THESIS – THE WRITING OF ‘MADAM PELE: A Contemporary Fantasy Novel’


What led me to write my novel ‘Madam Pele’, as a contemporary Mythical Fantasy novel – including discussions of both literary theory and influential authors of several genres.

For those of you who wish to view the complete Thesis, the following Link takes you directly to my Thesis page within the Edith Cowan University Repository.   Click on Madam Pele: novel and essay to open, then scroll and read the complete Thesis.

http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/37

Below is a Synopsis laying out the format of the Thesis.

ABSTRACT

In this essay I cover contemporary theoretical considerations, such as Modernism, Postmodernism and Fantasy, and the influences of various authors’ writing techniques, descriptive language and narrative-plot genres, that led me to want to write my novel Madam Pele as a contemporary mythical fantasy.

Naturally, my personal experiences form the foundation of the novel, especially those in Hawaii which contribute to its scope, but writing style is of equal importance.  In order to demonstrate what has led me to this stage of style development and position of perceptions, my early reading history and an analysis of the influential authors is a necessity.

‘Travelogue’ novels.

My definition of a ‘travelogue’ novel is one that describes the details of a journey to another country or location, as the vehicle for the story which is often secondary to those details.  I discuss two influential ‘travelogue’ novels: A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble, and Faraway by J B Priestley.

Crime novel plotting.

Having, over the years, accumulated an extensive library in Crime/Mystery fiction, with their often complex logical plots, I have learned not only to apply my analytical mind, by focussing on minutiae, but have gained a firm grounding in plot construction.

Analysis of influential authors.

Moving through the works of various authors I rejected many and was drawn closely to others.  I found that the novels that remained embedded in my mind contained the elements of satisfying plots, and mystery that was not always criminal, as I was drawn towards fantasy fiction.

Modern and Postmodern characteristics.

I discuss what characteristics constitute Modernism and Postmodernism, listing them as gleaned from my studies of Literary Theory, and reinforcing it with quotes from  Lewis and Moss.

Descriptive Language.

I define some literary terms, such as metaphor, simile, metonymy and synecdoche, and the specified or unspecified tenor of these language tropes which were often used figuratively.  They could all evoke an image that was instantly recognized, including the connotations of the chosen likenesses, and the baggage of intertextuality, the resultant image suggested – imagery contributing to the clarity of the wit, humour and landscape of the authors’ texts.

A particular knack with words.

Under this heading I deal with those authors whose works demonstrate this particular language use, plus aspects of literary theory that have been influential to my writing style.

Dylan Thomas:  I discuss Dylan Thomas’s use of evocative language in his prose, in some detail, referring to works such as Quite Early One Morning, HolidayMemory, and Under Milk Wood.  I love his prose.  It is easy, enjoyable, and engaging to read, written to be read aloud so that the music of the language can be heard.

P G Wodehouse:  While his plots and characters provide some comic nature to his stories, I believe the main contribution comes from his use of language, his surprising descriptive imagery, his use of metaphors and similes.  They engender chuckles that swell to gales of laughter.  I discuss this aspect of his writing, referring to Galahad at Blandings to illustrate my views.

Tim Winton:  Like P G Wodehouse, Tim Winton is a crafter of words, with the gift of creating evocative imagery.   I discuss his novel Lockie Leonard, HumanTorpedo, with its colloquial Australian language; followed by a detailed analysis of his novel The Riders and the Postmodern aspects of its text, including fantasy elements.

William Golding:  In his novel, Pincher Martin, Golding depicts the plight of a man lost at sea during the war, struggling to survive the elements while stranded on an isolated rock.  This novel demonstrates a Bakhtinian notion of ‘self’, as the protagonist strives to retain his identity without a reflected image or his view of himself as seen by others.

Fantasy.

            After defining Fantasy, Imagery and the Imagination, arguing for the legitimacy of fantasy as a general product of the imagination in line with Coleridge, Tolkien, and Le Guin’s opinions, I indicate the different types of Fantasy – High Fantasy, Sci-Fi Fantasy, and Realistic Fantasy – pointing out that my novel, Madam Pele, falls between High Fantasy and Realistic Fantasy, containing as it does authentic mythology presented within a real setting.

Analysis of influential authors.

High Fantasy.

I discuss J R R Tolkien’s views expressed in his essay On Fairy Stories, using an extract from my Honours thesis most of which I have included as an Appendix.

Sci-Fi Fantasy.

Briefly I discuss the works of Julian May, and glanced at “the increasingly inaccurately named Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy” byDouglas Adams.

Realistic Fantasy.

            The authors under this heading constitute my main focus as they deal with the area that I have chosen for my own novel.  Each has its own area of fantasy that is relevant to my work as indicated.

William Golding:  one step outside reality in The Inheritors.

Patricia Wrightson:  re her rock character in The Nargun and the stars.

Daphne Du Maurier: her temporal slippage between medieval and current Cornwall in The House on the Strand.

Susan Cooper: re her detailed use of medieval myths and symbols to authenticate her Dark is Rising series

J K Rowling: re the compounding complexities of her wizard world narratives.

Contemporary Fantasy.

This refers to other authors using postmodern format for fantasy, who opened doors for me to future writing possibilities.

Madam Pele : the novel.

My goal was to recreate an authentic myth into a contemporary literary myth including sufficient elements of the realistic novel to provide access to modern readers.  This section illustrates the methods that I used to achieve this.

Madam Pele – outline.

This gives a brief synopsis of my narrative, covering both the Hawaiian holiday taken by Di and Paul, but also their present predicament in Perth and their interaction with Madam Pele.

The importance of Madam Pele.

I discuss the importance of the character of Madam Pele to my narrative, through which her own story interweaves.

Postmodern characteristics.

I relist these characteristics and discuss their relevance within my narrative.

Geometric plotline.

This explains my geometric way of looking at the plotline, and includes a diagram.

Devices.

After defining the term, devices, I then discuss each device individually, showing how and why I have used it as a writing technique, under the subheadings: Dialogue; Non-essential descriptions; Patterns; Voices; Active Verbs; Free Verse; Inserts; ‘Travelogue’ nature.

 

Conclusion.

I mention that I hope my demonstration was successful regarding my reasons for writing my novel, Madam Pele, as a contemporary mythical fantasy, and that it indeed stands up as such – the implausable becoming reality with the Pele myth incorporated into the contemporary world.

THESIS – THE HYBRID WORLD OF TOLKIEN’S FICTION


My BA Honours thesis – The hybrid world of J R R Tolkien’s fiction: a study of The Lord of the Rings and other texts in the light of Mikhail Bakhtin’s essay ‘Epic and Novel’. – is published under this Category.

Here is a Link to the Thesis page, which can also be found under THESES in the drop-down Menu.

https://judsjottings.wordpress.com/theses/the-hybrid-world-of-tolkiens-fiction/

I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to comment.

Jud House  30/12/2012

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FAIRY STORIES – THE HAPPY ENDING


Angela Carter claimed that heroic optimism was an important element in fairy stories, the principle which sustained the idea of a happy ending whatever the odds.  The ability of the hero/heroine (protagonist) to remain hopeful while enduring their respective trials and torments impels the reader to continue to hope that the inevitable resolution will be a happy one.  In most fairy-tales the happy ending is an essential consequence of the journey, actual and physical, of the protagonist through the tale.  Natalie Babbitt defined ‘The Happy Ending’ as:

something which goes much deeper [than a simple ‘happily ever after’], something which turns a story ultimately toward hope rather than resignation…” (Babbitt in Haviland, (1973) p. 158)

As a result of this hope, Babbitt said that

Wilbur can escape an early death, Cinderella can be Queen, Bilbo can outwit the dragon, and the ugly duckling can become a swan.  Not without pain, not without violence, not without grief; but in the end, somehow, everything will always by all right.” (Ibid, p. 159)

Apart from a few exceptional tales, the storyteller’s audience (usually young girls), and the text’s readers, are able to anticipate, while enduring the hardships as the protagonist goes through them, the resolution of these difficulties in a positive and happy way – in other words a consolation, for all participants, for the rigours thus endured.  Tolkien refers to:

[this] consolation of fairy stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe [eucatastrophe], the sudden joyous ‘turn’ … this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’ or fugitive’.  In its fairy-tale – or otherworld-setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.  It does not deny the existence of the dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of joy, joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. (Tolkien, (1964) p. 60; (1992) p. 175)

The notion that “this joy is not essentially ‘escapist’ or ‘fugitive’ “ leads us back to his idea that the world of ‘faerie’ is ‘otherworld’, or of a secondary world of the author’s devising.  The fact that the reader suspends belief in the real world to enter this secondary world does not mean that he/she is running away from the former.  After all, upon reaching the conclusion (hopeful happy ending) of the ‘otherworld’ story, the real world must be re-entered.  The fact that the reader does so, armed with hope and joy, is a bonus, an advantage for him/her to help deal with the problems encountered there.  As Tolkien was a highly religious man, he saw this joy linked to the joy of holy miracles, of faith and belief in the after-life, and the joy he believed would be the reward when finally united with God in Heaven – thus his use of the word ‘evangelium’.

Tolkien added:

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give the child or man that hears it, when the ‘turn’ comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality. (Tolkien, (1992) p. 175 – 176)

I have personally experienced this ‘turn’ when reading Tolkien’s own works – a little for THE HOBBIT but many times, very strongly for THE LORD OF THE RINGS.  It is a tangible ‘turn’, which no doubt young readers of fairy-tales would experience.  My belief that Tolkien is the ultimate authority on fairy-stories was backed up by my research – most reference material I studied quoted the above statement by Tolkien, in part or in full, to illustrate and support their particular theories.

In my selected fairy tales: DONKEY-SKIN (H/O), THE SIX SWANS (H/O), and PRINCE AMILEC (Zipes, pp 48 – 54), there was a point in each story when a joyous ‘turn’ of events occurred – when the story moved from trials and sorrow to happiness and reward for the protagonists.

In DONKEY SKIN, by Perrault, the princess first had to go through the sorrow of leaving her home to escape the incestuous attentions of her father; the trials of  wearing the donkey-skin and toiling as a scullion in the kitchen of a farmhouse; and the derision and harassment from the servants; before being eligible for the joy and glory of winning her prince.  Of course she required the assistance of her fairy godmother to achieve her escape from home, and the acquisition, not only of the three beautiful gowns (the colour of the sky, the moon, and the sun), but also of the donkey-skin, with which she disguised herself.

Throughout her trials Donkey-Skin did not give up hope of deliverance from her menial situation.  This was evident by her ritual cleansing and dressing in her gowns on Sundays, and when having seen the prince from a distance

[she] admired him with a tender look.  Thanks to her courage, she realized that she still had the heart of a princess beneath her dirt and rags. ( Ibid, p. 71)

This equates with heroic oprimism – appearing to propel the tale towards its happy ending.

I believe that there were several places in the text where the joyous ‘turn’ of events occurred.  The first was when the prince saw Donkey-Skin, dressed in all her finery, through the key-hole.

