Publication Date

April 2015

Advisor(s)

Sean McCann

Major

English

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

This thesis examines the influence of liberal and neoliberal theories of childhood and education on the construction of popular works of children’s fantasy literature during two golden ages of the genre: the two decades following World War II and the years surrounding the millennium. As works written for children, all works of this genre are arguably centrally concerned with a child’s journey through adolescence and towards adulthood. Furthermore, these texts offer a vision of the ideal education, and place these visions in counterpoint to the kinds of schools and teachers that foster or restrict it. Some of the best-selling fantasy works of the post-War era’notably C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, and Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time Quartet’all depict an idealized version of a liberal education that provides their respective child protagonists with the lessons needed in order to succeed in a meritocratic, but nevertheless democratic world. Harkening the advent of another of this genre’s golden ages, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series depicts a world heavily influenced by the prevalent neoliberal tenets of the contemporary world and implicitly reinforces the inescapability or value of a hierarchical class-based society. Responding to similar concerns as Rowling, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy each also depict a decidedly neoliberal world, although formulating divergent conclusions. In each of these works the child protagonist is ideally educated and prepared for future success. What it means to be educated, however, can look remarkably different depending on who is describing the schooling.

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