Paralepsis in Children’s Literature

Paralepsis*: (Faux) Omission.

In rhetoric, paralepsis refers to the device of giving emphasis by professing to say little or nothing about a subject, as in not to mention their unpaid debts of several million, but saying it all the same.

  • I know who farted but I wouldn’t want to embarrass Charles.
  • In the name of anonymity, let’s just call him John. Which is pretty convenient, because his name is actually John.
  • I won’t mention the fact that [X]

As you have probably guessed, paralepsis is a favorite rhetorical device of assholes.

While @Bette Midler is an extremely unattractive woman, I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.

Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!

— Donald J. Trump

 

This rhetorical device is also called apophasis.

Paralepsis in Picture Books

In picturebooks, though, a kind of paralepsis can happen when something mentioned in the text is left out of the picture, or vice versa. Negative space might be said to be the picturebook equivalent of paralipsis. For example, a page might be deliberately left blank because the character has disappeared for a time. An empty chair may draw attention to the fact that its usual occupant has died.

Empty Chair In The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Empty Chair In The Heart In The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Paralepsis In Time-shift Fantasy

A main feature of fantasy is time distortion. Most often this is expressed narratively by primary time standing still (one kind of paralepsis). Obviously, we’re now talking about a different concept altogether from the rhetorical device mentioned above. It helps to know that the word comes from Greek and means ‘disregard’.

Examples

  • The Story of the Amulet
  • The House of Arden
  • A Traveller in Time
  • The Green Knowe series
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden
  • Jessamy
  • Charlotte Sometimes
  • Playing Beatie Bow
  • The Root Cellar

Paralepsis As Secondary Narrative

Paralepsis can also occur in a secondary narrative in which time is independent of the primary story. This was an integral part of archaic thought — during rituals, time was thought to stand still.  And so it remains as part of human storytelling today. The archaic division between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ universes can be likened to the separate literary-fantasy universes of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ worlds.

Time freezes (or seems to) for everyone and everything in the entire universe, except for the main cast of the story. The characters find themselves in an eerie, calm, silent world where the people and objects around them have become motionless statues. In some stories, this phenomenon happens by accident; in others, the heroes can stop time by using magic, a super power or Applied Phlebotinum.

Time Stands Still at TV Tropes

Examples

E Nesbit Trilogy
The concept was introduced to children’s literature by Edith Nesbit in her time-travel novels.

In Chapter Four of Five Children and It, Nesbit first tells the young reader she is not going to describe the picnic, then goes on to do exactly that. This makes the reader feel as if we are not being lectured at — something the narrator professes not to do, unlike every other children’s book that has come before:

I do not wish to describe the picnic party on the top of the tower. You can imagine well enough what it is like to carve a chicken and a tongue with a knife that has only one blade — and that snapped off short about half-way down. But it was done,. Eating with your fingers is greasy and difficult — and paper dishes soon get to look very spotty and horrid. But one thing you can’t imagine, and that is how soda-water behaves when you try to drink it straight out of a syphon — especially a quite full one. But if imagination will not help you, experience will, and you can easily try it for yourself if you can get a grown-up to give you the syphon. If you want to have a really thorough experience, put the tub in your mouth and press the handle very suddenly and very hard. You had better do it when you are alone — and out of doors is best for this experiment.

However you eat them, tongue and chicken and new bread are very good things, and no one minds being sprinkled a little with soda-water on a really fine hot day.

Five Children And It, E. Nesbit

 

Where The Wild Things Are

There’s paralepsis in Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, when Max travels ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’. This kind of anachrony is common in picturebooks which describe an imaginary journey. For example, all the happenings of Narnia can’t possibly fit into the time the children would’ve spent at the country house.

Where_The_Wild_Things_Are_(book)_cover

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

The Narnia Chronicles are an excellent example of paralepsis. While the Pevensie children are in Narnia, time in the real world stands still. This is convenient as a plot device too, because it means adults don’t wonder where they are, and interrupt their adventures to come looking for them.

