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


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


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.

* * * * *



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


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.


 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.


 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.

 * * * * *



This is my NaNoWriMo entry Part 7.

Every 31 minutes someone is murdered . . .

Well that worked okay.  A bit fiddly to do, but speeds up the action while providing the essentials.  So now you know that your murders won’t go uninvestigated.  Now we can settle down to several Parts of this unfolding investigation, or I can slot in some more murders, complete in themselves, to divert and confuse you.  Of course it would be nice to be able to just get on with what you’ve got and find out how they are caught, if they are caught – plus a little more of why the hell they did it in the first place.  But I don’t want to bore you.

But then there is the problem of using up all my good plots in one novel – if you could call this a novel.  It certainly is beginning to look like no novel I have seen before.  I mean, I know all about Metafiction, where the fact that it is a piece of creative writing is subtly indicated to the reader, so they are caught between the suspension of disbelief and reality.  But I am being right in your face with this work – there is no subtlety about it.  And if I change it now, pull back to hints and nuances, I might lose the spark of the story, the narratorial interest – unless that’s already gone out the window.

As I was saying – I might use up all my good plots, of which I have many.  But then they wouldn’t be available to use in their own individual novels.  But then I could die before I get to write them all.  Time marches on, and unfortunately in my case it seems to have its foot firmly on the accelerator.  A dilemma.

I don’t want you to go off and chat amongst yourselves while I sort this out.  You might give up on me altogether and I’d be writing this to the cyberspace where it could drift around eternally annoying people who find the fragments and think “What the . . .?”

Focussing back to the title of this work though, indicates that I should carry on with my intermittent intrusions of other murders.  Perhaps their locations on this Earth won’t be too important, so that you can imagine them to be in any city or town you like.  That way you can take ownership of them a little.  And they don’t have to all be textual – well of course they will be, but they could be of an audio experience.  That being said I will now add the next one as a diversion.

Feel free to let me know what you think.  I’d be interested to know if anyone out there thinks this is diverting or just a waste of typing!

(C) Copyright Jud House 7/02/2012

* * * * *


According to the critic, Tzvetan Todorov, in Abrams A Glossary of Literary Terms, “fantastic literature … [is] deliberately designed by the author to leave the reader in a state of uncertainty whether the events are to be explained by reference to natural or to supernatural causes.” (Abrams, 1993, pp. 168-9)  M. Saxby, in his article ‘Fantasy: Beyond the Rim of Reality’, states that:

[f]antasy … 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)

Both definitions apply to Coleridge’s poetry.  His use of the supernatural is deliberate; a breaking away from his collaborator, Wordsworth’s use of Nature as the force that rewards and punishes mankind.  Fantasy fills an important function in Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ – not only as an expression of his theoretical individuality, but as a vehicle for the expression of dream-vision and the deliverance of a moral lesson.

In Coleridge, fantasy is driven by the imagination rather than by fancy.  According to Coleridge, fancy, relying on memory, is mere technique, for example metaphor and simile, to create links between disparate objects or ideas.  Imagination is so much more – it is the seamless incorporation of these objects and ideas, their blending to form a new complete subject.  While fancy reorders images, reassembles fixities, imagination creates by unification of the fixities.

The faculty of imagination … assimilates and synthesizesthe most disparate elements into an organic whole – that is,a newly generated
unity, constituted by a living interdepen-
dence of parts whose identity cannot survive their removalfrom the whole. (Abrams, 1993, p. 64)

Thus, while fantasy is the expression of the super-real, of dream-vision material, of the uncanny and spiritual, where it is necessary for the reader to suspend their disbelief of the subject in order to immerse themselves in the narrative, in Coleridge’s works it is governed by his theory on imagination.

Yet this theory was not clearly formulated until his Biographia Literaria late in his life. As the difference between his views and Wordsworth’s became gradually more apparent to him, Coleridge increasingly mulled over the notions of his theory.  Consequently, his poetry reflected his developing theory, with the break with Wordsworth occurring with the writing of the Preface to their joint venture Lyrical Ballads, and Wordsworth’s with-drawal from the composition of the poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.  This may have been as much to do with “the voluble facility of an inspired Coleridge in the white heat of creativity” (Hill, 1983, p. 126) as with their difference of opinion where “Words-worth’s objection is that Coleridge ignored the morally curative power of Nature and ‘took to the supernatural’ instead.” (ibid, p.126)

