Postmodern Positionings: Alternate Worlds and Adolescent Choices

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In „Out of a Book‟, an essay from her Collected Impressions, novelist Elizabeth Bowen (1950:267) recalls her childhood reading and comments: „I feel certain that if I could read my way back, analytically, through the books of my childhood, the clues to everything could be found. The child lives in the book; but just as much the book lives in the child.‟ Looking back on their own early reading experiences, most passionate readers are likely to experience an instinctive sympathy with Bowen‟s views. Children‟s literature critic Maria Tatar (2009:5), for instance, speaks of the books she loved as a child as both „talismanic and Talmudic‟ and comments that „in my daughter‟s room is a shelf holding seven tattered paperbacks, each one – as we discovered one day while contemplating the set – representing an important part of her identity‟. Similarly, in his moving memoir, The Child that Books Built, Francis Spufford (2002:21-22) comments perceptively on the formative nature of his childhood reading by saying: What follows is more about books than it is about me, but nonetheless it is my inward autobiography, for the words we take into ourselves help to shape us. They help form the questions we think are worth asking; they shift around the boundaries of the sayable inside us, and the related borders of what‟s acceptable; their potent images, calling on more in us than the responses we will ourselves to have, dart new bridges into being between our conscious and unconscious minds, between what we know we know, and the knowledge we cannot examine by thinking. They build and stretch and build again the chambers of our imagination.
To a certain extent, this thesis too is in sympathy with these writers‟ elegantly phrased assertions in that I hope to argue that reading selected works of postmodern fantasy may provide adolescent or young adult readers1 with a flexible yet safe narrative space in which to confront the crises attendant on coming of age and thus initiate the process of shaping adult identity so that such books may become, in Spufford‟s (2002:9) words, „part of the history of [the adult‟s] self-understanding‟. Nevertheless, looked at from a contemporary critical perspective, it is also quite clear that such statements need to be read with a degree of caution since confident assertions about the links between reading and identity formation often rest on decidedly problematic assumptions.
In short, any self-aware critic reading the extracts with which this chapter begins will find himself or herself having to engage seriously with a number of questions, all of which tend to complicate or even undermine any individual‟s personal recognition of the link between reading and living and thus, potentially, the central argument of my thesis. These questions can be summarised as follows: who is the child or young adult of whom the adult speaks and to what extent can that adult presume to speak for young people; what distinguishes a young adult novel from an adult one and what constitutes a „good‟ young adult book; and in what sense can the young possibly be said to live in books or books in them? The rest of this chapter will be concerned with attempts to answer these questions in ways that allow for both a sceptical engagement with and a constructive reappraisal of the personal affirmations with which this chapter begins.

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Contents :

  • Declaration
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abstract
  • Introduction: The Child and the Book
  • Chapter One: Postmodern Positionings: Alternate Worlds and Adolescent Choices
  • Chapter Two: Engendered Magic: Reclaiming the Witch
  • Chapter Three: Unsettling Encounters: Re-visioning Colonised
  • Minds
  • Chapter Four: The Once and Future Story: Rewriting
  • Romance
  • Conclusion: „Inside It Was Another World‟
  • Works Cited

Memes, magic and the making of meaning in re-visioning fantasy for young adults

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