If [Lucy] had got into another world, I should not at all be surprised that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

200px-ScholasticNarnia

 

The real, primary time is linear, and the story is firmly fixed at a specific chronological moment: “during the war”. In The Magician’s Nephew, which is the flashback of the suite, primary time is switched back, but is still quite definable: “when your grandfather was a child…Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road”. Entering Narnia, the children leave the linear time behind and enter not only another world, but the mythical, cyclical time. In this time, death is reversible: Aslan is killed and resurrected, and he can also bring the enchanted stone figures to life again. One of the evil schemes of the White Witch is to stop the flow of time altogether, imposing the eternal winter (=period of nonbeing, death) in Narnia, Aslan’s death and resurrection–a performance of the ritual of the returning god, with its pagan rather than Christian meaning–restores the cyclical time. Spring comes, as it always has come after winter, as it always will come. The idyllic setting is recovered, Narnia is brought back into its prelapsarian state, as created by Aslan at the dawn of time (described in The Magician’s Nephew).

From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature by Maria Nikolajeva

 

Momo by Michael Ende

The final showdown between the titular heroine of Michael Ende‘s Momo and the Men in Grey happens after the local God stops time in the whole world, leaving only Momo (because she is carrying a certain MacGuffin), the Men in Grey, and a magical turtle (who is a fully-functional MacGuffin of her own right) able to move.

— TV Tropes

Momo_English

Molly Moon

In Molly Moon Stops The World, Molly is able to stop time thanks to a Call Back from the first book.

Molly Moon Stops The World

Artemis Fowl

The fairies in Artemis Fowl can stop time within an area by surrounding it with a pentagram (and warlocks, originally, though they developed Magitek generators since there is a limit to how long a warlock can hold up his arms). They often use this in combination with a bio-bomb to contain its effect. Escape from a time-stop is possible, but the method is unusual: the time-stop preserves all beings in the state they were in when time stopped – people who are awake stay awake, while people who are asleep go on with the normal flow of the world. When an awake person uses something like sleeping pills to artificially change their state, the stop shunts them into normal time, making them disappear from inside the stop.

— TV Tropes

Artemis Fowl Covers

Paralepsis instead of omniscient narration?

Some critics have said that, technically, paralepsis would be a good word to use for the sort of narration you sometimes get when first person narration morphs into the omniscient, in which a character couldn’t possibly know what’s going on elsewhere in the story. (The reader is to ‘disregard’ this device, I suppose, hence the term.)

*Paralepsis is also spelt paralipsis.

 

Telling A Story Over The Course Of A Single Day

When it comes to treatment of time in stories, there are several main options:

  1. Over a period of years
  2. Over a period of months (seasons)
  3. Over the period of a few weeks/days
  4. Over the period of a single day

John Truby, in his book Anatomy Of Story, writes of the advantages of stories set over the course of a single day:

  1. ‘The first effect is to create simultaneous story movement while maintaining narrative drive. Instead of showing a single character over a long development…you present a number of characters acting at the same time.’
  2. ‘…the ticking of hours keeps the story line moving forward and gives the story a sense of compression.

It’s worth dividing the ‘single day storyline’ down further into

  1. 24-hour stories
  2. 12-hour stories

If you use a twenty-four-hour clock ‘you lessen the urgency and increase the sense of the circular. No matter what may have happened, we return to the beginning, with everything the same, and start all over again.’ In many ways, the

twenty-four-hour circular day has many of the same thematic effects as the four seasons. Not surprisingly, both techniques are often connected with comedy, which tends to be circular, emphasizes society as opposed to the individual, and ends in some kind of communion or marriage. Techniques of circular time are also associated with the myth form, which is based on circularity of space. In many classic myth stories, the hero starts at home, goes on a journey, and returns home to find what was already within him.’

If you make use of a 12-hour clock, you create a ‘funnel effect’.