Coleridge’s poem ‘Kubla Khan’, the transcription of a dream-vision, allegedly unfinished due to interruption, created much controversy and plural interpretations. This however, did not bother Coleridge who stated in an unpublished notebook that poetry “gives most pleasure when only generally and not perfectly understood” (Coleridge, E.H.,1895, p.5)  The poem has been interpreted as a ‘musical composition’; ‘romantic inspiration’; ‘pure lyricism’; ‘a poem about poetry’; ‘an unconscious revelation of personal fantasies and repressed, usually erotic, urges’; ‘a landscape-poem and a poetical daydream’; ‘a political statement’; and a ‘theological’ exploration. (ibid, pp. 94-102)

The interpretations can be Mythical; Sexual, with phallic, and womb symbols; Allegorical re the Imagination, where caverns equal the mind, river/water/Milk of Paradise equals the imagination; Tangential with Stream of Consciousness;  and Contradictory with the use of contraries – for example the stately pleasure dome/ ice caves as culture/nature. A man of contraries, Kubla Khan is powerful and dangerous, yet capable of building an exquisitely beautiful palace and gardens.  The supernatural qualities of the content create an ethereal fantasy – it is, as Hill states, “so provokingly enigmatic …. [with] mystery and ambiguity, verisimilitude and teasing suggestiveness [its] … essential ingredients.” (ibid, p. 98 & 102)

My interpretation of ‘Kubla Khan’ (Norton, 1983, pp. 564-5) aligns with the ‘landscape-poem and poetical daydream’, but guided by the intent of the poet.  I believe that he deliberately laid the poem out as he did, with four alternately descriptive and ruminative stanzas.  In the first stanza Coleridge imaginatively describes Xanadu, evoking an enchantment with language that blends the natural with the man-made.  The pleasure dome, the walls and the towers “were girdled round” (ibid, p. 565, line 7), that is enwrapped by beautiful gardens “where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree”.(ibid, p. 565, line 9)  As if wreathed by the magical incense from the gardens, the man-made elements took on their same super-natural quality.  Fantasy, driven by the Imagination and its blending of man-made and natural elements to form a believable cohesive unity called Xanadu, was deliberately created.

Although he was recording the contents of a dream as a result of opium-induced inspiration, nevertheless Coleridge was still the author, in control of the words he wrote, the images he used, the atmosphere he created.  He continued this physical blending of the binary opposites – man-made / nature – in the third stanza, summing up Xanadu, the outcome of the blending, with the lines:

It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!
(ibid, p. 565, lines 35-6)

I believe this is a blatant acknowledgement of Coleridge’s deliberate control of his fantasy – the vehicle for the expression of his dream-vision and an expression of his theoretical individuality.

The second and fourth stanzas, however, could be described as tangential, or ruminative.  It is as though having laid down his physical atmospheric description of Xanadu, Coleridge felt compelled to elaborate, to expand the texts of the first and third stanzas in order to add to their verisimilitude.  Having created a ‘supernatural’ place, that the reader can enter by suspending their disbelief, it was necessary to him to back up his creation, make it more credible with extra information.  But the second and fourth stanzas remain an echo of the first and third.  For example, the lines 25-28 are an expansion of lines 3-5 – both describing the river Alph on its journey through the caverns to the “sunless sea” / “lifeless ocean” (ibid, p. 565, lines 5 & 28)  Similarly, the “caves of ice” (ibid, p. 565, lines 36 & 47) feature in both the third and fourth stanzas, with “the shadow of the dome” / “That sunny dome” (ibid, p. 565, lines 31 & 47) creating a sense of contrariness from which in both stanzas the noise of pleasure, the music is heard across the water.

Once again I believe the ruminative tangents, with their mythical tangents – for example, “Abyssinian maid” and “Mount Abora” (ibid, p. 565, lines 39 & 41) – were a deliberate device used by Coleridge to heighten the sense of the supernatural, the unreality of his
creation,  the function of its fantasy.

