Utopian Children’s Literature

Utopian stories are those which create a myth of childhood by describing it as a Golden Age.

Depictions of utopia have a long history. Medieval comic genres depicted worlds of abundance and enjoyment, at least for the male characters.

FEATURES OF UTOPIAN CHILDREN’S STORIES

Maria Nikolajeva lists the main qualities of the Utopian category that most researchers agree upon in her book From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature:

  1. the importance of a particular setting
  2. autonomy of felicitous space from the rest of the world
  3. a general sense of harmony
  4. a special significance of home
  5. absence of the repressive aspects of civilisation such as money, labor, law or government
  6. absence of death and sexuality
  7. and finally, as a result, a general sense of innocence

Utopian stories tend to be set in the country and the weather is usually sunny and temperate, unless there’s a storm to symbolise someone’s state of emotion (pathetic fallacy). The setting is often secluded/walled, and this wall provides both security and restriction to push back against. Inside the boundary is the world of the child; outside is the adult world. Characters/readers never worry about where food comes from (there is an inexhaustible supply); same for money. Death and sexuality are entirely absent. In The Wind In The Willows, every single character is male; in Little Women, the story is heavily female. In a pre-homosexual time (ie. where the concept doesn’t exist for children) sexuality therefore never crops up. In general, this is a time of innocence, where characters are oblivious to world politics, intellectual debate and so on.

In utopian fiction there is a transformation of a spatial concept, like a garden, into a temporal state, childhood.

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