[T]he prince kept peeking at her, scarcely breathing because he was filled with such pleasure. …. Three times he was on the verge of entering her room because of the ardor that over-whelmed him, but three times he refrained out of respect for the seemingly divine creature he was beholding. (Zipes, (1989) p. 71)

While this was a joyous event for the prince, the reader knows that it was also a turning point in the tale for Donkey-Skin.  The next joyous event occurred when Donkey-Skin put the ring on her finger, dressed in her finest gown, and entered the court.  Once again the tale focussed on her beautiful gown, her physical beauty and her majestic bearing, and on the reactions of the courtisans, King, Queen and prince rather than on the princess’s happiness (which the reader is left to assume).  Finally, at the wedding, the bride’s father,

who had purified the criminal and odious fires that had ignited his spirit in the past, [and] the flame that was left in his soul had been transformed into devoted paternal love, (Ibid, p. 74)

also had a joyous moment when reunited with his daughter.  “Weeping with joy, he embraced her tenderly.” (Ibid, p. 74)  Once again everyone shared his moment, even the fairy godmother, who “told the entire story … [which] culminated in Donkey-Skin’s glory.” (Ibid, p. 74)  However, I believe that Perrault deflated the joy of the happy ending by his over-abundance of moralizing.

In THE SIX SWANS, by the Grimm brothers, the sister of the swan-brothers undertook a difficult task in order to free them from their step-mother’s spell.  Her brothers told her that, to achieve this:

For six years you may neither speak nor laugh, and in that time you must sew together six little shirts of starwort for us.  If one single word falls from your lips, all your work will be lost. (Grimm, (1975) p. 234)

It was considered a trial indeed for a female (that loquacious creature) not to speak or laugh.  It also meant that Donkey-Skin had no means of either explaining her identity to the King, or defending herself against the false accusations of her mother-in-law.  She suffered sorrow at the separation from her father and her brothers, and grief at the loss of her babies.  Our hope is kept alive by the King’s defence of his wife:

She is too pious and good to do anything of that kind; if she were not dumb, and could defend herself, her innocence would come to light. (Ibid, p. 236)

But it is dashed again when even he had to deliver her to justice, after the disappearance of the third baby.

In this tale we are given concrete evidence of her joy, the ‘turn’ occurring as she stood at the stake with the shirts over her arm.

S]he looked around and six swans came flying through the air towards her.  Then she saw that her deliverance was near, and her heart leapt with joy.” (Ibid, p. 236)

The reader moves with her from this point onwards as she freed her brothers, who embraced her, then finally was able ot speak for herself.  Her children were returned to her, the wicked mother-in-law was punished, and the happy ending was completed with the final sentence:

[T]he King and Queen with her six brothers lived many years in happiness and peace.” (Ibid, p. 237)

In  PRINCE AMILEC by Tanith Lee, it was the hero, Amilec, who had to undertake difficult tasks in order to win his chosen princess.  From the outset the character of this princess is exposed to the reader, but not to Amilec, who fell in love with her portrait.  He was blind to her rudeness, to the page’s warning that she was frightful and that he should go home, and was determined to attempt the tasks no matter how impossible they seemed.  However, upon succeeding to fulfill them, with the aid of a pretty witch and her bat, Basil, encountered not the princess’s love and gratitude, but a royal tantrum.

The reader has recognized almost immediately that the witch is far more suitable a bride for Amilec, and must wait in frustration until the ‘turn’ occurs, when he will realize this for himself.  Hope is raised when the princess demanded a wedding dress:

By this time Amilec was getting a bit fed up with her tantrums, but he thought that, of all her demands, this was the most reasonable.  ( Zipes, (1986) p. 53)

When the witch delivered the dress, wearing it to display its beauty, he was stunned – ‘the scales fell from his eyes’.  In front of the court he declared:

“How can I have been so blind!  You are the most beautiful girl I have ever met.  You are also the kindest.  May I humbly ask you to be my wife?  I promise to look after Basil, and I’ll live in the cave, if it will make things easier.”  (Ibid, p. 54)

To say that the hero was optomistic in this tale would be untrue.  However, he was determined, in the face of seemingly impossible odds, to persist till the end.  Having formed an alliance with the witch, who completed his task for him, he was able to face each subsequent task more hopefully, looking after Basil and collecting seaweed while she did so.  Thus, the hope of the happy ending was sustained throughout the tale.

The joy of the happy ending is not as remote from the reader in this tale, due to the involvement of that reader throughout the tale.  Not only did Amilec and the witch live happily ever after, but the princess was happily allowed to travel, leading the story to begin its cycle once again.  The reader knows that she also will suceed, if the tale follows it pattern truly.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the hope held by the protagonist of the tale, prepares the way for the happy ending, and is an essential component of the fairy tale, whether the trials be insignificant or enormous.  Tales that have no joyous ‘turn’, no happy ending, are unsatisfying, providing no consolation for the reader.  As Tolkien said, in his ‘Epilogue’ to ON FAIRY-STORIES:

The peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy [fairy-stories] can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.  It is not only a ‘consolation’ for the sorrow of this world, but  a satisfaction, an answer to [that truth].” (Tolkien, (1992) p. 178)

(C) Jud House  28/08/2005

TRADITIONAL LITERATURE: BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Babbitt, N. (1970)  “Happy Endings?  Of Course, and Also Joy.’  in Haviland, V. Editor 1973)  CHILDREN  AND LITERATURE  Views and Reviews.  London:  The Bodley Head Ltd.

Buchan, J. (1931)  ‘The Novel and the Fairy Tale’.  in Haviland, V. Editor (1973)CHILDREN AND LITERATURE  Views and Reviews.  London:  The Bodley Head Ltd.

Butler, F. Editor. (1975)  CHILDREN’S LITERATURE VOL 4.  Philadelphia:  Temple  University Press.

Gilbert, R. (1990)  ‘Endings’  in  MEANJIN  Vol. 49 (1990)

Haviland, V.  Editor. (1973)   ‘Folk Literature and Fantasy’  in  CHILDREN AND LITERATURE  Views and Reviews.  London:  The Bodley Head Ltd.

Le Guin, Ursula. (19   )  ‘This Fear of Dragons’  in  THE THORNY PARADISE: Writers on Writing for Children.  Blishen, E. Editor.  Harmondsworth, UK: Kestrel Books

Lewis, C.S.  (1952)  ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children.’  in  BOURNEMOUTH CONFERENCE PAPERS AND DISCUSSION.  Library Association Proceedings.

Liberman, Anatoly. (1985)  ‘Between Myth and the Wondertale.’  in  MYTH IN LITERA-TURE. Kodjak, A., Pomorska, K., Rudy,S. Editors.  Columbia, Ohio: Slavica Publishers Inc.

Kegan, Paul  Editor.  (1975)  ‘The Six Swans.’  from  THE COMPLETE GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES.  London:  Routledge. (H/O)

Perrault, Charles. ‘Donkey-Skin.’  from Zipes, J. Editor (1989) BEAUTIES, BEASTS AND ENCHANTMENT.  Meridian:  Penguin.

Philip, Neil. (1989)  THE CINDERELLA STORY; The Origins and Variations of the Story known as Cinderella.   Penguin Books Ltd.

Shavit, Z. (1986)  ‘The Notion of Childhood and Texts for the Child.’  in  POETICS OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE.  Athens & London: University of Georgia Press.

Tolkien, J.R.R.  (1964)  ON FAIRY-STORIES.  in  POEMS AND STORIES.  Williamson  F.R. & Tolkien C.R. Editors.  London:  Harper Collins Publishers (1992)

Yolen, Jane. Editor. (1986)  FAVOURITE FOLKTALES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.  Pantheon.

Zipes, Jack. Editor. (1993)  DON’T BET ON THE PRINCE; Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England.  U.K.: Scolar Press

Zipes, Jack. (1983)  FAIRY TALES AND THE ART OF SUBVERSION.  London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.

Zipes, Jack.  (19  )  ‘On the Use and Abuse of Folk and Fairy Tales with Children.’  in BREAKING THE MAGIC SPELL: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales.  H/O London: Heinemann.

Zipes, Jack. (1986)  ‘Fairy Tale as Myth  Myth as Fairy Tale.’  in  THE BROTHERS GRIMM:  FROM ENCHANTED FORESTS TO THE MODERN WORLD.  New York  & London: Routledge.

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SETTINGS – REALITY SURREALITY AND UNREALITY


According to Abrahms A Glossary of Literary Terms the: “overall setting of a narrative … work is the general locale, historical time, and social circumstances in which its action occurs; [while] the setting of a single episode … within a work is the particular physical location in which it takes place.” (Abrahms, 1993, p 192) (my italics)

The fantasy texts, The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson, and The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline Macdonald are both set in our world – Wrightson’s book in Australia, Macdonald’s in New Zealand.  As a literature:

Fantasy … reflects reality through unreality, life through illusion …. makes visible the invisible and illuminates the darkness.  It brings the wished for and the imagined into the rational world….  [and] arises from the human desire to penetrate the unknown and to venture beyond the here and now. (Saxby, 1997, pp. 231-2)  

Established in the opening chapter/segments, the overall settings set up a familiar, yet uneasy, ‘comfort zone’ for the reader – uneasy due to the fantasy element each contained.  To the reader, all was not right with the narratorial worlds, which both reflected reality through unreality.

In Wrightson’s world, making visible the invisible, there existed an ancient earth-element – the Nargun, a stone that consumed carnivorously when the chance arose.  Moving “on stumpy limbs” (Wrightson, 1975, p. 11) it made its way, over an eighty year period, from Victoria to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.  Wrightson described the gorges, mountain and swamp of Wongadilla, where the Nargun came to rest, and further fantasy elements – “a chuckle” in the swamp (the Potkoorok), and “ancient tricksters” (the Turongs) that threw sticks from the trees. (ibid, p 14)  On the final page of the opening chapter, the human characters were introduced, reassuring the reader by their presence in this familiar yet eerie landscape. They were Charlie and Edie Waters, the owners of Wongadilla sheep run, and “Simon Brent, the sullen boy who was a stranger [like the Nargun]”. (ibid, p 15)

Macdonald informed the reader in the first two sentences that her world was not as it should be: “They told me there was nothing left outside.  They said the world was empty, finished.” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 1)  As the narrative moved from Hector to Diana, chapter by chapter, Macdonald introduced the environments of both protagonists, and the reader penetrates the unknown, venturing beyond the here and now.  Facing similar worries – of infection from “the illness” (ibid, p. 2, 9) and of survival in a polluted world – their communities had sought different solutions.  Hector’s community had retreated underground away from the contaminants, and were not permitted to return to the surface world. Residing beside an unusual possibly-poisoned wilderness lake, Diana, her mother, Beth, and her injured disabled father, Evan, with “his poor twisted leg” (ibid, p. 19), survived by growing vegetables.  Free, but with no supporting community, they were all lonely.