* * *

In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Norton, 1983, pp. 567 – 81) the fantasy is inter-woven within the narrative, an inextricable part of the organic whole.  Once again Imagination is the unifying power for the narrative, although Coleridge used devices of Fancy within his imagery – for example, “the sails did sigh like sedge” (ibid, p. 575, line 319).  It was a working example of his as yet unformulated theory.  Vital to the creation of his fantasy-narrative was the introduction of the supernatural, which was

not separate from the natural, but the inner essence of it; and the Mariner’s experiences, at once physical and meta- physical, constitute an imaginative exploration of the links between the material and the spiritual, the natural and the supernatural. (Hill, 1983, p. 159)

Another Coleridge poem evincing a plurality of critical analyses – poetical, psycho-logical, political, theological, philosophical, autobiographical, and as “a spiritual allegory depicting human life as a sort of Pilgim’s Progress on the sea” (ibid, p. 155) – as a narrative it explores the notions of crime and punishment, guilt, terror, despair, loneliness, retribution and redemption.  Framed by the real world of the wedding feast and its guest, the narrative submerges the reader in mystical events with “daemons and phantoms whom the Mariner encounters [as] projections from the unconscious depths of [Coleridge’s] own troubled mind.” (ibid, p. 128)

Another device used by Coleridge in the construction of his fantasy, that contributes to its function as a vehicle for deliverance of a moral lesson, is that of a gloss.  With its style that of an imaginary medieval narrative poem, the gloss, written in more modern language, “strengthen[s] the poem’s moral theme of crime and punishment and … give[s] Coleridge an opportunity to explain certain obscure or ambiguous incidents”. (ibid, p. 121)  The gloss acts as a marker, a series of bookmarks to assist the reader to locate various events within the narrative.  Then, if the symbolic imagery is  beyond comprehension, the gloss acts as interpreter.

Coleridge opens the poem with a Latin quotation from the 17th century English theologian, T Burnet, concerning the possibility of there being supernatural spirits in our world, their effect on us, and our relation to them.  This sets the scene, directs the readers to the fact that they are about to encounter the supernatural, and that the narrative may be truth or fiction.  By the fourth stanza in Part I the introduction of the uncanny occurs, as the Wedding Guest stands still, compelled by the Mariner’s “glittering eye” to “listen like a three year’s child” (Norton, 1983, p. 568, lines 13 & 15) The Albatross, a good omen, seems to assist the Mariner’s ship, blown off course to the South Pole by a storm, to return to warmer waters.  Part I ends with the deliberate shock of the killing of the Albatross by the Mariner.  Up to this point the narrative mostly lies within the natural world.

In Part II the crew, after blaming the Mariner for killing “the bird that made the breeze to blow” (ibid, p. 569, lines 93-4), change their minds when the sun disperses the fog linked by them with the bird.  As a result of their complicity the ship is becalmed – coincidence or supernatural forces?  The introduction of hallucination due to thirst is coupled with the introduction of the Spirit of the avenging Albatross – the moral lesson of
accountability is begun – “a crime against Nature is a crime against God” (Hill, 1983, p. 156) .  Part II ends with the corpse of the Albatross being hung around the Mariner’s neck as an act of penance.

With each consecutive supernatural event, creature, miracle and personification that enter and effect the Mariner and his crew in their natural world, this fantasy function escalates.  According to Edward Bostetter:

the spiritual forces at work in the Mariner’s authoritarian universe are despotic and unpredictable.  It is a nightmare world of inconsequence, terror and meaningless suffering … governed by chance, where caprice is the decisive factor – as the dice-game between Death and Life-in-Death for the Mariner and his ship-mates makes clear. (ibid, p. 156)

After the appearance of the skeleton ship and its eerie crew, the Spectre-Woman and her Deathmate, Part III ends with the death of his crew.  When in Part IV the Mariner blesses the beauty of the sea-creatures, the spell is broken:

The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.
(Norton, 1983, p. 574, lines 288-91)

Coleridge makes visible the invisible and brings the wished for and the imagined into the rational world with his creation of the ghostly crew, a Polar spirit, “a troop of spirits blest” (ibid, p. 575, line 349) and a Hermit.  These emphasise the power of retributive supernatural forces, and assist the Mariner to return to his home-land “as a deeply shaken man possessed of a profound and simple truth which he is charged to impart to others”. (Hill, 1983, p. 157)  This truth is:

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast. ….
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
(Norton, 1983, p. 581, lines 612-3,616-7)

Thus Coleridge’s function for his narrative, through the medium of Fantasy, driven by the unifying Imagination, and incorporating the metaphor, simile and metonymy of Fancy, conveys to his readers the moral lesson.