‘The audience senses not only that each of the story strands will be settled at the end of the twelve hours but also that the urgency will increase as the deadline nears.’

dawn-nowhere
establishing shot from Courage The Cowardly Dog Dr Le Quack

12 HOUR CLOCKS IN PICTURE BOOKS

Anyone who has read books to children will already know which of these single-day stories is more popular in children’s books. Some common clocks in picture books:

  1. The main character wakes up in the morning, goes on an adventure, comes home to safety and sleeps happily in bed. These stories make for good, calming bedtime tales, functioning like a lullaby.
  2. Some books are about a specific time of day. Perhaps the entire focus is about going to bed, and the story is condensed to the bedtime routine. Or it might equally be about getting up and going to kindergarten.
  3. Less common is an inversion of the daytime story, in which the child is put to bed and the adventures begin. Maurice Sendak was fond of this form, evident in his book In The Night Kitchen:
  4. A young boy named Mickey sleeps in his bed when he is disturbed by noise on a lower floor. Suddenly, he begins to float, and all of his clothes disappear as he drifts into a surreal world called the “Night Kitchen”:[Mickey, a little boy] falls into a giant mixing pot that contains the batter for the “morning cake”. While Mickey is buried in the mass, three identical bakers … mix the batter and prepare it for baking, unaware (or unconcerned) that there is a little boy inside. Just before the baking pan is placed into the oven, the boy emerges from the pan, protesting that he is not the batter’s milk.To make up for the baking ingredient deficiency, Mickey (now covered in batter from the neck down) constructs an airplane out of bread dough so he can fly to the mouth of a gigantic milk bottle. Upon reaching the bottle’s opening, he dives in and briefly revels in the liquid. After his covering of batter disintegrates, he pours the needed milk in a cascade down to the bakers who joyfully finish making the morning cake.With dawn breaking, the naked Mickey crows like a rooster and slides down the bottle to magically return to his bed. Everything is back to normal, beyond the happy memory of his experience.- Wikipedia
Rooster, Umbrella, and Morning Glories

The advantage to setting a story over the course of a night-time is that the child will likely find the darkness and night-time spooky and mysterious, so the setting of darkness provides inevitable adventure. Also, the night-time is the perfect setting for dreamscapes and imaginings and all sorts of surreal fantasies.

 

 

The Seasons Of Storytelling

In stories for children, as in stories for adults, emphasis on the seasons and the circular nature of time gives a story a feminine feel. Each season carries its own symbolism, but it’s not a clear delineation.

gilmore-girls-a-year-in-the-life

With the recent Gilmore girls revival we now have agents/editors asking for similar story structures.

gilmore-girls-story-structure-agent-wishlist

What would that mean, exactly, to write a story with a similar structure to Gilmore girls?

One aspect which provides structure to Gilmore girls is the seasons. Rory’s life (like any diligent high school student’s) is determined by the school terms, in turn different according to season. Stars Hollow holds regular annual events which are also connected to seasons, be it Halloween pumpkins, picnic hampers or Christmas festivities.

In television miniseries, the seasonal structure isn’t new. Take for instance the Disney adaptation of Little House On The Prairie. Each of the three episodes has distinctly different seasons.

little-house-on-the-prairie-disney

The fact is, this story structure is very old, especially in stories for and about girls.

The straight (non-reversed, un-ironic) version looks like this:

SUMMER

Characters exist in:

  1. a troubled, vulnerable state or
  2. in a world of freedom susceptible to attack

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when summer is changing into fall — the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

— Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

AUTUMN/FALL

Characters begin their decline.

Alternatively, or as well as this decline, autumn lends a cosy feel which takes us back to childhood especially — this is a Northern Hemisphere thing, and works well for American audiences, who have Thanksgiving, Halloween and football matches in the fall.

The late scenes of Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman and Marlena by Julie Buntin both occur in a damp, shadowy, late-autumn woods haunted by literal death that signals the end of girlhood.

Movies in which autumn features heavily:

  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Autumn in New York is a movie in its own right, but…
  • …another film which features autumn in New York is You’ve Got Mail! You’ve Got Mail spans the entire year through the seasons, but the fall scenes are thought to be the best.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (think of Hagrid’s hut with all the pumpkins)
  • Stepmom — fall in Connecticut
  • Hocus Pocus and other Halloween movies like Practical Magic — because for North Americans, fall is synonymous with Halloween
  • Dead Poet’s Society — for its back-to-school feel. (Australian students return to school while it’s still well and truly summer, so this is a Northern Hemisphere thing.)
  • Remember The Titans and Rudy — because fall is football season
  • Pieces of April — because fall is Thanksgiving season
  • Little Women — because a lot of the story takes place in the fall

WINTER

Characters reach their lowest point.

