Dreamers and Critical Thinkers: Landscape as Narrative Strategy in Contemporary Contiguous Fantasies for Children

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Cyr, Heather
Children's literature , Fantasy , Landscape , Charlie Fletcher , Stoneheart , Rick Riordan , Philip Pullman , R.L. LaFevers , Egyptomania , Space and Place in Children's Literature , The Kane Chronicles , His Dark Materials , Theodosia , Contiguous Fantasy , Agency in Children's Literature
This dissertation focuses on a number of contemporary contiguous fantasies for children, books in which the fantastic is set in the real world of consensus reality. It explores how these texts deploy landscape and argues these contemporary novels use landscape as a means to subvert earlier conceptions of how children’s fantasy and children themselves interact with conceptions of place. Since children are often uncritically associated with the past and the primitive, this dissertation focuses on texts that subvert this paradigm by questioning what spaces children belong in, what places are appropriate for the uses of fantasy, and how past children’s fantasies have embraced nostalgia through their pastoral, rural, and pseudo-medieval landscapes. In the first chapter, I examine Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles and argue that Riordan’s text, by focusing on ancient Egyptian forms and structures within the North American landscape, privileges American spaces and places in a genre that has long been associated with European and British landscapes. My second chapter focuses on Charlie Fletcher’s Stoneheart trilogy, in particular its urban London setting, which takes the child out of the gardens and pastoral spaces of traditional British children’s literature and places the child protagonist within urban “Un-London” where the statues of the city are animate characters. Here, among all of London’s statuary, Fletcher’s text privileges statues that represent unexpected layers of that city’s deep palimpsest. My final chapter examines several texts including R.L. LaFevers’ Theodosia Throckmorton series and Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife to focus on children in the space of the museum, a space traditionally represented in children’s literature as a realm of adult authority. Rather than accepting the curation of the museum as static and unyielding, these texts offer examples of critical child consumers whose arcane and material knowledge of the artifacts questions the historical narrative that they represent. Through these readings, I argue that landscape (especially for children) is constructed just as childhood is constructed and each of these texts enacts a kind of curation that steps out of monolithic or uncritical nostalgic readings of time and place, interrogating both the place of the child in space and the way the past is presented to children.
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