”It is arguably impossible for a children’s book…not to be educational or influential in some way; it cannot help but reflect an ideology, and by extension, didacticism.” (Peter Hunt, An introduction to children’s literature OUP 1994) With reference to at least two of the books we have covered, discuss to what extent you agree with the above statement.
I have chosen this option because I think the subject is interesting for me as a future teacher. As a teacher I should be aware of the influence choosen books have on children. Research for this essay will give me more knowledge of this area. In the essay I will first say something about what the theory says about didacticism in children’s literature, using the Danish children’s literature researcher and author, Torben Weinreih’s theory. I have also used Peter Hunt’s book, An introduction to children’s literature. Then I will take The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, as examples for my argument. Finally I will sum up my answer to the question.
I will first deal with what children’s literature is. Torben Weinreih says that this type of literature is different from adult literature because:
Children’s books are in most cases written by adults, who want something with children, for children. (Lorentz, Folkebiblioteket, p.2)
This means that the adult, the author, often wants to pass on something to the reader, the child. Further he says:
Children’s literature is characterized by didacticism and purification. (Lorentz, Folkebiblioteket, p.2)
By didacticism he means that it is a deliberate attempt by the author to teach and infuence the reader through the text. Purification means to adjust the text or, for examle, the adult author’s presumed norms, for a child. If we sum up what he says, it is that children’s literature often sets out to teach something or the author wants to display his/ her view of something.
As we can see from the quotation in the essaytitle, Peter Hunt says that all children’s books are educational in some way. Often the story is about one or several children leaving home for a journey. They experience and learn something and then they go home again. Often the new experience and the new knowledge they have gained on the journey is what the author wants to pass to the reader.
For younger children, the journey is generally a metaphor for exploration and education; readers go, like Tolkien’s Hobbit, ‘there and back again’ in a circle that enables them to gain knowledge – to be stabbed by experience – and to return home and security, and to a satisfying phsychological ‘closure’. (Hunt, 1994, p.179)
In both books the children leave for a journey, they experience and learn something, and return home with new knowledge about the world. In Carrie’s War the children have to evacuate to Wales, they experience someting new, and then they return to their mother. In The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the children also have to evacuate from London. They go through the wardrobe, experience something, and return to the professor’s house.
C.S. Lewis’ aim with his book is well known, since he has spoken about what he intended:
I did not say to myself ‘Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a lion in Narnia.’ I said ‘Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as he became a man in our world, becames a lion there, and then imagine what would happen.’ (Hand out in lesson, 10.november)
As a young man C.S. Lewis was an atheist and when he was grown up he converted to Christianity. As a boy he thought it was hard to find out how he should feel about God.
”As a child he found it hard to feel”as one was told one ought to feel about God” and he channelled his energies into an imaginary world. “Could one not steal past these watchful dragons?” (Hand out in lesson, 10. November)
His desire is to teach the Christian message through these books, in a way that is moore suitable for children. If we see this through Weinreih’s eyes, we can see that Lewis has used didacticism and purification to promote the Christian message in the text. Allthough set in wartime it is not the experience as an evacuee that the author wants to teach. The evacuation is a device for the children to leave their home for the journey. It is the story about Narnia which is the subject, the evacuation and war is used as background.
In this text we can clearly see parallels with the story of Jesus. I want to deal with the characters in this text who can be compared with characters in the story of Jesus. First we have Aslan, who represent Jesus. The lion sacrifices his life to save Edmund from his sin, but he rises again, just as Jesus sacrificed his life to save mankind from sin, and he rose again. Aslan is tortured before he is killed, as Jesus. When Aslan arrives Narnia, the spring starts. But before he comes, Santa Claus comes. In our world Santa Claus is the symbol of Christmas, and that means the birth of Jesus. Here I want to say that when I read the book I thought Santa Claus seemed rather ill- placed in this fantasy world. But I think this is why Lewis put Santa Claus in the story, exactly to symbolise the birth of Christ. The birth of Jesus symbolise hope and new life. In Narnia it gives hope for the inhabitants that the witch will be defeated and a new life in Narnia can begin. As Jesus served his people and obeyed his father in heaven, Aslan’s life mission is to serve the inhabitants in his land, Narnia, and obey his father, the Emperor – Over- the – Sea. The Emperor – Over- the – Sea symbolise God. He is the greatest power in this world, and he has sendt his son, Aslan, to save Narnia and it’s people.