Middle grade novel Skellig by David Almond is a story which makes use of seasonal symbolism. When Michael discovers Skellig, his luck begins to change. “Winter was ending.” The season of death and dormancy (especially for Michael and Skellig) is about to give way to the rebirth of spring-a kind of second innocence.

However, there’s winter and then there’s winter. A winter blizzard is dangerous, but a landscape covered in snow has the opposite effect, evoking hygge, or as Jerry Griswold puts it, evoking snugness. 

There are, of course, certain times of year and day that are more conducive to evocations of snugness. Winter, especially after snow has fallen, and Christmastime are special in this regard; consider, for example, the tableau of the family in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, all gathered together around the fire when father returns at Christmas; or Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas” when “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.” And as for time of day, the moment for nesting is when sleep comes; here the great tableau may be in Johanna Spyri’s Heidi when grandfather, both when Heidi first arrives and when she returns from Frankfurt, steals up the ladder to look at the slumbering child in the nest she has made for herself from hay in the attic. To be brief: a snug place is a place where one can sleep peacefully.

Jerry Griswold

SPRING

In the spring, characters overcome their problem and rise.

This short film, called Spring, follows a girl’s trip out of the dark forest, which gradually blooms into a more welcoming arena.

A story might start in springtime. In Beverly Cleary’s Emily’s Runaway Imagination, the story begins with spring and a feeling of welcome change. Almost exhilaration:

The things that happened to Emily Bartlett that year!

It seemed to Emily that it all began one bright spring day, a day meant for adventure. The weather was so warm Mama had let her take off her long stockings and put on her half socks for the first time since last fall. Breezes on her knees after a winter of stockings always made Emily feel as frisky as a spring lamb. The field that Emily could see from the kitchen window had turned blue with wild forget-me-nots and down in the pasture the trees, black silhouettes trimmed with abandoned bird nests throughout the soggy winter, were suddenly turning green.

Everywhere sap was rising, and Emily felt as if it was rising in her, too.

— Beverly Cleary

SUBVERSION OF SEASONAL SYMBOLISM

However, a writer may choose to avoid the cliche by turning it around. So the character declines in spring and is rejuvenated in the winter. This not only short-circuits the audience’s expectations but also asserts that humans, though of the natural world, are not enslaved by its patterns.

What about the seasons and writing for children?

If writing for children is different from writing for adults, surely it’s because our main audience has not seen enough of the world  or of literature to have noticed cliche, which becomes more noticeable the older/better read you become.

Maria Nikolajeva, academic of children’s literature has made the following observations about:

THE TREATMENT OF TIME IN BOOKS FOR GIRLS AND BOOKS FOR BOYS

This is a fascinating concept, and something I’d not noticed until it was pointed out, by Maria Nikolajeva in Children’s Literature Comes Of Age. Earlier in the book she defines books for boys (often adventure) and books for girls (horse stories etc, and those starring girls) which these days tend to have pink somewhere on the cover. In an ideal world there’d be no such thing as sex differentiation in books. Because gender is not genre. But I’m quite radical like that.

One Swedish essay on narrative differences in books for boys and books for girls stipulated that male time is linear, while female time is circular…. Time in books for girls and in books for boys is closely connected with place. Not only is male time linear, but male space is open, as books for boys take place outdoors, sometimes far away from home in the wide world. Male narrative time is structured as a series of stations where an adventure is experienced, a task is performed, a trial is passed. Time between these stations practically does not exist. The text can say something like “after many days full of hardships they reached their destination…” The male chronotope is thus corpuscular, discontinuous, a chain of different separate time-spaces (“quants”) which are held together by a final goal. These separate chronotopes may also correspond to chapters in adventure boos: each chapter is self-contained, even if some threads can run from one chapter to another. It is easily observable in classic stories such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer (1876) or Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price (1943).

