The home away home story structure is common in stories worldwide, and is especially popular in stories for children. Developmentally, children are leaving to leave the house in preparation for leaving for good. But they need the security of the stable home.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”Terry Pratchett
If you’re familiar with Christopher Booker’s 7 Basic Plots theory, the Home-Away-Home story corresponds neatly with his Voyage and Return category. According to Booker, this story structure comprises 5 main sequences:
- Anticipation Stage and “Fall” into the Other World
- Initial Fascination or Dream Stage
- Frustration Stage
- Nightmare Stage
- Thrilling Escape and Return
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a fan of John Truby’s seven step plot structure — mainly because it’s easy to remember and actually universal. The frustration stage maps onto the Opponent, the Nightmare Stage maps onto the Battle, the Thrilling Escape maps onto the very end of the Battle sequence. Escape and Return maps onto New Equilibrium.
The Ideological Problem With Home Away Home Stories
[T]he form of innocence described in many texts is one that suits adult needs. For instance, the small creatures in many generic stories leave home to achieve freedom, and then learn the wisdom of not doing so. Although they claim to be happy about their discovery that they are not capable of fending for themselves, their joyful acceptance of constraint seems to be wish-fulfilment on the part of adult writers who would prefer that children didn’t in fact wish for more independence. The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, Reimer and Nodelman
THREE PATTERNS FOR THE DESCRIPTION OF HOME IN CHILDREN’S FICTION
As categorised by Lucy Waddey:
1. The Odyssean pattern: Home is an anchor and a refuge, a place to return to after trials and adventures in the wild world. Home corresponds to Arcadia. This is the ‘here and back again’ pattern discussed below.
2. The Oedipal pattern: Found in domestic stories (Little Women, Little House etc.) These are stories where the child stays marooned in the home, but perhaps leaves imaginatively. This Oedipal pattern is also used in adult fiction when writing about women who, like children, are often confined to the home and can only escape in their imaginations. Katherine Mansfield’s female characters fit this pattern, with “How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped” as a stand-out example.
3. The Promethean pattern: There is no home at the beginning of the story but the main character creates one as part of their maturation (The Secret Garden)
But these categories are not mutually exclusive. The Wind In The Willows would be a mixture between all three patterns.
Nodelman and Reimer call such picture books ‘no-name stories’, because they are so generic. Here’s what generic, no-name home-away-home books have in common:
- A young creature/animal/object with human characteristics enjoys the security of a comfortable home until something happens to make it unhappy.
- The small creature leaves home and has exciting adventures.
- But the adventures turn out to be dangerous or as discomforting as they are thrilling.
- Having learned the truth about the big world, the creature finally returns to the security it at first found burdensome, concluding that, despite is constraints, home is best.
(The following are notes from the same book, with a few of my own examples.)