24 November 2006

Fantasy as a Privileged Genre

Jackie C. Horne, former book editor and now professor at the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College in Boston, has issued a call for panelists at the Modern Languages Association (MLA) conference in 2007. This panel would be sponsored by the Children’s Literature Association. Horne's CFP states:

Beyond Harry Potter: Theorizing Fantasy for Children

In the 1970’s, when the study of children’s literature first began to be regarded as a serious academic pursuit, fantasy held a privileged place in the children’s literature canon. Much of the earliest theoretical work in the field focused on key Victorian works of fantasy, and emphasized the importance of the imaginative worlds such books created for child readers. Yet much of this criticism, relying as it does upon Romantic constructs of the child, fails to persuade the post-Romantic critic.

With the reemergence of fantasy as a privileged genre in the wake of the popularity of the Harry Potter books, many articles and books have been published on individual fantasy titles, but few works that attempt to theorize children’s fantasy as a whole have emerged to take the place of earlier, often dated, ideas. How can we as a field begin to theorize the genre of fantasy, rather than simply analyzing individual titles?

This panel will examine new theoretical approaches to the study of the genre of children’s fantasy. Papers that address the following are encouraged:
  • How as the emergence of technology influenced children’s fantasy, a genre with strong roots in an anti-industrial, anti-urban vision?
  • Has the longing for a lost hierarchical society so common in high fantasy, with its trope of the return of the lost king and the lost social order, been replaced as global capitalism and corporations become the dominant players in Western social organization?
  • How has commercial culture impacted fantasy, a genre with a strong anti-materialistic history?
  • Have the feminist quest heroines of the 1980s and 90s been replaced or re-imagined for our “post”-feminist culture?
  • Can recent developments in cognitive theory or neurobiology lead us to new insights about the importance of fantasy in children’s development?
  • What is the link between religion and fantasy?
  • What narrative strategies do contemporary fantasy writers employ, and how are such strategies different from those of writers in the past?
  • What characterizes a contemporary fantasy hero/heroine?
  • How do sub-genres specific to children’s fantasy (animal stories; toy and doll stories; magical adventure tales) relate to the more familiar sub-genres of quest fantasy and travel to other worlds?
Papers that look broadly at the genre, rather than narrowly at individual books, are most welcome.

Submit 1-2 page abstracts or 8-page papers by March 1, 2007 to Jackie DOT Horne, followed by the at-sign and the domain name Simmons DOT edu. [I render her email address in that unhelpful way to fool the spambots.]
Horne suggests that in the 1970s, theories about children's fantasy were treated as applicable to all of children's literature. Now, apparently, we know better. But what theories arose while fantasy was in a sales doldrum, and are they applicable to fantasy, or do different types of literature work in completely different and separate ways?

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