Caused by their differing environments, Hector and Diana’s contrasting physiques were established by their reactions to and descriptions of each other.  To Hector, Diana was “like a super-being, her physical self developed in the wilds …. [with b]lack hair… brown jawline …. angry red and brown face …[and] white teeth. (ibid, p 9, 8, 18)  For Diana, Hector’s appearance and behaviour led her to ask: “[w]hy can’t he bear the light?  Why is his skin so pale and spongy-looking?  Why does he speak so strangely …?  Why has he fallen apart physically after a little three-hour walk?” (ibid, p. 35)

Both authors continued to reveal their social settings and landscapes as their narratives unfolded – Macdonald by a slow unravelling of details, Wrightson by vivid consolidation.  Using many details of rural life: of the farmhouse, the swamp, the mountain, and the tree-felling, Wrightson’s physical setting took shape.  During Simon’s  car journey to the farm, he saw:

[t]all hills and ridges advanced and retreated, turned about and changed places, in a great slow Morris dance. High rocks and shadowy hollows hung with blue; green humps and ridges; slopes the colour of hay or of moonlight; the frown of forests. (Wrightson, 1975, p. 18)

Examples of the continual establishment of Macdonald’s world throughout her narrative are:- descriptions of the bird-life of the lake read by Simon in the journal at the hide (Macdonald, 1995, p. 45);  the stories told to him about the peculiar nature of the lake by Diana, Beth, and Evan (ibid, pp 38-9, 53-5, 74-7);  the letter concerning the plight/social circumstance of the cave-dwellers that Diana found and read (ibid, pp 152-4);  and the avenging nature of the lake which drowned the Counsellor thus freeing them (ibid, p.181).

Interesting was the use of caves by both Wrightson and Macdonald as important settings within their narratives. To shield the inhabitants of Wongadilla, including the Turongs and Potkoorok, from further harm, Wrightson used a cave to entrap the Nargun.  And as the Nargun was of their ‘dreaming’, the Nyols (cave spirits) were placated for their cave’s closure – they alone could tend to his needs.  Macdonald’s cave was also used as a means of entrapment, and as a shield – between the inside and the outside world.

Vital to both narratives is the setting of water – Wrightson’s clean swamp and underground stream, and Macdonald’s mysterious lake and underground flood. The Potkoorok used his swamp to hide the grader taken by the Turongs, and both he and Simon used it as a means of access to the cave for the climax of the plot. While Diana and Hector used the lake to water their vegetable garden, the Counsellor tapped into it to expel pollutants from the cave.  Because the lake had mystical powers of its own – it had previously caused a couple of developers to drown – it permitted the protagonists’ innocuous activity.  But it rose up against the pollution attempt, flushing the cave system to drown the source of evil – the Counsellor.

While the tunnels could be read psychoanalytically as birth canals from the womb-like caves, as facilitators for access and escape, they differ in both narratives.  In Wrightson’s book, the tunnels to the Nyols’ cave, varied in length – the longer “twisted and curved, rose and fell, with winding ways leading up and down.  The floor was heaved into humps and hills of stone.” (Wrightson, 1975  , p 111)  The shorter tunnel, was “a wide passage, low roofed and sloping upward steeply …. [that] seemed to twist through solid rock”. (ibid, p. 116)  It led past the bulldozer, hidden by the Nyols, to the entrance on the side of the mountain. Assisted by the Nyols or alone, Simon found negotiating the tunnels was relatively straightforward.

In Macdonald’s book, the tunnels were a maze, “twisting upwards in a jagged spiral and branching off in other directions at every turn.” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 133) For two of the captured community, fleeing with a message to the outside world, it proved too difficult – becoming lost, they died.  Thus Macdonald used the maze as a barrier between the cave-dwellers and the outside world of probable pollution and possible freedom.  Only with his Basset hound, Stewart’s guiding sense of smell, could Hector negotiate the maze to reach the surface and return underground. When rescuing Hector from the barricaded tunnel, Diana needed Stewart’s guidance. On a later trip, returning to the surface with antibiotics for her mother, she scratched her initial with a rock on the tunnel walls to mark the way.  She wondered: “why Hector and [she] weren’t intelligent enough to make some sort of marks to show the way we came through the maze…. [like] the children used in the fairy tale.” (ibid, p. 133)

As a setting, the barricaded tunnel, shutting Stewart out in the maze to die, caused Hector to question the life that he lived with the cave community:

We are a people of peace.  We would never kill any living thing except for food or in compassion.  The whole idea of our community is to keep life safe.  But still, that is what happened to Stewart.  This is what I could not understand.” (ibid, p. 31)

It also caused Hector to “follow her blindly through the night without considering the consequences.” (ibid, p 30)  The hide that Diana took him to was a place of isolation – not just from her family or for quarantine, but a place to think, quietly, alone – a place to learn about his new environment.

For Simon, in Wrightson’s book, initially the log by the swamp fulfilled this purpose, until he became aware that he was not alone.  He then took his thinking to the mountain. There, to mark his identity on the farmland, he scratched his full name on two boulders, one of which was the Nargun.  He climbed the mountain to “sort out the things he wanted to think about” (ibid, p.61) but found himself communing with nature instead.

He sat there … feeling the strength of the mountain surging behind him.  He felt the earth rolling on its way through the sky, and rocks and trees clinging to it, and seas and the strands of rivers pressed to it, and flying birds caught in its net of air. (ibid, pp 61-62)

Ultimately, he had to submit to nature, to trust in the protection of the swamp spirit, Potkoorok, and travel underwater through the mountain stream to the cave.

The setting of ‘home’ and ‘food’ were important in both texts.  Wrightson described the physical setting of the house, the peace of the place at night with Edie sitting “moving her rocking chair …  knit[ting] a sweater for Simon … [while] Charlie sat in an old leather chair … [by] the fire … his feet … almost into the ashes … listen[ing] to the news [on the radio]” (Wrightson, 1975, p. 21)  There was good plain food on the table, lunch bags, and constant offers of cups of tea: “Edie supplied bread and butter and cake to stop the ache inside him” (ibid, p.118) when Simon was hungry.  This social setting was used to create a haven for Simon, one that he did not want threatened by the Nargun.  When the time came to deal with the ancient stone, as preparation for their long night ahead, Edie served the meals “all wrong… Lunch was a hot dinner so that Edie needn’t cook later in the day, and afternoon tea included fried eggs in case it was really late before they could eat again.” (ibid, p. 139)

Macdonald used the strained ‘normality’ of Diana’s home and the artificial ‘home environment’ of Hector to highlight the importance of stability and routine no matter what the adversities.  At Diana’s, the nightly routine of winding the three clocks, marking the day off the calendar, radioing the no longer responding other communities, and preparing the vegetarian meal kept their family functioning in their total isolation. (Macdonald, 1995, pp. 3-5)  As a necessity for their survival, the tending of the vegetable garden established that Diana and Beth were physically active, and that their setting was a rural one.  It also established the nature of their restricted diet: “tiny carrots … {mixed] with hot beans  and smother[ed] … with cheese”, with no “meat or bones”, “potatoes with rosemary and tomatoes …. rice with some dried fish” (ibid, pp. 19, 34, 37). Stored in the grain shed were stockpiles of supplies, such as food, clothing, and equipment, which Diana drew on to mend her wingset, clothe Hector, and construct the irrigation pipe system from the lake to the vegetable patch.  By using the library books, rescued by Beth, Diana established an education of her world (ibid, pp 5-7), while her mother used them to relieve the tedium.

Underground, Hector’s community, augmented by many births of which Hector’s was the last, in 2025 comprised a hundred and two individuals.  Their ‘home’ environment was far from a nurturing, safe haven. Although they continued to advance scientifically, they had deteriorated physically, being pale and weak from lack of sunlight and exercise. Speaking in whispers, they lived in a gloomy atmosphere that was gradually, ironically, becoming toxic from “waste products from the generating system.” (ibid, p132) They too had routine, “[w]ork, food, rest, study, in a perfectly regular cycle” (ibid, p129) vital for the retaining of sanity in their supposedly doomed existence.  Their food was grown hydroponically, their families split up, procreation organised, and education controlled rigidly (revealed in the letter, p 152-3).  Mundane physical tasks were taken care of by caretakers who cleaned their rooms and provided clean tunics daily.

The animals in both texts were also important in the establishment of social setting.  On the farm there were obviously farm animals: sheep, dogs, horses, a milk-cow.  Wrightson portrayed the importance of these to the family – the loss of one sheep, a victim of the Nargun, was not just horrifying by its grizzly nature, but had implications of loss of income if the sheep were not immediately moved.  Obviously proud of his working dogs, Trig, Tess and Nipper, Charlie told Simon: “there’s nothing the old boy [Trig] can’t do, he’s a wonder. – Go out, Trig, you blockheaded old dingo! …. [H]e’ll hold them all night. – Stay, Trig, you bludging old hound!  You’re getting as silly as a wet hen.” (Wrightson, 1975, pp 72-3).  Once the Nargun is discovered, the horses are kept away from the mountain, the tractor taking their place as mode of transport, and the animals shut in their sheds at night for protection.

As companions to the lonely teenagers, Diana’s cat, Matilda, and Hector’s dog, Stewart, add a degree of domesticity to a setting devoid of most animals.  The only other surviving species seem to be the birds of the wilderness lake, endangered species brought there by Evan in an attempt to preserve them.  It was ironic that these birds, so close to extinction should survive when the prolific species appear to have all been destroyed.

By her use of dual first-person narratorial voices, Macdonald was restricted to describing the world only through the eyes of her protagonists, as each learnt more of the other’s world. Also seen through their eyes, the supporting characters were described emotionally and physically from two individuals’ points of view.  As the audience identifies first with Hector then with Diana, their involvement with the text grows ever more intimate.

By Wrightson’s use of omniscient third-person narrative, the overview provided allows the emotional elements of fear, love, hate, courage, demonstrated by the characters, to be experienced vicariously by the reader.  This device allows multiple points-of-view to the action – not least that of the Nargun itself.  His setting, “a gorge, deep and dark and filled with rain-forest, but where there was food and where the earth kept to its old rhythms”, (Wrightson, 1975, p. 11) was of great importance to him.  “In its cold, heavy way it loved the mountain.  It had come to love distance and sky and high rocky places;” (ibid, p. 77)

While both narratorial worlds are in reality our ‘ordinary’ world, by nature of their fantasy each has an extra dimension.  Wrightson’s world is our rural world, with a magical dimension.   “Wongadilla is a pastoral utopia …. [highlighting] the imperfections of the here and now … where Simon meets the spirit world and where his healing takes place.” (Saxby, 1997, p 242)  The setting is a recognisable Australian farm with recognisably Australian characters – Edie, Charlie, Simon and the grader driver.  As already established, their world is enhanced by the indigenous spirits of the Potkoorok, the Nyols, the Turongs and even the Nargun which evokes ambivalent feelings of fear and pity for Simon, Edie and the reader.

Macdonald’s world is our ‘ordinary’ world projected into a possible post-disaster future, after our land has been destroyed by pollution, and erosion – by progress. “Macdonald’s book create[s] dystopia ….a world gone wrong, where there is dysfunction and disharmony …. by taking human exploitation and individual weakness to the limit in our own highly industrialised and technologically exploitative era.” (ibid, pp. 242-3)  However there is the little pocket of wilderness with at its heart the mystical lake, protected and fostered by Diana’s family.  They, the wilderness lake, birds, Diana’s family, and Hector’s cave-community, are the only apparent survivors of the devastation that wiped out the land, the cities, and most of the inhabitants, both animal and human.  The difference between the fictitious world of Macdonald and ours is that our world is still surviving but with signs of pollution build-up that are ominous.

These settings were used by their respective authors to under-line the importance of the ideology embedded in the narratives.  For Wrightson the quiet ‘utopian’ rural setting “characterised by a kind of innocence and by simple, even homely values” (Stephens, 1992, p 128) acted as a foil to the noisy mechanised world of the cities.  There Simon’s parents were killed in a car accident, and from there the bulldozer and grader were brought with their noise and destruction.

