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The Intellectual Scale of Children’s Fantasy: Telling Ideas in the Works of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, A.A. Milne, and E.B. White

  • Author(s): Shih, Alethia
  • Advisor(s): Bristow, Joseph E.
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the intellectual, philosophical, and narratological inquiries that undergird the children’s literary fantasies of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, A.A. Milne, and E.B. White. Although existing scholarship has acknowledged the complexity of these authors’ interests, such discussions have also remained overwhelmingly mired in preconceptions about the escapist and youthful qualities that define their works of fantasy. In this study, I argue that these writers were not only keenly attuned to the intellectual stakes of their writing for children, but also particularly interested in using fantasy as a means of exploring—or, more accurately, reimagining in different scales—some of the most important academic, political, and scientific ideas of their day. By drawing attention to the preoccupations that bridge these four authors’ philosophical thought and their best-known works of children’s fantasy, I suggest that literary acts of rescaling, resizing, and recalibrating in these stories often operate as mechanisms for cognizing what it means to adapt in a rapidly changing, expanding world. In doing so, my research constructs a more cohesive narrative of the unique intellectual inquiries that have shaped the category of children’s fantasy and offers a holistic framework for future studies of these contributions.

My first chapter examines Carroll’s treatment of his young protagonist in his Alice novels. I assert that Alice’s uniquely scaled adventures through the natural history landscape of Wonderland and a highly globalized chess game in the Looking-Glass world allow Carroll to engage in Oxonian debates concerning the child, the individual, and the evolution of the English language. My second chapter focuses on oddly scaled figures of storytelling in Barrie’s Peter Pan stories, such as Liza and Irene, whose incongruent identities and ages enable them to become authorizers of narratives about the past, present, and future. My third chapter investigates Milne’s contemplation of early-twentieth-century philosophical ideas in his Pooh tales, which grapple with the ordinary language and educational theories of Bertrand Russell and John Dewey. My fourth chapter analyzes the connections between White’s vision of cosmopolitanism in his postwar writings and his portrayal of democratically-minded leaders such as Stuart and Charlotte in his children’s novels.

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