There & Back Again: Analysing The Journey in Children’s Fantasy Fiction in regards to the Escapism Debate
So many children’s fantasy fiction stories began as larks, extempore creations for their delight, and were written down and published by chance – Lewis Carroll invented Alice In Wonderland (1865) simply to amuse Alice Liddell while boating one ‘golden afternoon’, while Neil Gaiman originally started writing Coraline (2002) for his daughter Holly because she liked scary stories. So much so, that a dominant trope of this genre is its seeming literary insignificance. Indeed, by resting chiefly on the assumption that children’s fantasy fiction is set in unrealistic secondary worlds which ...view middle of the document...
Neil Gaiman explains,
“once you've escaped, once you come back, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn't have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality” (qtd. in Hunt and Lenz).
This study will therefore attempt to examine this premise: that fantasy worlds help children to escape, not from reality, but from their own limitations. By testing the hypothesis that the journey into a secondary world functions as a liminal ‘space’ and the protagonist as a proxy for the reader, it will be possible to argue how this may allow children to articulate real-world psychological uncertainties and challenges, which resemble what “Freud described as “fulfilments of forbidden wishes” and Jung as outlines of hidden potentials” (Heuscher, qtd. in Butcher). It may also allow them to demonstrate agency and embrace internal change and growth. By also examining the return to reality at the closure, the study can ascertain whether the journey has contributed to character growth, thereby determining whether fantasy as a genre is just as relevant to reality as its realistic counterpart. Therefore, to gain a breadth of material to work from, books published between 1860 and 2006 were chosen for this study, specifically selected from the subgenre of portal-world fantasy fiction (in which the escapism dispute is literally illustrated with child protagonists travelling between their reality and fantasy ) and feature a mix of female and male child protagonists: Alice In Wonderland (1865) and Through The Looking Glass (1865) by Lewis Carroll, Where the Wild Things Are (1963) by Maurice Sendak, Haroun And The Sea Of Stories(1990) by Salman Rushdie, Coraline (2002) by Neil Gaiman and The Looking Glass Wars(2006) by Frank Beddor.
The critical approach for this study is determined by its aim: namely an analytical and hermeneutical one , which will be centred on the core structure present in all the books: the fantastical journey and their return home. To analyse the journey, this study will draw on Christopher Vogler’s ‘The Inner Journey’ narrative-structure theory. This theory adapts Joseph Campbell’s famous Monomyth or ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and incorporates the analytical psychology of Carl Jung, to detail the stages of the protagonist’s journey as an external extension of an internal, psychological quest. This is a particularly useful framework to use as Vogler fleshes out Campbell’s template keeping in mind a traditional symbolic consciousness. Then, in order to evaluate whether the fantastical journey has contributed to any change or development in the protagonist (physical, moral or emotional), Jon C. Stott and Christine Doyle Francis’s article ‘“Home” and “Not Home” in children's stories: Getting there—and being worth it’ will be used. That is, to evaluate the character’s return back to reality from their journey, and by association, the merit of the genre itself.