The theme of noise and silence are integral to the setting: “And what’s wrong with a bit of noise? thought Simon sullenly” (Wrightsons, 1975, p. 19) while on his journey to the farm. There the farm noises, “dogs … whimper[ing], hens cluck[ing] … magpie’s call … a hard nasal cry [of a sheep], … [were taken by]  the silence [which] … out of them built more silence.” (ibid, p. 19)  This theme abets the conservation message within the text.  Not only is deforestation (by noisy machinery) bad for our environment globally, but locally offends and rouses the spirits of our land to revolt.

Macdonald used noise and silence as indicators of setting.  The silence within the underground community caused its inhabitants to gradually quieten, until they spoke in whispers, and loud noise hurt their ears as bright light hurt their eyes.  In Diana’s story about the lake, noise: “of screaming kids and fighting couples and televisions and rock music and pneumatic drills from council workers doing overtime” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 39) was equated with the crowded life of the cities and towns.  The noise of “the frogs … roaring and the birds in great flocks … shrieking” (ibid, p. 39)   equated with the peace of the lake.  Silence meant solitude, isolation, a thing she and especially her mother, Beth, dreaded.  Using the radio at night, Diana wanted another community to be still out there but Beth had virtually given up hope.  So in Macdonald’s ‘dystopia ‘noise was a good thing, silence repressive.

Wrightson used the rural setting “to evoke [and reveal ] the mythic past not of the European Settler people but of the indigenous Aboriginal people” (Stephens, 1992, p. 126) in the form of carefully researched non-sacred earth spirits.  She wanted to show the Australian reader, who have only had access to European mythical creatures, such as dragons, elves, etc, “that indigenous magic did indeed have powers of conviction and interpretation unmatched by the imported kind.” (Wrightson, 1980, p. 615).  As her spirits are of the trees, the swamps, the mountain, of stone, of nature, it was necessary that Wrightson used their landscape to bring the imagined into the rational world.  They “were part of the earth and this mountain.  People might come and go … but those others …had belonged here always.” (Wrightson, 1975, pp 61-2)  She wanted us to believe that they really exist in our world, as they do for the Aboriginal Australian.  But today’s world of the white Australian is one of mechanical and social progress which leaves little room for fantasy.

Both authors used the environmental warnings of our world to give meaning to their stories.  They used them as the foundation for the overall setting, of social functional and disfunctional circumstance, historical time of here and now and beyond, and general locale, ‘utopian’ and ‘dystopian’, of mountains and lakes, retreats from metropolitan life, in which their protagonists operated.

(C) Jud House  23/10/2012

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abrahms, M.H. (1993) A Glossary of Literary Terms Sixth Edition.  Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Macdonald, C (1995)  The Lake at the End of the World  Ringwood:  Puffin Books / Penguin books Australia Ltd.

Saxby, M. (1997)  ‘Fantasy: Beyond the Rim of Reality’, in Books in the Life of a Child: Bridges to Literature and Learning  (231-247), Melbourne:  MacMillan.

Stephens, J. (1992)  ‘Post-Disaster Fiction: The Problematics of a Genre’, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, Vol. 3(2): 126-130

Wrightson, P (1975) The Nargun and the Stars  Ringwood: Puffin Books / Penguin Books Australia Ltd.

Wrightson, P. (1980)  ‘Ever Since My Accident: Aboriginal Folklore and Australian Fantasy’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 56(6), December: 609-617

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES:

Nargun and the Stars (1975)

Gilderdale, B (1978)  ‘The Novels of Patricia Wrightson’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 9(1): 43-49

Murray, J. (1991) ‘Hurtling into Freedom: Patricia Wrightson’s ‘The Nargun and the Stars’, Papers, Vol. 2(2): 75-86

Norman, L. (1994) ‘Patricia Wrightson: A Dreaming’, Magpies, No. 5, November: 18-20

Wrightson, P. (1974) ‘Hurtling into Freedom’, Reading Time, Vol. 52: 6-7

Wrightson, P. (1986) ‘The Geranium Leaf’, Horn Book Magazine,  Vol. 62(2): 176-185.

Wrightson, P. (1987)  ‘Folklore and Fantasy’,  Orana,  May: 76-83.

The Lake at the End of the World (1990)

Gilderdale, B. (1991) ‘Caroline Macdonald’, in Introducing Twenty-One New Zealand Children’s Writers (94-98), Aukland:  Hodder & Stoughton.

Plato (1987) ‘The Simile of the Cave’, in The Republic, (book Six) (316-325),  London:  Penguin

General

Alexander, L. (1971) ‘High Fantasy and Heroic Romance’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 48(6), December: 577-584.

Bettelheim, B. (1976) ‘Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation’, in The Uses of Enchantment (143-156), New York: A. Knopf.

Hughes, T. (1970) ‘Myth and Education’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol.1, March: 55-70.

Tymn, M., Zahorski, K. & Boyer, R.J. (eds) (1979) ‘On Fantasy’, in Fantasy Literature (3-38), New York: Bowker & Co.

Wrightson, P. (1977) ‘The Nature of Fantasy’, in Robinson, M. (ed.) Readings in Children’s Literature (220-243),  Melbourne: Frankston State College.

* * * * *

FANTASY – THE REAL DIMENSION?


In their novels The Scarecrows and Dangerous Spaces Westall and Mahy wish to persuade us that ‘fantasy’ is a very real dimension of our actual world.  J R R Tolkien defines ‘fantasy’ as that:

which combines with its … use as an equivalent of Imagina-

tion the derived notions of ‘unreality’…, of freedom from the

domination of observed ‘fact’ … with … things that are not

only ‘not actually present’, but which are indeed not to be

found in our primary world at all, or are generally believed

not to be found there. (Tolkien, 1990, p. 156)

To succeed in persuading readers that ‘fantasy’ is a very real dimension of our actual world, authors must convince them to ‘willingly suspend their disbelief’ (a Tolkienism) in the narrative as a contrived text and become involved with it as ‘true’.  The ‘fantasy’ dimension can encompass the supernatural, the surreal, the occult, the extra-terrestrial, in fact anything that is incredible, ‘unexplainable’. As the reality of the inner self, ‘fantasy’, via the imagination, can also be a great instrument of moral good.

Narrative ‘fantasy’ has various forms: High Fantasy – J R R Tolkien’s completely self-contained secondary world, Middle Earth, and its resident creatures; Sci Fi Fantasy – set on alien planets in space:- Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed; set on Earth with alien invasions:- Julian May’s Intervention; and a humorous combination:-    Douglas Adams five part trilogy The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; and Realistic Fantasy – using temporal and spatial alterations in the same ‘real’ location, usually on Earth, incorporating ghosts, psychic phenomena, and dreams: Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the StrandThe Scarecrows and Dangerous Spaces fall into the last category.

In The Scarecrows Robert Westall used a combination of ghosts and intense emotions to create a blend of realism and ‘fantasy’. Simon’s devils that he released “like a fire-breathing dragon” (Westall, 1995, p. 11) in the first chapter, introduced into an apparently realistic story of his seemingly safe ordered life, the ‘fantasy’ element that steadily grew in dimension, intrusion and reality as his struggle with the devils progressed.

Whether the scarecrows at Mill House were the ghosts of the miller, Henshaw, his wife, Josie Cragg, and employee, Ray Starkey, come to life, or the personification, objectification placed outside of himself of Simon’s hate, jealousy, and desire to be rid of his stepfather, and to have his mother to himself again, was left to interpretation. Voluble, easy-going Joe not only rivalled Simon’s cold uptight father, but also inarticulate Simon himself.  Simon felt alone, “how Father must have felt … Father hadn’t really been lonely.  He’d simply been alone.” (ibid , p. 155)

A means of frightening away real predators, the scarecrows were nevertheless phoney; imitations of real people, attired with real, people’s clothes – those of Henshaw, Cragg, and Starkey, who embodied jealousy taken to extreme.  As phoney embodiments of his hate, the scarecrows exorcised Simon’s emotions, which he confronted when he faced them.  “Head straight for what you’re scared of, Simon.  It’ll usually run away, if you do.  If not, you’re no worse off …” (ibid, p. 155)   Doing so, Simon defused his devils.

During the monster game that seemed to get out of hand, the reader was led to believe that the scarecrows/ghosts of Henshaw, Cragg, and Starkey had invaded the house.  Even as: “a deep voice shouted, “I will be maister in my own house!”  A deep voice, like Joe’s.  But not Joe’s [Simon admitted that he] disliked having any strange man in the house near his mother.” (ibid, p. 153)  Immediately, confusion as to the identity of the ‘strange man’ was created.  Was it really the miller in the house, or just Simon’s paranoia about his stepfather, Joe?

Simon, the controller of his devils – the emotions of rage, envy, parental dislike – had to encounter, overcome and learn to live with them.  Westall believed that everyone needs ‘tracks’ based on security to keep the chaos out of their lives.  “The child’s track [was] … represented by a triangle … [of home], school and the neighbourhood gang”. (Westall, 1978, p. 7)  Simon’s old tracks, those of his idolized father (alive and with his mother), the old family car and house, had been obliterated.  He desperately needed to forge new tracks in order to keep out the chaos that manifested itself as his jealousy of Joe, as his violent devils that were almost beyond his control.

Symbolic of these tracks was the path across the turnip field, initially hidden by the crop, then remade by Simon’s family when they went to the mill to rescue the cat and her kittens, and by the media people and vehicles.  “There was a motorway of mashed turnip-pulp where the old path had been… Devastation everywhere, except where the scarecrows stood.  They held their ground defiantly, unscathed.” (Westall, 1995, p. 146)  To Tris they represented “the opposition” (ibid, p. 133), and the path represented “the yellow brick road” (ibid, p. 135) from The Wizard of Oz, a path to follow to “the Wizard’s Castle” (ibid, p. 135), alias the mill.

Relieving the tensions throughout the book, Tris, and later Mr Mercyfull who added necessary background information about the trio from the mill, moved from comic to vital characters for Simon’s understanding of his situation and his subsequent ability to deal with it.  Unaffected by the threat of the scarecrows, and the inherent danger of the mill, Tris represented normality, there to help Simon to defuse his devils.  Thus, as Simon came to terms with his emotions, via his engineered fall of the mill and destruction of the scarecrows, fantasy and realism came together.

In Dangerous Spaces Margaret Mahy used a combination of ghosts and dreams to access an alternate world, an ‘imaginative’, ‘magic’, ‘wonderful’, ‘secret’ space, temporally independent and inhabiting the same site.  Initially there seemed to be clear boundaries between dream and reality, but gradually these blurred, until it was hard to discern whether there was any difference between them.

While Tolkien believed that dreams were not real ‘fantasy’ – not a secondary world – Mahy succeeded in creating ‘fantasy’ by allowing her dream-world, Viridian, based on a combination of the stereoscope cards of different scenes where:  “two flat pictures fused into one deep one….filling out with a space that did not really exist”, (Mahy, 1992, p. 20) to permeate, to intrude into her real world. Viridian was there, the land all around the farm, within its boundaries and within the farmhouse walls.

