’ I said after a while, ‘that Barnes made you lie about Fairfax. He should have been publicly revealed for what he was.’
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ Lockwood said, ‘but we’re talking about a very powerful family here, and one of the most important companies in England. If their top man were exposed as a murderer and scoundrel, there’d have been [-p.432] terrible repercussions. And with the Problem worsening daily, that’s not something DEPRAC was prepared to consider.” (pp.431-432) This does all cause Lucy, the narrator to “wonder what else DEPRAC’s concealing” (p.432) – something that may be teased out in a second book?….

Stories and research

There is also another, more minor, theme that interests me – the use of stories and the importance of research in the outcome of events in this world. NB, research: pp. 140-147; 204; 211; 390
stories, eg.: 189, the many newspaper articles, etc.

Ref: (italics in original) Jonathan Stroud (2013) The Screaming Staircase. Doubleday: London

Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times


In his essay, ‘The Night Side of Nature: Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times’, Roderick McGillis makes a couple of statements I totally agree with – and a couple more which are ‘boldly’ thought-provoking, … McGillis writes:

“I do not think the Gothic is inappropriate [for children or adolescents]. However, it does deal with the lurid and the taboo.” (p.227) “Its two great themes, according to Patrick McGrath, are transgression and decay (1997: 154), and we might think of children’s literature as a literature that promotes positive social behaviour and growth, rather than describing transgression and decay. Fragmentation and dissolution characterize the Gothic. This is a genre that seeks to disorient us.
In the Gothic, children may die and innocence may fall, tainted by infection growing from a bad seed. The Gothic is not, at least traditionally, a cheery genre. Human failure is possible in the Gothic. The Gothic world is decidedly not a pleasant place; it is ambiguous at best.” (p.227)

“…the Gothic gave us the post-human before we ever thought of genomes and cloning and other forms of altering the human form. Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Gothic fiction gave us humans as automatons, as composite creatures, vampires, and werewolves. These various forms of ‘othered’ humanity, of post-human being, continue to fascinate. The Gothic hero-villain is, by definition, both attractive and repulsive – a monster even as he exudes charisma. Characters in the Gothic must make hasty choices that turn out, more often than not, to be unwise choices.” (p.228)

“Unwise choices may explain why the Gothic is a genre suited to stories about children and adolescents.” (p.228)

“Why are this form and this sensibility with us so insistently now? My answer is that we live in fearful times and the Gothic reflects fear and maybe even combats this fear in some strange way (see Edmundson 1997; Grunenberg 1997).” (p.229) “…we live in a scary world. …but at certain times things get just a bit scarier: at the end of centuries, in times of war, [-p.230] in times of revolution, in times of rapid change. In such times, the Gothic finds purchase. It expresses fear even as it accepts fear as inevitable.” (pp.229-230)

“The art of the Gothic haunts us in order to elicit not only the scream or the gasp – sounds that signal a closing of reflection in the instant of fear – but also to elicit the shock that prompts desire for change. Like all fantasy, the Gothic is a manifestation of desire, only it demonstrates that our desire for what Lacan designates the ‘real’ may be a desire that leads to disintegration. We need to look carefully at our fantasies; we need to consider carefully the world we want.” (p.230)

Gothic appeals to the young for the same reason it appeals to the less young: it delivers characters who transgress. The Gothic hero is most often a villain who runs roughshod over conventions of piety and civilized restraint. This character has charisma. Gothic hero-villains … display their darkness without reserve; they wear their outlandishness on their sleeves. They invite our gaze while staring unblinkingly back at us. They unsettle us with their returned gaze. They position us to see the world awry. They remind us that freakishness just may be the human norm. Gothic hero-villains are us in our most unrepressed moments. They perform the polymorphous perverse we have necessarily repressed. They either clarify the need for control or satisfy vicariously desire’s reach. Whatever other cultural service they render, Gothic fictions keep reminding us that we are haunted beings, plagued by frightening forces both inside our psyches and in the world out there where we play out our social selves. And our haunted condition need not render us helpless, running into the dark forests of the night or down dark highways. / Adolescents are, perhaps, as intensely haunted or even more haunted than the rest of us. Their bodies as well as their social milieu are in flux, changing as they – both body and social group – morph (or should I say grow? into maturity.” (p.231)

“In the Gothic we are in the territory of teratology, and today’s Gothic just may suggest that we find the real monsters in positions of influence and power. And it may also suggest that we are not helpless in the face of such influence and power. The Gothic presents its characters with choice – the choice between right and wrong.” (p.232)

“…humour is one of the ingredients of a Gothic that typifies young adult and children’s fiction.” (p.233)

McGillis considers Thirsty, by M. T. Anderson (1997) in this essay, writing: “Traditionally, or at least in the Bram Stoker brand of vampire story, the battle between vampire and human is a battle for the human soul, and usually the humans manage to stem the tide of vampires lead by an anti-Christ such as Dracula. In Thirsty, however, things are confused, because the Gothic hero-villain does not side with either the Forces of Light or the Forces of Darkness. He is a lone wolf, so to speak, out for himself. He’s a good capitalist looking to sell his services to the highest bidder. He manages to find gainful employment and to ignore the terrible goings-on in the world: ‘starvation, and fighting in the Middle East, and senators talking about the national debt’ and ‘those other stories [-p.238] about the mobs, the lynchings [of vampires in this storyworld], all over America’ (138). At the end of the book, Chris is left with nothing but his fight to remain connected to humanity.” (pp.237-238)