(C) Copyright Jud House 15/09/98

 * * * * *


Abrams, M.H. (1993)  A Glossary of Literary Terms 6th Edition  Fort Worth:
Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Allison, Barrows, Blake, Carr, Eastman, & English Jnr; + Stallworthy (essay) (1983)  The Norton Anthology of Poetry 3rd Edition.  New York:  W W Norton & Company. (REFERRED TO AS NORTON)

Brett, R.L. & Jones, A.R. (Editors)(1991)  Wordsworth & Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads.  London:  Routledge.

Coleridge, E.H. (Editor) (1895) Anima Poetae, from the Unpublished Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  London

Hill, J.S. (1985)  A Coleridge Companion.  London:  The Macmillan Press Ltd.

Raine, K. (1957)  Coleridge – Poems and Prose.  Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd.

Roper, D. (Editor) (1968)  Wordsworth & Coleridge/ Lyrical Ballads.  London:  Collins Publishers.

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.

Watson, G. (Editor) (1965)  Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Biographia Literaria.  London:
J M Dent & Sons Ltd.

 * * * * *


J R R Tolkien wrote: “If a fairy story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults.  They will, of course, put more in and get more out than children can.”

Tolkien believed, and I agree with him, that not all children or adults like fairy stories, just as not all of them like science or mathematics.  He believed that children were accidentally associated with fairy stories because their reading matter was selected for them by the lower class servants, attendants and nurses.  These fairy stories were the written form of the oral folk tales that were told amongst the lower class adults.

Though the peasants were excluded in the formation of this literary tradition, it was their material, tone, style, and beliefs that were in corporated into the new genre.” (Zipes, J. (1991) p. xii)

Of course, this does not apply to more recent times, when fairy stories were specifically written for children.

Both children and adults have the ability to suspend disbelief, and to believe in the World of the sub-creator/storyteller.

Fairy-stories offer . . . . Fantasy, Recovery, Escape and Consolation, all things of which children have, as a rule, less need than older people.  (Tolkien, J R R (1975 ed.) p. 44)

When reading or listening to fairy stories, children relate to the Fantasy, and to the Consolation elements of the story.  They are interested in the plot of the narrative, in the characters and their fate, in justice and fair-play which must be seen to be done, and in the resolution of the tale with, preferably, a happy ending (Consolation), unless a sad one is justified.

The fairy story communicates to the child an intuitive, subconscious understanding of his own nature . . . .[he] feels understood in his most tender longings, his most ardent wishes, his most severe anxieties and feelings of misery, as well as in his highest hopes. (Bettelheim, B. 1976) pp. 155 & 154)

Adults, as well as seeing all these elements, usually on a more profound level, also derive more from the story by way of historical relevance, moral and ethical values and issues, irony and justice, with an awareness of symbolism and the language used by the author to convey not only the plot, but also all of these nuances.  Adults recognise the element of Escape as a means to leave behind their daily worries for a brief time, and the Recovery element – “a recovery of perspective” (Isaacs & Zimbardo, (1970 ed.) p.144) – as that which leaves them feeling spiritually healed for having read the story.  They relate to their own experiences with fairy tales during their formative years.

Tolkien knew, none better, that no audience can long feel sympathy or interest for persons or things in which they cannot recognize a good deal of themselves and the world of their everyday experience.” (Kocher, P. (1972) p. 1)

The stories, JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, RUMPELSTILTSKIN, and THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES, taken from Virginia Haviland’s collection THE FAIRY TALE TREASURY, incorporate these levels of comprehension, of both adults and children.

In JACK AND THE BEANSTALK by Joseph Jacobs, children’s perception of the story would focus on Jack with whom they could relate.  After all most children have done ‘silly’ things for which they have been punished, in their eyes often unfairly, and by parents who do not always apologise when proven wrong.  Children would not dwell on the fact that Jack stole – rather that the ogre, who ate little boys for breakfast, deserved to be tricked.  Although Jack lied to the ogre’s wife, who was shown as kindly, then curious, the children could easily ignore the lies because she lost their sympathy by turning on Jack on his third visit.

Repetitious patterns, which most children find enjoyable, were used by the author to depict height and distance.          