[Flora] … padded out into the hall …[which] was complete-

ly dark …The familiar hall smell … was gone.  She could

smell earth.  She could smell wetness…. Flora put out her

hand in the darkness and immediately touched something

hard and cold and clammy. (ibid, p.45)

The card-world of Viridian, categorised by Flora as nature, ancient monuments, and war, was like a surrealist landscape through which Anthea, Griff, and finally Flora and Leo travelled.  At first, while alone following the road, taking in the ‘wonderful space’ to which she could escape at night, Anthea enjoyed her exploration. “It was dangerous … but still it was something of her own in a house where there was so little space for her” (ibid, p. 79)  Mahy thoroughly explored the idea of personal space – the need to belong, yet to maintain a space of one’s own, a comfort zone, a place of privacy.  For Anthea this space was first to be found in Viridian.

Joined by Griff, the agenda changed – a sense of urgency came into the journey, which itself turned into a quest for the island, and the space began to become hostile, more restrictive and Griff more demanding.  According to Leo, Anthea was “[i]n a dangerous space.  In dangerous company.” (ibid, p. 75)  Simultaneously, Anthea noticed that her real space was expanding, as life in her new home became more interesting and sympathetic – she shared laughter with Flora; helped to plant a forest; the dog, Zeppelin, had pups; and Flora showed some understanding of her situation.  When Molly hugged her, her need for the ‘secret’ space grew less – Anthea said as they embraced:

‘But I can’t be the best one to you.  Not really best.’

‘Right this moment you are the best one,’ Molly whispered.

‘You’re the best one now because you need to be best.’….

[Then] Anthea found there was plenty of space around

her … not the non-existent space of the stereoscope …

This space was real, and it was all her own.” (ibid, pp. 98 & 99)

The fact that Flora began to move into her cousin, Anthea’s dream world also added credulity to Viridian’s existence.  She did so with the assistance of Leo, the ghost of her grandfather Lionel, but as a young lad.  Like Anthea, whose assistant was the ghost of dead Henry, Griff, Flora could not enter Viridian without an ally, albeit a reluctant one.  The sapling ‘forest’ they planted in a corner of the farm, intruded in dual form – saplings and old tall trees – into Griff’s coliseum landscape created from one of the stereoscope cards.  Only by using the ‘magic’ of “Tiggy tiggy touchwood” and saying aloud the scientific equivalent of abracadabra, “Photosynthesis” while “fixing her eyes on Anthea and laying her hand on the living tree” (ibid, p. 78) was Flora first able to release Anthea from Griff’s clutches.

Via her preferred medium, the family in its many permutations, and the ‘fantasy’ elements, Mahy allowed the dual narratives to merge.  Not only was it a story of an orphaned girl, Anthea, coming to terms with her grief and loss of her parents, and trying to fit into an alien household where there seemed to be no space for her, but also a story of ghosts who refused to move on, one for lack of company, the other from an unwillingness to desert the home he built.  In other words “she is able to combine elements of fantasy with a treatment of family life which recognises the darker side of humanity that it may reveal as well as the comfort it can bestow.” (Gibbons, 1994, p. 11)

As an outsider, unable to accept her new noisy messy family, Anthea retreated from the real world into fantasy, similar to Simon’s withdrawal at his inability to accept his stepfather, Joe, and all he represented socially, authoratively, and as a marital betrayal by his mother of his ‘soldier’ father.  In both novels “much of the tension revolves around family relationships, and the supernatural plays an important part in the resolution of the conflict.” (ibid, p. 18)

Both novels include sibling rivalry  – between Anthea and Flora:- Anthea of Flora’s luck in being part of a unit no matter how tumultuous; and Flora of not only having to allow for her cousin’s preferential treatment, but of her being “too romantic … what with having long hair and being an orphan and sleepwalking.” (Mahy, 1992, p. 18) – and between Simon and Jane:- he felt she had betrayed him and the father she never knew – “little traitor” (Westall, 1995, p.72); and she tried to manipulate him into loving Joe.  To Simon, Jane “was irrelevant.  He thought of all the nasty tricks she’d ever pulled; all the tales she’d told.  Little blackmailer…” (ibid, p. 131)

Simon and Jane were not siblings who were allies.  However, Flora and Anthea were reluctant allies, drawn together in the real world by their shared humour and their love for the dog, Zeppelin, and her pups, the Gelerts.  In the dream-world, as they tried to atone for harsh words spoken to each other in the real world, they combined forces with mutual admiration as their fight for freedom climaxed.  Both girls had “very powerful fantasy [lives], and [according to Mahy in an interview with Judith Ridge] to write about that sort of character without their fantasy life would be to reduce the realism.” (Ridge, 1994, p. 21)

As a reader of both The Scarecrows and Dangerous Spaces, I found no difficulty in believing in the alternate ‘fantasy’ dimensions created by the authors in order to help convey the tensions of their narratives.  Both were credible, natural elements within their realistic settings.  I had no trouble suspending my disbelief in both the real and ‘fantasy’ dimensions, and sharing the protagonists’ fears, worries, terror, and final relief and acceptance of their respective new worlds

(C) Jud House  26/10/1997

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Tolkien, J R R (1964) ‘On Fairy-Stories’  in Poems and Stories (1992 ed.)  London:  Harper Collins Publishers.

Mahy, M. (1992 ed.) Dangerous Spaces  London:  Puffin Books, Penguin Group.

Westall, R. (1995 ed.)  The Scarecrows  London:  Puffin Books, Penguin Group.

Gibbons, J. (1994)  ‘Family relationships in the stories of Margaret Mahy’  in Papers 5:1.

Ridge, J (1994) ‘Interview with Margaret Mahy’  in Viewpoint, Vol 2, 4.

Westall, R. (1978) ‘The chaos and the track’ in Signal Vol 28, January

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Bawden, N (1980) ‘Emotional realism in books for young people’ in Horn book magazin.e  56, 1, 17-33.

Burch, R (1970)  ‘The new realism’ in Horn book magazine. 47, 3, 257-264.

Edmund, M (1987) ‘Interview with Margaret Mahy’.

Hollindale, P (1994) ‘Westall’s Kingdom’ in Children’s literature in education, Vol 25 (3) 147-157.

Mahy, M (1987) ‘Joining the network’  in Signal Vol 54, September. 34-36.

Westall, R (1979) ‘How real do you want your realism’ in Signal, Vol 28, January, 3-11.

Westall, R (1981) ‘The hunt for evil’ in Signal, Vol 30, 3-13.

* * * * *

LEGENDARY AND/OR MYTHIC IN FANTASY TEXTS


 

In C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, both authors have made use of the mythic and legendary – the mythic being fictional characters believed in by the ancients, like Greek gods and heroes; the legendary being based on real characters doing fictional deeds, like King Arthur.  These figures, creatures and flora, with associated names, paraphernalia, and magical properties, have been used by untold authors over the centuries, and are used in these novels by Lewis blatantly, and Cooper subtly.

Both authors, when using these mythic and legendary sources for their novels were attempting to provide an ancient authenticity to their narrative.  I believe that Susan Cooper achieved this aim, albeit to a possibly culturally illiterate juvenile audience (and now a growing adult audience), with her use of Celtic and Arthurian legends, and Anglo-Saxon poems that include Beowulf.  On the other hand, C S Lewis’s mixed bag of mythic source material includes mythical Greek creatures, Nordic dwarfs, Andersen’s Snow Queen, fairy tale giants, talking animals and the traditional cultural legendary figure, Father Christmas.  Rather than creating a coherency, they meld uneasily to delineate Narnia’s fantastic ‘other-worldness’.

* * *

To children of Lewis’s time, to whom the Greek legends would be known – stories like The Golden Fleece – the various mythical Greek creatures: Centaurs, Satyrs, Nymphs, Dryads, and Minotaurs, with their accompanying characteristics of playfulness, mischief, allure, and blind-rage, would be recognized as ‘not real’, mythical.  And as a result of the animated version of Hercules, today’s children may also recognize them as belonging to a mythical time.  Even his use of anthropomorphized animals, a la Aesop fables, is consistent regionally, though of another time.  If Lewis had stayed with these creatures as his source material then his Narnian background would have been consistent.

That is not to say that the books are not successful. The moral theme of the battle between good and evil, subtly underpinned with Biblical symbolism, both for the adult reader, and for children to understand the Christian redemption/salvation story in a familiar and less-frightening mode, carries the narrative effectively.  The plot is well-constructed, with the use of the wardrobe as access between the parallel worlds, and the narrative quite gripping, especially to a child.  At the end of his first chapter Lewis introduces the Faun, Tumnus, a creature straight out of Greek mythology, who “[f]rom the waist upwards … was like a man, but his legs were shaped like a goat’s … [with] goat’s hoofs … [and] a tail”. (Lewis, 1988, p. 15)  Simultaneously, by Tumnus, addressing the protagonist, Lucy, as a ‘Daughter of Eve’, Lewis introduces the underlying Christian theme.  These two, the mythic/pagan and Christian, are used in juxtaposition throughout the narrative, complementing and supporting each other in Lewis’s construction of allegorical redemption fantasy.

Definitely, it is fantasy, and accepted as such by its audience.  But with the diversity of mythic characters, to an adult reader, the glaring intrusion of the inconsistent – like Father Christmas – mars the serious nature of the narrative.  If the White Witch had been based on the Greek goddess, Medusa, with her ability to turn the living to stone, she would have belonged with the other mythic creatures, in the warm climate of the Mediterranean.  This mythic Greek background is established by the titles of Tumnus’s books, “The Life and Letters of Silenus or Nymphs and Their Ways or Men, Monks and Gamekeepers: a Study in Popular Legend or Is Man a Myth?” (ibid, p. 19) and by the stories he tells, of Nymphs, Dryads, the wish-giving milk-white stag, wild Red Dwarfs, “old Silenus on his fat donkey” (ibid, p. 21) and Bacchus (the God of Wine).

However, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, representing cold heartless evil, the White Witch, with her plan to keep Narnia “[a]lways in winter and never Christmas” (ibid, p. 23), belongs to the far northern regions of Scandinavia.  Britain, where the ‘real’ world is set, could by its similar northern setting and weather readily accept her as its antagonist.  But then the warm-climate Greek creatures would have to go, and Lewis would be left with the “Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins” (ibid, p. 138). Most of these originate in the pagan Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythology favoured in the Middle Ages.  Narnia could then be medieval as it appears in the last chapter of the novel, currently at variance with the Greek creatures.  With the prophecy of Cair Paravel “that when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit on those four thrones, then it will be the end not only of the White Witch’s reign but of her life”. (ibid, p. 77) combined with the adventure of facing and defeating evil, adds a medieval quest theme to Lewis’s narrative.  The White Witch is also identified as being descended from Adam’s first wife, Lilith, who “was one of the Jinn” (ibid, p. 76) and from the giants on the other side.  So Christian evil is linked with pagan mythical evil, maintaining Lewis’s use of religious allegory – a medieval construct.