The chronotope in books for girls is completely different. The space is closed and confined. The action mostly takes place indoors, at home (alternatively at school). Time is cyclically closed and marked by recurrent time indications: (“It was spring again,” “It was Christmas again”). Three classical girls’ books, Little Women (1868), Anne Of Green Gables (1908) and Little House In The Big Woods (1932), are very good illustrations. Any gaps in time can be easily filled by the reader, who knows that it takes time for plants to grow or for snow to thaw, that the school year is full of homework, that housework is the same year in and year out. Female narrative time is often extended to several years with certain recurrent points. The chronotope is continuous both in time and space. Spatial movement in girls’ books means merely a change from one confined space to another likewise confined one — for instance, from the parents’ home to a boarding school, from the heroine’s childhood home to her husband’s home, to “the doll house,” an image often used by contemporary writers trying to break this pattern; one example is Maud Reutersward’s A Way From Home (1979), the Swedish title of which is “The Girl and the Doll House.”

The female narrative chronotope is also based on our conceptions of male and female nature…Female time is circular, follows the cycle of the moon, and consists of recurrent, regular events of death and resurrection, seasonal changes and so on. … Linear male time is a product of enlightenment and is the spirit of action and progress.

…there are many deviations… As in all other areas, in chronotope structures of children’s books of the past ten to twenty years there is also a merging of male and female, a disintegration of the epic chronotope, and some bold innovations.

Nikolajeva’s book was published in 1996, so another 10 or 20 years have passed even since then. I’d be interested to know what has happened. Are stories for girls still mostly set inside? Do books for girls run by the moon?

EXAMPLES OF SEASONAL SYMBOLISM IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

Sometimes, winter is a metaphor for depression. As an example, see Blackdog by Levi Pinfold.

In the similarly named, earlier title by Pamela Allen, Black Dog, more is made of the significance of the seasons with inclusion of the following double spread:
Black Dog Pamela Allen seasons01Black Dog Pamela Allen seasons02_600x620

Axel Scheffler

In Stick Man, illustrator Axel Scheffler demonstrates the passing of time with the following montage:

Stick Man Julia Donaldson seasons_600x810

In the Australian picture book Tanglewood, too, we have a page of thumbnail illustrations depicting the passage of time via the seasons.

Tanglewood seasons by Margaret Wild

Beatrix Potter

Handy quotes Lewis on his own memory of reading the Beatrix Potter book “Squirrel Nutkin” when he was young: It “troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn.” The subject of childhood, even more than old age, seems always to be about its ending. My favorite chapter was the last one — about death in children’s literature, but also about endings generally.

NYT review of Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult By Bruce Handy

The examples above are all picture books, but stories which emphasis cycles are common in stories for (or about) older girl readers. Julie of the Wolves is an excellent example. This novel is a Robinsonnade earlier feminist novel with explicitly ecological themes.

Miyax (Julie) must kill to remain alive herself, but her killing is always shown to be part of the ongoing life cycle that must continue if life is to be sustained on the tundra. […] The ideology […] is explicitly ecological, but it contains an implicitly feminist message as well, for this ecological veneration of life cycles inherently praises the interconnectedness of life cycles that feminist texts so often embrace. Rather than unfolding with the linear plot-line that is common in children’s realism, Julie of the Wolves contains an embedded narrative structure that parallels the text’s consciousness of cycles. […] Nothing in Miyax’s life happens in isolation, and nothing occurs in a straight line. Instead, she moves forward, makes mistakes, and moves forward again. Thus, the narrative structure parallels the nonlinear nature of Miyax’s life and the cyclical nature of the novel’s setting.
As for the cycles of the female body, the text openly addresses how a teenager living in isolation deals wtih menstruation by clearly stating that she has not yet reached menarche. 

Roberta Seelinger Trites, Waking Sleeping Beauty

Obviously, the association of cycles and femininity are to do with menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. The female body goes through clear cycles of birth and rebirth, while men just get older and die.