The protagonist, Chris, is “left at the book’s end crouching behind a door, beseeching a lower case ‘god,’ and moaning, ‘I…am…so…thirsty’ (Anderson 1997: 249). These are the final words of the novel, and they leave us with the vision of desire.” (p.238)

McGillis’s reading of Thirsty leads him to ask: “What is left once we see humans and vampires as equally rapacious?” (p.239)

McGillis also explains: “K. A. Nuzum reads Thirsty as an exercise in ‘mythic’ literature. The struggle is between a mythic time that removes one from the flux of history and places one in a liminal space that is outside history. The novel ends, Nuzum points out, with Chris ‘completely isolated from linear time, from human companionship, from human existence’ (2004: 217). True, Chris is alone, isolated, and fearful as the novel comes to a close; however, I am less certain that this condition of loneliness places Chris outside of linear time. The mythic trappings in this novel …are just that: trappings. They deflect us from seeing Chris’s real problem as a human problem, and seeing the vampires as aspects of humanity. The book performs a demythicizing of monsters.” (p.239)

The trauma this book confronts is the trauma of life without direction, only choices every second for which we have no transcendent guidance. …This vision of a world without end, and without anything but the ongoing working of desire, is not mythic. It is decidedly historic. It is the world we face every day with its mob violence and socially sanctioned killings and predatory activity and senators discussing the national debt. The only difference between humans and vampires is that vampires are perceived by humans to be outside humanity; they are akin to homo sacer, those who are exiled from community; outside the polity and dispensable. Humans can kill vampires with impunity.” (p.240)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Roderick McGillis ‘The Night Side of Nature: Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times’ pp.227-241 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to: Edmundson, M. (1997) Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism and the culture of the gothic. Cambridge, MA: Londond: Harvard University Press.

Grunenberg, C. (Ed.) 1997) Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in late Twentieth-Century Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Patrick McGrath (1997) Transgression and decay. In C Grunenberg (Ed.), Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art (pp.153-158). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Australian Gothic (and its families) – Smith


Anna Smith’s study of how Gary Crew and Sonya Hartnett situate families in their (Australian) Gothic tales is an enjoyable one. Some of her statements which I found appealing include:

“Fear thrives on distorting the familiar: nothing is more terrifying for a child than to find that ghosts, aliens and bad fairies can haunt a real bedroom, a school, a neighbourhood. Making connections between stories and places is thus an integral part of childhood, one could almost say an integral right of growing into one’s culture. That these pathways between imaginative tropes, texts, and places are highly varied, though, is what makes children’s literature so arresting.” (p.131)

“…if the Gothic has any determining feature, it is in its claims to deal with unfinished business: with hauntings, returns, doublings, and with secrets that won’t go away – things  undead, in other words.” (p.133)

Gothic Hospital“…if Gothic Hospital is empty of sick children, it’s simply humming with the baroque fall-out from an oedipal scene. Castration anxiety and fears of a devouring doctor/father figure, and uncanny resemblances between things that are familiar and those weirdly out of place cannot help but affirm the Gothic’s enduring indebtedness to Freudian dysfunctionality. The ambiguity of this latter expression is deliberate. In his early work, Freud never disguised the fact that his interpretation was sired by taking the anomaly and turning it into the narrative of a general, universal condition: a dysfunctional narrative of dysfunctionality, if you will.” (p.136)

It is an accepted convention of the genre that Gothic writers cut figures from the dark imagination of popular, as well as literary culture, which is why the trademark of a Gothic text is the curious, resurrected feel that animates the characters: a trace of that return from the dead (a limp, a stutter, or a coterie of peculiar eccentricities) remains to mark their behaviour with the sign of the made-up.” (p.136)

“It has frequently been said of Gothic tropes that they not only ‘transfer an idea of otherness from the past into the present,’ but because of this action, they inevitably import an anti-historicising context into the contemporary (Sage & Smith 1996: 1).” (p.137)

“Hartnett’s Gothic pays its dues to a different rendition of ‘scary,’ one where the physical and emotional dangers are more real than textual….” (p.134)

“In The Devil Latch, random native objects acquire that menacing resonance traditionally associated with Gothic landscapes. Instead of a pine forest and snow-covered crags, Hartnett offers the glimpse of a nervy bird without tail feathers, oleander leaves that can poison, and Kitten Latch’s antique farm tools perfectly restored.” (p.138)

The Devil latchUnquestionably, the Gothic genre lends itself particularly well to dramatizing narratives of lost and broken families. Contemporary writers for children and teenagers have adopted Gothic chronotopes with the same finesse with which they have appropriated other adult modes of writing. The covert question that drives this paper, however, has little to do with whether we are beginning to see a local [Australian] tradition of children’s writing which could broadly be called Gothic. Rather, it seeks to investigate whether the ‘Gothic’ can stand for anything other than a failed or psychotic family. Do scary narratives, in other words, always have to address – and spring from – scary families?” (p.139)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Anna Smith ’The Scary Tale Looks for a Family: Gary Crew’s Gothic Hospital and Sonya Hartnett’s The Devil Latch’ pp.131-143 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York