Using a Robin Red-Breast – “good birds in all the stories” (ibid, p. 59) – who understands what the children say, to introduce the animal world, Lewis anthropomorphizes the animals in his story.  Mr and Mrs Beaver, a la Wind in the Willows, give support and nourishment to the children, and reinforce Christianity by also referring to them as ‘Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve’.  The African lion, Aslan, as King of Beasts is an archetypal symbol of Kingship, a metaphor for courage, leadership, strength, and good – with legendary links to the medieval king, Richard the Lionheart, who epitomized bravery and fairness. If Narnia was modified to be northern, then as the lion of the British crest, Aslan would belong, and his majesty would not be undermined by the mythical inconsistencies.

In fairytale terms Aslan represents the fairy Godmother who counteracts with good magic the evil magic of the villain.  In religious terms he represents Christ/saviour, especially when he willingly sacrifices himself for the redemption of the traitorous Edmund.  In pagan terms Aslan represents “the Deep Magic …. [from] further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned”. (ibid, p. 148)  With his arrival in Narnia comes spring, thawing the snow of the Witch’s cheerless winter, with Father Christmas close behind.  A British cultural figure, the traditional bearer of joy, Father Christmas is also “a mythical and fantastical character made “holy” … his gifts … are either tools with which others are to be served or armor for the battle against evil.” (Filmer, 1984, p. 18)  He also refers to the children as ‘Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve’.  Out of place in Greece, he fits in well in the northern land of Narnia.

When Aslan finally enters the narrative, at a place with a Druid altar, the Stone Table, and medieval pennanted pavilion, he does so surrounded by mythic creatures, which include four giant centaurs, “a unicorn, and a bull with the head of a man, and a pelican, and an eagle, and a great Dog … and two leopards.” (Lewis, 1988, p. 115)  While half of these are Greek in origin, the others are consistent with the medieval theme.  The unicorn, belonging to multiple mythologies – ancient Chinese, Greek, Roman, and Biblical – came to the height of its popularity throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, where it was used symbolically and allegorically.  It was “connected with the idea of strength, virility … and a certain arrogance …. [while] … embod[ying] gentleness and a desire for solitude” (Bradley, 1980, p. 9)  An eagle is traditionally powerful, and keen-sighted, with an ability to soar to and dive from great heights, and destroy with its talons.  Often aligned neutrally or with the side of good in the fight against evil, it symbolizes the neutrality of truth and justice.

Lewis calls upon other fairytale creatures, such as giants, dwarfs, dragons to join the mythical Greek winged horse, Pegasus, in his catalogue of mythic creatures. Aligned on the side of evil with the Minotaurs (Greek bull-headed men), and Spectres, was a “flurry of foul wings and a blackness of vultures and giant bats” (Lewis, 1988, p. 142), the vultures eaters of carrion/harbingers of death, and the bats legendary bloodsuckers. As Chief of Police, the huge wolf, Maugrim, traditionally medieval by name, with a wolf’s vicious reputation belongs on the side of evil.  Turned to stone by the White Witch for telling her that Father Christmas has arrived in Narnia, the group of Christmas revellers – a squirrel family, two satyrs, a dwarf and a dog-fox – is a typical example of Lewis’s mixing of his mythical sources.

Calling upon traditionally and symbolically evil characters from the mythical past to highlight the nature of evil, and its power, Lewis  creates a sharp distinction between good and evil.  By his use of the traditionally and symbolically good characters to overpower the evil ones, he shows his readers that through perseverance ‘Good’ will prevail.  He deals with themes of trust and betrayal, and his protagonists, and hopefully his readers, learn respect for nature, responsibility for their behaviour and actions, and that all actions have consequences.  With his sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan, Lewis illustrates the Christian theme of hope and salvation – that death is not necessarily final.

* * *

Cooper’s use of the mythical and legendary, unlike Lewis’s mixed bag of characters, was based upon the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Old English, pre Christian poems and legends of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the persona of King Alfred, and the medieval Middle English tales of King Arthur, Merlin and Herne the Hunter. The Celtic cross, the circle of continuity quartered by the pathways or elements of life, was one of the symbols and artifacts Cooper used to authenticate the magic and fantasy of her parallel worlds.

Cooper is here … weaving a tapestry of Anglo-Saxon

history and culture around historical or literary individuals

who, like Alfred and Arthur, are described as “Lords of

the Light”.  These individuals are connected to each

other through genealogy and culture. …. Alfred … is

parallel to … Arthur…. [Both] held off violent invaders as

cycles of invasions, defense, conquest, and assimilation

[we]re repeated.” (Drout, 1997, pp. 242 & 234-5) 

Influenced by J R R Tolkien and by C S Lewis, whose lectures she was fortunate enough to attend, her narrative followed the fantasy hero quest pattern.

The mythic and legendary incorporates the historical, both Christian and pagan.  Because of this Cooper was able to utilise, within her Dark is Rising narrative, historical factors, such as the ring-giving by kings, and historical pagan beliefs, such as the possession of magical (as well as healing) properties/powers by magicians, trees and plants, birds, animals, bells, colours, gems, stone and pathways.  The narrative contains many symbolic elements.  On the tapestries in the Hall of Time, Will saw “a silver unicorn, a field of red roses, a glowing golden sun” (Cooper, 1976, p. 43), symbols of magic/peace, blood/royalty, and Light/God.  Later he saw “the brightest image of all: a masked man with a human face, the head of a stag [magic], the eyes of an owl [wisdom], the ears of a wolf [intuition] and the body of a horse [strength].” (ibid, pp 55)  In small ways she incorporated these legendary notions to create an authentic atmosphere.  Her protagonist, Will Stanton, is not just an eleven year old boy who is the last of the Old Ones to be born into and thus complete the circle.  Nor is his quest to find and link the signs of Light, based on the Celtic cross, to be undertaken solely in a modern environment.

By her use of ‘co-existing’ time, Cooper has Will move back into the Middle Ages, with all its trappings – tapestries on the walls, huge carved wooden doors, forests that “swallow up whole villages and hamlets” (Cooper, 1976, p. 65) and the use of candles, not just for light but as a symbol of pure/divine protection.  In fact her novel is sign-posted throughout with these medieval minor details that validate the major characters and events, like the presence of Merlin in the form of Merriman, Herne the Hunter who chases the Dark away, the Rider and the Walker, and the Anglo-Saxon burial ship that surfaces at a crucial time in the narrative.  While the latter is a substantiating detail, it is important to note that it provides more than just a location for the acquisition of a sign.  Aligned with the Sutton Hoo find – of a

ship-burial of a king of East Anglia late in the seventh

century on the Suffolk coast …. with cultural monuments

…. ceremonial and symbolic treasures …. nearly a century

before the composition of Beowulf …. [in which] the first

Danish king Scyld Scefing … [of] the fifth century (Wrenn,

1970, pp. 4 & 3)

was borne on a funeral-ship out to sea – Cooper’s ship carries with it, to the privileged reader, knowledge that enhances the narrative.  When it is carried off by the flood waters of the swollen Thames, this reader equates it with the usual fate of a dead king being cast adrift in his ship, sometimes aflame as a pyre.  Her mentor, Tolkien also used this motif in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, as no doubt have many other writers through the ages.

          Cooper’s use of this ship illustrates her careful and detailed use of legendary material to provide historical reality to her narrative.  Although the king in the Sutton Hoo find was absent from his ship – he had been buried with Christian ceremony while the pagan ritual of the ship-burial had occurred in his honour – Cooper described him as lying in state, as an illusion.  According to Merriman, “[o]n any other night of the year … he would be dust”. (Cooper, 1976, p. 236)  She dressed him in the accoutrements of his time, of the Sutton Hoo time, the fifth century.

The mailed figure lay … with sword and shield at his side

 and treasure piled round him in glittering mounds.  He wore

…. a great engraved helmet … of a long-snouted animal … a

wild boar. No lesser man could have merited the silver dishes and jewelled purses, the great shield of bronze and iron, the ornate scabbard, the gold-rimmed drinking horns, and the heaps of ornaments. (ibid, p.235)

The only things she omitted were the Byzantine silver spoons found in the Sutton Hoo ship.

With both Sutton Hoo, and Beowulf there is “a blending of pagan and Christian ceremony and sacrament … [a] Christian use of essentially pagan material; … conserving pagan tradition with progressive Christian adaptation … an essential and most characteristic feature of Anglo-Saxon culture” (Wrenn,1970, p. 4)  and Cooper’s narrative.  Gillian Spraggs has accused Cooper of showing her Old Ones as more potent than any Christian theology.  She is concerned about the novel’s message, that the ‘good’ side may perform any action, whether morally wrong or inhumane, in the cause for world freedom from the Dark/evil, equated with world peace.

I disagree with Spraggs’ stance.  I believe that by Cooper’s blending of the pagan with the Christian she authenticates her forays into the Middle Ages, while retaining the integrity of Will’s present.  An example of this integration between the cultures occurs with Merriman’s warning to Will.

Through all this midwinter season [the Dark’s] power will

be waxing very strong, with the Old Magic [pagan] able to

keep it at a distance only on Christmas Eve [Christian].  And

even past Christmas it will grow, not losing its high force until

the Twelfth Day, the Twelfth Night – which once was Christ-

mas Day [medieval Christian], and once before that, long ago, was the high winter festival of our old year [pagan]. (Cooper, 1976, p. 57)

 * * *

As a result of the mythic and legendary material used, both novels carry the notions of heroic quest adventure, which includes fierce battles against and final success over evil often symbolised by darkness.  Both contain a degree of medieval chivalry, elements of wizardry and magic, and the unreality of fantasy.  In the Lewis series, there is a distinction between the fantasy land, Narnia, and the real world, with a specific point of entry between them.  But in Cooper’s series, fantasy occurs as an extra dimension intermingling with the real world, enhancing and challenging the reader’s perception of reality.  “Cooper allows the intrusion of myth and magic into the fictionalised mundane world, and like Lewis, resurrects Logres, the spiritual Britain of the legendary King Arthur, to influence matters in the present day. (Filmer, 1992, p. 120)

Ideologically, both novels champion the fight for what is right and good, and the suppression or defeat of evil in all its forms – including personal behaviour.  Both use religion, Christian and pagan, as vehicles for their message of heroic endeavour in the face of one’s fears.  As backdrop for her tale, a part of the accepted reality of life, Cooper “is sceptical of traditional religion, but articulates hope in and through the caring and commitment of human beings …. emphasising [that] the power of love [is] greater even than the “High Magic””.(ibid, p. 120)  Lewis allows religion to intrude into his narrative in allegorical form – Aslan as Christ figure – to carry notions of Christian redemption and salvation.

While I have argued that Lewis has been inconsistent with his over-use and mixture of the mythic and legendary, there are those who believe that as a fantasy creation, anything goes – especially when the fantasy is aimed at a child audience.  This is a valid point-of-view, but I believe that children are entitled to the nonsensical or unreality of fantasy having an intrinsic logic.  This I believe Cooper’s novel has, and is consequently more ‘believable’, more thrilling, ideologically more successful, and more relevant to today’s reader.

(C) Jud House  4/09/2005

Both these novels have been made into extremely credible movies, using the latest SFX and CG characters and backgrounds to provide integrity and authenticity to their narratives.  Both are worth seeing.   6/10/2012

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bradley, J  (1980)  In Pursuit of the Unicorn  California: Pomegranate Artbooks.

 Cooper, S (1976)  The Dark is Rising  London:  Puffin Books, Penguin Books Ltd.