So Jack climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed, and he climbed,till at last he reached the sky [and] . . . . he walked along and he walked along and he walked along . . . (Jacobs in Haviland, p. 80)

with a “Fee fi fo fum” thrown in, would be aurally pleasing to children.  Just as their sense of justice would be satisfied when Jack was proven right about the beans, so would their need for a happy ending (consolation) be satisfied, (after a little dose of fear) when

Jack and his mother became very rich, and he married a great princess and they lived happy ever after.” (Jacobs in Haviland, p. 85)

Adults reading this story would not only take in these elements of the story, but would also see, for example, that Jack, by being sent to sell the family cow, an adult task in our society, was seen as the ‘man of the house’, indicating not only the father’s absence in the story, but that the age in which the original folk tale was told was much different from our age.  Children were not cosseted and protected then, but were considered as chattels, as extra pairs of hands, who had to earn their keep by running messages and cutting wood, and were punished physically for any misdemeanor.

According to Bettelheim, and taking the psychological view, this task also represents the beginning of Jack’s journey towards manhood – from the onset of puberty to the completion of the journey when he chops down the beanstalk, not only to save his life, but also to indicate that he no longer needs to rely on ‘magic’ to assist him to make his way in life.  Bettelheim comments that when Jack steals the bag of gold which soon runs out he realises that he must go back, this time knowing he is risking his life, to take something (the hen that lays the golden eggs) that will continue to provide financial security.  He says that

it is not necessity which motivates Jack’s last trip, but the desire for daring and adventure – the wish to find something better than material goods. . . .the golden harp, which symbolizes beauty, art, [and] the higher things in life. (Bettelheim, B. (1976) p. 191)

Adults would acknowledge the repetition of phrases as a clever device used by the author to indicate to the children that Jack had indeed climbed a long way up, and walked a long distance.  They would note that Jack told lies and that he stole, and that this was part of the out-witting of the ogre by a small boy - symbolic of the little people out-witting the social giants of this world.  They would become aware that its historical relevance was that the lower class peasants could get the better of their rich upper-class masters, or at the very least could mock them in folk tales.

In RUMPELSTILSKIN by the brothers Grimm, children are confronted immediately by two characters, a very poor miller and his very beautiful daughter, with whom to associate.  They would understand that the King was an important man (be subconsciously aware of his power), and that the poor miller would try to make his daughter appear special –  after all, the track record of most fairy tales would be of the poor beautiful girl who marries the rich prince or King.  But children would also be saddened when the daughter was locked up to do an impossible task – just as they would be glad when the little man came to save her.  Their sense of fair-play would see that she should give him something in exchange for not only spinning all that straw, but for actually saving her life – a necklace and a ring would seem to be fair rewards.

When the daughter was locked up the second time, there would be less concern when she wept, for children can predict fairy stories by their pattern – they would know that the little man would come again.  Meanwhile their dislike of the King would be growing.  Children would feel a shock when the little man asked for her first-born child – that would seem unthinkable, and a betrayal by a mother.  But children also understand an ultimatum, though they would not know that the concept had a name – it would be obvious that she had no choice.

Children would enjoy the name game introduced into the story to give the now-Queen a means of keeping her child – the more names listed the better they’d like it.  While they would not be aware of their religious (in the first instance) and their peasant (in the second instance) origins, still the intricacies of the names would be aurally pleasing, and visually also if they could read.  Their delight when the Queen discovered his real name and told him would be eucatastrophic, especially as he stamped his foot through the floor – the just deserts for losing his temper!

The relevance of [this] fairy story to reality lies in this [eucatastrophic] gleam, which is a ‘sudden glimpse of the underlying reality of truth'” (Isaacs & Zimbardo, (1970 ed.) p. 148)

Eucatastrophe is defined by Tolkien as “the joy of a happy ending” and as that which

gives the reader ‘a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears …’ [and] a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire. (Isaacs & Zimbardo (1970 ed.) pp. 147 – 148)

Adults would be immediately aware of the patriarchal nature of the setting of the story – the daughter would be representative of the typical, passive, physically beautiful female whose fate was at the mercy of and in the hands of males – not only her father, but also the King, who, because of Noblesse Oblige, could take any commoner’s daughter. Adults would recognise the miller’s bragging and the King’s greed as the cause of the daughter’s hopeless plight.  They would empathise with the little man’s demands for a reward for his services – after all, in today’s society, doing something for nothing does not lead to success and wealth in life.  However he was not without compassion, demonstrated when “[t]he Queen began to weep, so that the little man felt sorry for her.” (Haviland, V. p. 160)  But he was another male to subjugate the daughter, who remained passive throughout the story.  Even when she had become Queen, she could only use her position of power to send someone else to search the countryside for the little man.

