To steal past watchful dragons: cultural hegemony and ideology transmission in children's fantasy literature 1900-1997

Giardina, Natasha Anne (2011) To steal past watchful dragons: cultural hegemony and ideology transmission in children's fantasy literature 1900-1997. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This study examines the ways in which children's fantasy fictions transmit ideologies, and how the matter of these ideologies and the manner of their transmission relate to adult-child power relations. It begins from the premise that the relationships between childhood and adulthood are political and problematic, both conceptually and in the lived experiences of children and adults. This idea has been the focus of increasing scholarly interest in recent years, particularly with regards to its potential impact on understandings of children's literature. Yet while many researchers have acknowledged that children's literature fulfils a socialising function and some have explicitly theorised that children's literature does transmit ideologies, the mechanics of how such transmission might occur remains underexplored.

This study uses Antonio Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony to understand the politics of adult-child relations and Louis Althusser's work on ideology and interpellation to suggest how ideologies may be reproduced. This study contends that children's literature is a cultural institution existing within an adult hegemonic system, a communiqué from a group in power to a subordinate and potentially resistant group. As an Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) according to Althusser's definition, it seeks to support the status quo by socialising children within the hegemonic system, both to accept a current subordinate position and also to learn the values and knowledge required to maintain the hegemony over time. Applying Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony to children's literature also raises the question of how the literature overcomes the potential ideological resistance or counter-consciousness that children may have towards the adult hegemony and its ideologies.

The central hypothesis of this study is that children's fantasy literature transmits ideologies to implied child readers using a specific interpellative mechanism I define as a Trojan Horse mechanism. The term "Trojan Horse" evokes the Trojan Horse of Greek mythology, a construction designed to slip past Troy's defences, appearing innocuous but concealing and carrying oppositional elements. In a similar way, the Trojan Horse mechanism uses hailing devices that evoke signs of childhood, adult-aligned ideologies and values which aim to socialise the child reader within the adult hegemony, and strategies by which those ideologies are concealed in the text. This kind of covert ideological transmission was described by one famous children's author, C.S. Lewis using the phrase, to "steal past those watchful dragons" ("Sometimes" 37).

In order to test this hypothesis, the study examines eight texts of fantasy literature published between 1900 and 1997, aimed at an implied readership of children aged between approximately six and fourteen years. These texts are, in chronological order: L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), J.M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy (1911), Enid Blyton's The Adventures of the Wishing-Chair (1937), C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising (1973), Philip Pullman's Northern Lights (1995), and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997).

Trojan Horse mechanisms were evident in all of the texts in the study, which suggests that these ideological structures may be intrinsic to the nature of children's fantasy literature in the twentieth century. However, due to the texts' differing contexts of production, plot structures and ideological foci, no two texts executed Trojan Horse mechanisms in exactly the same way. Hailing devices focused on physical markers of childhood, the representation of children's cultural artefacts, play or peer interactions, or ideas such as child empowerment and evasion of adult supervision. Concealed ideologies usually supported the existing adult hegemony by naturalising good child behaviour and children's dependence on adults, and by creating an apprenticeship space in the text where the values and knowledge of adulthood within the system could be learned and practised. One text of the group created a different ideological arrangement, using the structure of the Trojan Horse mechanism to critique hegemonic assumptions and offer a more radical apprenticeship. Analysis of the texts also revealed additional ideologies transmitted within the Trojan Horse mechanism and often related to adult-child power relations, including ideologies of gender, race, religion and imperialism.

Significant avenues for future research include broadening the scope of analysis in order to discover whether the findings are relevant across the corpus of children's literature, as well as determining whether more recent texts from the twenty-first century extend the trends noted in this study's texts. Furthermore, an analysis of the ways that children read and understand the texts may assist in ascertaining the extent to which child readers internalise, ignore or reject the attempted socialisation of Trojan Horse mechanisms.

Item ID: 31131
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: children's literature; cultural hegemony; fantasy fiction; ideological transmission; ideology; power relations
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2014 23:44
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1399 Other Education > 139999 Education not elsewhere classified @ 50%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200599 Literary Studies not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture @ 100%
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