 Drout, M (1997)  ‘Reading the Signs of Light: Anglo-Saxonism, Education and Obedience in Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’’,  The Lion and the Unicorn, Vol. 21: pp. 230-250.

 Filmer, K. (1984)  ‘Speaking in Parables’,  Mythlore, Vol. 40, Autumn: pp. 15-20.

 Filmer, K. (1990) ‘Transcending Time and Space: Fantasy for Children’, in Scepticism and Hope in Twentieth Century Fantasy Literature  (pp. 107-126),  Bowling Green:  Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

Lewis, C S  (1988)  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  London:  Lions, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

 Wrenn, C L (1970)  A Study of Old English Literature  London:  George G Harrap & Co. Ltd.

 ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1951):

 Crago, H. (1994) ‘Such was Charn, That Great City’, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 19: pp. 41-45.

 Gough, J. (1977)  ‘C S Lewis and the Problem of David Holbrook’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 8(2): pp. 51-62.

 Higgins, J E (1969) ‘A Letter from C S Lewis’. In Field, E W (ed.) Horn Book Reflections (pp. 230-237)  Boston: Horn Book.

 Lewis, C S  (1969) ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children’, in Egoff, S, Stubbs, G & Ashley, L (eds.) Only Connect (pp. 207-220)  Oxford: Oford University Press.

 Smith, L (1963)  ‘News from Narnia’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 40, October: pp. 225-229.

 The Dark is Rising (1975):

 Cooper, S (1976) ‘Newbery Award Acceptance’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 52(4), August: pp. 361-372.

 Cooper, S (1990) ‘Fantasy in the Real World’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 66(3), May/June: pp. 304-315.

 Evans, G (1990) ‘Three Modern Views of Merlin’, Mythlore, Vol. 62, Summer: pp. 17-22.

Philip. N (1981) ‘Fantasy: Double Cream or Instant Whip?’, Signal, Vol. 35: pp. 82-90.

 Spivack, C (1987) ‘Susan Cooper’, in Merlin’s Daughters (pp. 35-49) Connecticut:
Greenwood Press.

 General

 Alexander, L. (1971) ‘High Fantasy and Heroic Romance’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 48(6), December: 577-584.

 Bettelheim, B. (1976) ‘Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation’, in The Uses of Enchantment (143-156), New York: A. Knopf.

 Hughes, T. (1970) ‘Myth and Education’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol.1, March: 55-70.

 Molson, F (1982) ‘Ethical Fantasy for Children’, in Schlobin, R (ed.) The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art  (pp. 82-104)  Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

 Saltman, J (ed.) (1985) ‘Thresholds and Frontiers: Fantasy and Science Fiction’, in The Riverside Anthology of Children’s Literature (6th ed.)  (pp. 807-813)  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

 Sandor, A (1991) ‘Myths and the Fantastic’, in New Literary History, Vol. 22(2), Spring: pp. 339-358.

 Saxby, M. (1997)  ‘Fantasy: Beyond the Rim of Reality’, in Books in the Life of a Child: Bridges to Literature and Learning  (231-247), Melbourne:  MacMillan.

Tymn, M., Zahorski, K. & Boyer, R.J. (eds) (1979) ‘On Fantasy’, in Fantasy Literature (3-38), New York: Bowker & Co.

 Wrightson, P. (1977) ‘The Nature of Fantasy’, in Robinson, M. (ed.) Readings in Children’s Literature (220-243),  Melbourne: Frankston State College.

 * * * * *

 

Essay – NARNIA versus THE DARK IS RISING


How are legendary and/or mythic references incorporated into the narrative structure of texts, and what are the ideological implications of this use?

In C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, both authors have made use of the mythic and legendary – the mythic being fictional characters believed in by the ancients, like Greek gods and heroes; the legendary being based on real characters doing fictional deeds, like King Arthur.  These figures, creatures and flora, with associated names, paraphernalia, and magical properties, have been used by untold authors over the centuries, and are used in these novels by Lewis blatantly, and Cooper subtly.

Both authors, when using these mythic and legendary sources for their novels were attempting to provide an ancient authenticity to their narrative.  I believe that Susan Cooper achieved this aim, albeit to a culturally illiterate child audience, with her use of Celtic and Arthurian legends, and Anglo-Saxon poems that include Beowulf.  On the other hand, C S Lewis’s mixed bag of mythic source material includes mythical Greek creatures, Nordic dwarfs, Andersen’s Snow Queen, fairy tale giants, talking animals and the traditional cultural legendary figure, Father Christmas.  Rather than creating a coherency, they meld uneasily to delineate Narnia’s fantastic ‘other-worldness’.

To children of Lewis’s time, to whom the Greek legends would be known – stories like The Golden Fleece – the various mythical Greek creatures: Centaurs, Satyrs, Nymphs, Dryads, and Minotaurs, with their accompanying characteristics of playfulness, mischief,
allure, and blind-rage, would be recognized as ‘not real’, mythical.  And as a result of the animated version of Hercules, today’s children may also recognize them as belonging to a mythical time.  Even his use of anthropomorphized animals, a la Aesop fables, is consistent regionally, though of another time.  If Lewis had stayed with these creatures as his source material then his Narnian background would have been consistent.

That is not to say that the books are not successful. The moral theme of the battle between good and evil, subtly underpinned with Biblical symbolism, both for the adult reader, and for children to understand the Christian redemption/salvation story in a familiar and less-frightening mode, carries the narrative effectively.  The plot is well-constructed, with the use of the wardrobe as access between the parallel worlds, and the narrative quite gripping, especially to a child.

At the end of his first chapter Lewis introduces the Faun, Tumnus, a creature straight out of Greek mythology, who “[f]rom the waist upwards … was like a man, but his legs were shaped like a goat’s … [with] goat’s hoofs … [and] a tail”. (Lewis, 1988, p. 15)  Simultaneously, by Tumnus, addressing the protagonist, Lucy, as a ‘Daughter of Eve’, Lewis introduces the underlying Christian theme.  These two, the mythic/pagan and Christian, are used in juxtaposition throughout the narrative, complementing and supporting each other in Lewis’s construction of allegorical redemption fantasy.

Definitely, it is fantasy, and accepted as such by its audience.  But with the diversity of mythic characters, to an adult reader, the glaring intrusion of the inconsistent – like Father Christmas – mars the serious nature of the narrative.  If the White Witch had been based on the Greek goddess, Medusa, with her ability to turn the living to stone, she would have belonged with the other mythic creatures, in the warm climate of the Mediterranean.  This mythic Greek background is established by the titles of Tumnus’s books, “The Life and Letters of Silenus or Nymphs and Their Ways or Men, Monks and Gamekeepers: a Study in Popular Legend or Is Man a Myth?” (ibid, p. 19) and by the stories he tells, of Nymphs, Dryads, the wish-giving milk-white stag, wild Red Dwarfs, “old Silenus on his fat donkey” (ibid, p. 21) and Bacchus (the God of Wine).

However, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, representing cold heartless evil, the White Witch, with her plan to keep Narnia “[a]lways in winter and never Christmas” (ibid, p. 23), belongs to the far northern regions of Scandinavia.  Britain, where the ‘real’ world is set, could by its similar northern setting and weather readily accept her as its antagonist.  But then the warm-climate Greek creatures would have to go, and Lewis would be left with the “Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins” (ibid, p. 138). Most of these originate in the pagan Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythology favoured in the Middle Ages.  Narnia could then be medieval as it appears in the last chapter of the novel, currently at variance with the Greek creatures.  With the prophecy of Cair Paravel “that when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit on those four thrones, then it will be the end not only of the White Witch’s reign but of her life”. (ibid, p. 77) combined with the adventure of facing and defeating evil, adds a medieval quest theme to Lewis’s narrative.  The White Witch is also identified as being descended from Adam’s first wife, Lilith, who “was one of the Jinn” (ibid, p. 76) and from the giants on the other side.  So Christian evil is linked with pagan mythical evil, maintaining Lewis’s use of religious allegory – a medieval construct.

Using a Robin Red-Breast – “good birds in all the stories” (ibid, p. 59) – who understands what the children say, to introduce the animal world, Lewis anthropomorphizes the animals in his story.  Mr and Mrs Beaver, a la Wind in the Willows, give support and nourishment to the children, and reinforce Christianity by also referring to them as ‘Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve’.  The African lion, Aslan, as King of Beasts is an archetypal symbol of Kingship, a metaphor for courage, leadership, strength, and good – with legendary links to the medieval king, Richard the Lionheart, who epitomized bravery and fairness. If Narnia was modified to be northern, then as the lion of the British crest, Aslan would belong, and his majesty would not be undermined by the mythical inconsistencies.

In fairytale terms Aslan represents the fairy Godmother who counteracts with good magic the evil magic of the villain.  In religious terms he represents Christ/saviour, especially when he willingly sacrifices himself for the redemption of the traitorous Edmund.  In pagan terms Aslan represents “the Deep Magic …. [from] further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned”. (ibid, p. 148)  With his arrival in Narnia comes spring, thawing the snow of the Witch’s cheerless winter, with Father Christmas close behind.  A northern European (including the British Isles) cultural figure, the traditional bearer of joy, Father Christmas is also “a mythical and fantastical character made “holy” … his gifts … are either tools with which others are to be served or armor for the battle against evil.” (Filmer, 1984, p. 18)  He also refers to the children as ‘Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve’.  Out of place in Greece, he fits in well in the northern land of Narnia.

When Aslan finally enters the narrative, at a place with a Druid altar, the Stone Table, and medieval pennanted pavilion, he does so surrounded by mythic creatures, which include four giant centaurs, “a unicorn, and a bull with the head of a man, and a pelican, and an eagle, and a great Dog … and two leopards.” (Lewis, 1988, p. 115)  While half of these are Greek in origin, the others are consistent with the medieval theme.  The unicorn, belonging to multiple mythologies – ancient Chinese, Greek, Roman, and Biblical – came to the height of its popularity throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, where it was used symbolically and allegorically.  It was “connected with the idea of strength, virility … and a certain arrogance …. [while] … embod[ying] gentleness and a desire for solitude” (Bradley, 1980, p. 9)  An eagle is traditionally powerful, and keen-sighted, with an ability to soar to and dive from great heights, and destroy with its talons.  Often aligned neutrally or with the side of good in the fight against evil, it symbolizes the neutrality of truth and justice.

Lewis calls upon other fairytale creatures, such as giants, dwarfs, and dragons to join the mythical Greek winged horse, Pegasus, in his catalogue of mythic creatures. Aligned on the side of evil with the Minotaurs (Greek bull-headed men), and Spectres, was a “flurry of foul wings and a blackness of vultures and giant bats” (Lewis, 1988, p. 142), the vultures eaters of carrion/harbingers of death, and the bats legendary bloodsuckers. As Chief of Police, the huge wolf, Maugrim, traditionally medieval by name, with a wolf’s vicious reputation belongs on the side of evil.  Turned to stone by the White Witch for telling her that Father Christmas has arrived in Narnia, the group of Christmas revellers – a squirrel family, two satyrs, a dwarf and a dog-fox – is a typical example of Lewis’s mixing of his mythical sources.