Once again adults would be aware of the subliminal message that life is a journey (this time for a female) through trials which are often dangerous and life-threatening.  The resolution of the troubles, often through another person (usually an aggressive male) are clearly made obvious by the ending, with its implication (although not actually stated) of the Queen living happily ever after with her King and her baby (the consolation).

In THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES by Hans Christian Andersen, from the outset the readers, whether adults or children, are included in the joke or trick being played on the emperor.  They are informed that two swindlers, who arrive in town, are weavers of

the most beautiful stuffs imaginable.  Not only were the colours and patterns unusually fine, but the clothes that were made of the stuffs had the peculiar quality of becoming invisible to every person who was not fit for the office he held, or if he was impossibly dull. (Haviland, V. p.174)

This basically is the crux of the story, which centres around not only the self-esteem (pride and vanity) of the emperor and his staff, but also the need for people not to appear foolish in public, and their need to believe in themselves and the fitness for their chosen (whether by self or superiors) careers.

Children would see this story on a superficial level, seeing the vain emperor pretending to see what was not there so as to avoid appearing foolish, yet by so doing, being tricked into looking even more foolish – there are surely few things worse than parading in public with no clothes on!  They would relate to the desire not to be singled out as stupid before their peers, while their subconscious need for security would evoke their sympathy for the emperor even as they laughed at him.

The fact that the swindlers were not only stealing the threads supplied to them, but were also rewarded with knighthoods for their non-existent work (and thus for their swindling) would seem to children to be part of the swindle, and an example of the emperor’s gullibility.  Children would happily associate themselves with the child who saw and said that the emperor had no clothes on, and would feel proud that it took a child to expose the swindlers who exposed the emperor.  Finally, I believe that children would be impressed by the courage shown by the emperor, who, when exposed as naked and foolish, continued his parade regally with his head held high, as an emperor should.

The class distinctions are very obvious in this story – the fact that the emperor thought nothing of spending all his money on his clothes, instead of on the army or the theatre, is made immediately apparent in the opening paragraph:

Instead of saying as one does about any other king or emperor, ‘He is in his council chamber,’ here one always said, ‘The emperor is in his dressing-room.’ (Haviland, V. p.174)

An adult reader would realise that this story is mocking the thoughtless behaviour of the rich, showing that the lower classes were well aware of the inequity, and were ready to ridicule the upper classes if the opportunity arose.

The moral of this story is clearly that pride (and vanity) always comes before a fall, as adult readers would immediately see, and children could be taught to understand.  The emperor’s need to delegate would appear logical to an adult – he was a man of power and thus needed to safeguard his high position.

[The emperor] felt a little queer when he reflected that anyone who was stupid or unfit for his post would not be able to see it. . . . he need have no fears for himself, but still he thought he would send somebody else first. (Haviland, V. p. 175)

He consequently selected his “faithful old minister . . . [as] he is a clever man and no one fulfils his duties better than he does.” (Haviland, V. p. 175)

This story offers adults escape with humour – a chance to watch another’s dilemma unfold and be resolved with the consolation that the emperor was exposed as foolishly vain, yet with his dignity upon exposure as a form of recovery.  The fantasy element – the magic cloth which was known to be non-existent - still has a power over the readers, both child and adult, who, half-believing, watch the worry and embarrassment of those who viewed it.  The fact that the swindlers appear to go unpunished leaves the readers with a sense of incompletion, thus, by this unresolved element, keeping the story fresh in their memories.

I chose these three stories as they all, in my opinion, demonstrate different types of fairy stories – JACK AND THE BEANSTALK is male oriented, showing a boy’s maturation to adulthood; RUMPELSTILTSKIN shows a typical subjugated heroine, achieving via the intervention of a male; and THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES presents a clear moral, showing that one should believe in oneself and in what one sees, not in what one is told.

As I have shown, adults would certainly get more out of these stories than children do.  And if the adult should read the story aloud, or better still tell the story, to a child, then the story would be coloured by the adult’s own

emotional involvement in the story and in the child, with empathy for what the story may mean to him. Telling is preferable to reading because it permits greater flexibility. (Bettelheim, B. (1976) p. 150)

(C) Jud House  28/08/2005, 20/11/2012 & 15/11/2012



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