The white witch symbolizes the evil powers, the Devil. She is not human, and thus does not have the ability to choose if she wants to be good or evil, as humans have. She is pure evil. According to the Holy Bible humans can choose if they want to do good or evil actions, and that makes us different from other creatures.
Edmund symbolises Judas, the betrayer. The white witch tempts him with power and Turkish delight, and he is willing to betray his siblings for a future as a king of Narnia. In The Bible Judas’ betayal is described like this:
Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the twelwe. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. (The Bible, Luke 22: 3-4)
As a parallel we see that Edmund is”entered” by the witch when he meets her in the wood.
Because Edmund is a human he has the will to choose if he wants to do good or evil actions. He chooses to change sides when he realizes that the witch has no intention of makeing him a prince. When he returns to his siblings Aslan requests them to forgive him. This is also a Christian message, forgivenness. Even for this great betrayal, he wants them to forgive their brother. They obey Aslan, just as humans are asked to forgive in the Bible, for according to the Christian religion we should obey our Lord.
As we see, there are many parallels between the story of Jesus and The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Many aspects from the Christian message are there, and Lewis’s aim with the book is clear. But does that mean that his message is taken on board by the reader? I can only speak for myself when I say that as a child I did not see the notion. This book was one of my favourites in my childhood, and I never thought about that there was a link between these two stories. I do not think there are many children who associate this story with the story about Jesus, unless someone makes them aware of it. But if the reader do not see the link between the stories, I think the moral message is clear enough to them.
In Carrie’s war the author tells about her experiences as a child during The Second World War in England and how an experience like that can affect a person for life.
Carrie’s War…is a retelling of her experiences as a child evacuee in the Second World War. (Rustin/ Guardian)
Her book is a typical story from the war:
The image of the evacuee arriving powerless at a strange place is one that is repeated time and again in children’s fiction, the impersonal nature of the billeting process often forming a marked contrast with the subsequent emotional and moral development of the children involved. (Agnew & Fox, hand out in lesson)
That means that she set out to teach the reader the childhood experience of evacuation, of being sent away from your parents to an unfamiliar place and a stange familiy. This was of courese an experience which the child will remember for life.
For Bawden, the Second World War and being evacuated were cruical experiences. “Everyone in my generation was affected by it” she says. “It’s the most important thing I can remember from being young. It happend during the most formative part of my childhood – from 14 until I was 21... ( Rustin/ Guardian)
In the book she tells about her experiences as a child evacuee. She describes it as only a person who has experienced is able to.
She also tells another story in the book, the story of Carrie. I read it as a story about Carrie’s emotional development and her attempt to understand people around her.
’Carrie thought of bombs falling , of the war going on over their heads like grown- up conversation when she’d been too small to listen.’ (Hunt, p. 132)
It is about her own war with her feelings and her experiences from this situation. It is not until she returns to the valley, as an adult with her own children, that she fully understands what she only dimly perceived as a child. Maybe Bawden wants to tell the reader that you should seek your inner ghosts from childhood, and deal with them, and not let them influence your whole life.
I think Bawden succeed with teaching the reader about how it felt like to be evacuated, and to be a child during the war. I am more uncertain whether a child takes the other story (about Carrie) on board. I think it may be too challenging for them.
Through studies of these two books, I have come to the conclution that I both agree and disagree with Peter Hunt’s assertion. I agree because most of the children’s books in one way or another aim to teach or influence the reader. And in most cases they do. My opinion is that we cannot read a book without an impression or some thoughts remaining with us. In some way we have been influenced by it. And I think a children’s book often teach the reader something. I disagree because even if the author wants to conves a message or teach something through the book, it is not certain that he or she will succeed in doing that. The message may be not clear enough for the target group to take on board. It can be obvious for an adult reader, but children may only see the entertainment in the story, as I did as a child with The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
- Agnew, K. and Fox, G.: Children at War from the First World War to the Gulf, continuum 2001. ( hand out in lesson)
- Hunt, Peter (1994): An introduction to children’s literature. Berkshire: Cox and Wyman Ltd Reading
- Lockney, K: Life of Clive Staples Lewis 1898 – 1963 (Hand out in lesson 10. November 2004)
- Lorentz, V.M. (1999): Norsk barnelitteratur 1798- 1998. (internet) Available from: http://www.bergen.folkebibl.no/tema/tema_1999/barnelit.html
- Rustin, S(2003): Nina’s Wars (internet) Available from: http://books.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4801480-110738,00.html
- The Gideons International in the British Isles: The Bible