Calling upon traditionally and symbolically evil characters from the mythical past to highlight the nature of evil, and its power, Lewis  creates a sharp distinction between  good and evil.  By his use of the traditionally and symbolically good characters to overpower the evil ones, he shows his readers that through perseverance ‘Good’ will prevail.  He deals with themes of trust and betrayal, and his protagonists, and hopefully his readers, learn respect for nature, responsibility for their behaviour and actions, and that all actions have consequences.  With his sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan, Lewis illustrates the Christian theme of hope and salvation – that death is not necessarily final.

* * *

Cooper’s use of the mythical and legendary, unlike Lewis’s mixed bag of characters, was based upon the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Old English, pre Christian poems and legends of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the persona of King Alfred, and the medieval Middle English tales of King Arthur, Merlin and Herne the Hunter. The Celtic cross, the circle of continuity quartered by the pathways or elements of life, was one of the symbols and artifacts Cooper used to authenticate the magic and fantasy of her parallel worlds.

Cooper is here … weaving a tapestry of Anglo-Saxon history
and culture around historical or literary individuals who, like
Alfred and Arthur, are described as “Lords of the Light”.  These
individuals are connected to each other through genealogy and
culture. …. Alfred … is parallel to … Arthur…. [Both] held off
violent invaders as cycles of invasions, defense, conquest, and
assimilation [we]re repeated.” (Drout, 1997, pp. 242 & 234-5)

Influenced by J R R Tolkien and by C S Lewis, whose lectures she was fortunate enough to attend, her narrative followed the fantasy hero quest pattern.

The mythic and legendary incorporates the historical, both Christian and pagan.  Because of this Cooper was able to utilise, within her Dark is Rising narrative, historical factors, such as the ring-giving by kings, and historical pagan beliefs, such as the possession of magical (as well as healing) properties/powers by magicians, trees and plants, birds, animals, bells, colours, gems, stone and pathways.  The narrative contains many symbolic elements.  On the tapestries in the Hall of Time, Will saw “a silver unicorn, a field of red roses, a glowing golden sun” (Cooper, 1976, p. 43), symbols of magic/peace, blood/royalty, and Light/God.  Later he saw “the brightest image of all: a masked man with a human face, the head of a stag [magic], the eyes of an owl [wisdom], the ears of a wolf [intuition] and the body of a horse [strength].” ibid, pp 55)  In small ways she incorporated these legendary notions to create an authentic atmosphere.  Her protagonist, Will Stanton, is not just an eleven year old boy who is the last of the Old Ones to be born into and thus complete the circle.  Nor is his quest to find and link the signs of Light, based on the Celtic cross, to be undertaken solely in a modern environment.

By her use of ‘co-existing’ time, Cooper has Will move back into the Middle Ages, with all its trappings – tapestries on the walls, huge carved wooden doors, forests that “swallow up whole villages and hamlets” (Cooper, 1976, p. 65) and the use of candles, not just for light but as a symbol of pure/divine protection.  In fact her novel is sign-posted throughout with these medieval minor details that validate the major characters and events, like the presence of Merlin in the form of Merriman, Herne the Hunter who chases the Dark away, the Rider and the Walker, and the Anglo-Saxon burial ship that surfaces at a crucial time in the narrative.  While the latter is a substantiating detail, it is important to note that it provides more than just a location for the acquisition of a sign.  Aligned with the Sutton Hoo find – of a

ship-burial of a king of East Anglia late in the seventh century
on the Suffolk coast …. with cultural monuments …. ceremonial
and symbolic treasures …. nearly a century before the composition
of Beowulf …. [in which] the first Danish king Scyld Scefing … [of]
the fifth century (Wrenn, 1970, pp. 4 & 3)

was borne on a funeral-ship out to sea – Cooper’s ship carries with it, to the privileged reader, knowledge that enhances the narrative.  When it is carried off by the flood waters of the swollen Thames, this reader equates it with the usual fate of a dead king being cast adrift in his ship, sometimes aflame as a pyre.  Her mentor, Tolkien also used this motif in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, as no doubt have many other writers through the ages.

Cooper’s use of this ship illustrates her careful and detailed use of legendary material to provide historical reality to her narrative.  Although the king in the Sutton Hoo find was absent from his ship – he had been buried with Christian ceremony while the pagan ritual of the ship-burial had occurred in his honour – Cooper described him as lying in state, as an illusion.  According to Merriman, “[o]n any other night of the year … he would be dust”. (Cooper, 1976, p. 236)  She dressed him in the accoutrements of his time, of the Sutton Hoo time, the fifth century.

The mailed figure lay … with sword and shield at his side and
treasure piled round him in glittering mounds.  He wore …. a
great engraved helmet … of a long-snouted animal … a wild boar.
No lesser man could have merited the silver dishes and jewelled
purses, the great shield of bronze and iron, the ornate scabbard,
the gold-rimmed drinking horns, and the heaps of ornaments.
(ibid, p.235)

The only things she omitted were the Byzantine silver spoons found in the Sutton Hoo ship.

With both Sutton Hoo, and Beowulf there is “a blending of pagan and Christian ceremony and sacrament … [a] Christian use of essentially pagan material; … conserving pagan tradition with progressive Christian adaptation … an essential and most characteristic feature of Anglo-Saxon culture” (Wrenn,1970, p. 4)  and Cooper’s narrative.  Gillian Spraggs has accused Cooper of showing her Old Ones as more potent than any Christian theology.  She is concerned about the novel’s message, that the ‘good’ side may perform any action, whether morally wrong or inhumane, in the cause for world freedom from the Dark/evil, equated with world peace.

I disagree with Spraggs’ stance.  I believe that by Cooper’s blending of the pagan with the Christian she authenticates her forays into the Middle Ages, while retaining the integrity of Will’s present.  An example of this integration between the cultures occurs with Merriman’s warning to Will.

Through all this midwinter season [the Dark’s] power will
be waxing very strong, with the Old Magic [pagan] able to
keep it at a distance only on Christmas Eve [Christian].
And even past Christmas it will grow, not losing its high force
until the Twelfth Day, the Twelfth Night – which once was
Christmas Day [medieval Christian], and once before that,
long ago, was the high winter festival of our old year [pagan].
(Cooper, 1976, p. 57)

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As a result of the mythic and legendary material used, both novels carry the notions of heroic quest adventure, which includes fierce battles against and final success over evil often symbolised by darkness.  Both contain a degree of medieval chivalry, elements of wizardry and magic, and the unreality of fantasy.  In the Lewis series, there is a distinction between the fantasy land, Narnia, and the real world, with a specific point of entry between them.  But in Cooper’s series, fantasy occurs as an extra dimension intermingling with the real world, enhancing and challenging the reader’s perception of reality.  “Cooper allows the intrusion of myth and magic into the fictionalised mundane world, and like Lewis, resurrects Logres, the spiritual Britain of the legendary King Arthur, to influence matters in the present day. (Filmer, 1992, p. 120)

Ideologically, both novels champion the fight for what is right and good, and the suppression or defeat of evil in all its forms – including personal behaviour.  Both use religion, Christian and pagan, as vehicles for their message of heroic endeavour in the face of one’s fears.  As backdrop for her tale, a part of the accepted reality of life, Cooper “is sceptical of traditional religion, but articulates hope in and through the caring and commitment of human beings …. emphasising [that] the power of love [is] greater even than the “High Magic””.(ibid, p. 120)  Lewis allows religion to intrude into his narrative in allegorical form – Aslan as Christ figure – to carry notions of Christian redemption and salvation.

While I have argued that Lewis has been inconsistent with his over-use and mixture of the mythic and legendary, there are those who believe that as a fantasy creation, anything goes – especially when the fantasy is aimed at a child audience.  This is a valid point-of-view, but I believe that children are entitled to the nonsensical or unreality of fantasy having an intrinsic logic.  This I believe Cooper’s novel has, and is consequently more ‘believable’, more thrilling, ideologically more successful, and more relevant to today’s reader.

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(C) Copyright Jud House 4/09/2005

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bradley, J  (1980) In Pursuit of the Unicorn  California: Pomegranate Artbooks.

Cooper, S (1976)  The Dark is Rising  London:  Puffin Books, Penguin Books Ltd.

Drout, M (1997)  ‘Reading the Signs of Light: Anglo-Saxonism, Education and Obedience in Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’’,  The Lion and the Unicorn, Vol. 21: pp. 230-250.

Filmer, K. (1984)  ‘Speaking in Parables’,  Mythlore, Vol. 40, Autumn: pp. 15-20.

Filmer, K. (1990) ‘Transcending Time and Space: Fantasy for Children’, in Scepticism and Hope in Twentieth Century Fantasy Literature  (pp. 107-126),  Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

Lewis, C S  (1988)  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  London:  Lions,  HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Wrenn, C L (1970)  A Study of Old English Literature London:  George G Harrap & Co.
Ltd.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1951)

Crago, H. (1994) ‘Such was Charn, That Great City’, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 19: pp. 41-45.

Gough, J. (1977)  ‘C S Lewis and the Problem of David Holbrook’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 8(2): pp. 51-62.

Higgins, J E (1969) ‘A Letter from C S Lewis’. In Field, E W (ed.) Horn Book Reflections (pp. 230-237)  Boston: Horn Book.

Lewis, C S  (1969) ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children’, in Egoff, S, Stubbs, G & Ashley, L (eds.) Only Connect (pp. 207-220)  Oxford: Oford University Press.

Smith, L (1963)  ‘News from Narnia’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 40, October: pp. 225-229.

The Dark is Rising (1975)

Cooper, S (1976) ‘Newbery Award Acceptance’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 52(4), August: pp. 361-372.

Cooper, S (1990) ‘Fantasy in the Real World’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 66(3),  May/June: pp. 304-315.

Evans, G (1990) ‘Three Modern Views of Merlin’, Mythlore, Vol. 62, Summer: pp. 17-22.

Philip. N (1981) ‘Fantasy: Double Cream or Instant Whip?’, Signal, Vol. 35: pp. 82-90.

Spivack, C (1987) ‘Susan Cooper’, in Merlin’s Daughters (pp. 35-49) Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

General

Alexander, L. (1971) ‘High Fantasy and Heroic Romance’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 48(6), December: 577-584.

Bettelheim, B. (1976) ‘Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation’, in The Uses of Enchantment (143-156), New York: A. Knopf.

Hughes, T. (1970) ‘Myth and Education’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol.1, March: 55-70.

Molson, F (1982) ‘Ethical Fantasy for Children’, in Schlobin, R (ed.) The Aesthetics of Fantaasy Literature and Art  (pp. 82-104)  Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Saltman, J (ed.) (1985) ‘Thresholds and Frontiers: Fantasy and Science Fiction’, in The Riverside Anthology of Children’s Literature (6th ed.)  (pp. 807-813)  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sandor, A (1991) ‘Myths and the Fantastic’, in New Literary History, Vol. 22(2), Spring: pp. 339-358.

Saxby, M. (1997)  ‘Fantasy: Beyond the Rim of Reality’, in Books in the Life of a Child: Bridges to Literature and Learning  (231-247), Melbourne:  MacMillan.

Tymn, M., Zahorski, K. & Boyer, R.J. (eds) (1979) ‘On Fantasy’, in Fantasy Literature (3-38), New York: Bowker & Co.

Wrightson, P. (1977) ‘The Nature of Fantasy’, in Robinson, M. (ed.) Readings in Children’s Literature (220-243),  Melbourne: Frankston State College.

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