Academic Writing

Young adult fantasy novels often seek to explore through symbolism questions relating to human identity that provide the transition of the character from child to young adult

Twentieth century psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theories of the ‘Hero myth’ and the shadow side of the human psyche create the underlying themes in both Ursula Le Guin’s, A Wizard of Earthsea (1971) and J.K Rowling’s series, Harry Potter (1997). The symbol of the shadow and the characters subsequent interaction and understanding of their ‘darker’ side provides the transitioning metaphor for Ged ( A Wizard of Earthsea) and Harry (Harry Potter) to move from a child towards a young adult.

Jung’s exhaustive discussion and analysis of the human psyche contains references to many archetypal symbols and figures that can be used as a key to unlock some of the deeper meanings and themes within the two texts.  While it would be useful and indeed interesting to explore this subject in its entirety, the purpose of this essay is to explore how Jung’s theories on the shadow are embedded within each text and, more specifically, how both Ged and Harry’s integration of their shadow side becomes one of the defining factors in their individuation and subsequent transition from child to adult.

In order to arrive at a working definition of the shadow Franz begins by explaining that, ‘the shadow is simply a “mythological” name for all that within me about which I cannot directly know’ (1995, p.3). Franz elaborates on the concept further by adding, ‘from these repressed qualities, which are not admitted or accepted because they are incompatible with those chosen, the shadow is built up’ (1995, p.5).  The shadow does not necessarily always have to be evil; however the evil arises when the individual works out of the shadow without consciously realising it or striving to understand his/her behaviours.  The process of identity formation, which Jung calls individuation, is in part motivated by the individual recognising, accepting and integrating their shadow side. This process in itself can spur the individual from child to adult.

Both Harry and Ged’s early backgrounds lay the foundation for what Jung would term the ‘Hero myth’. While it is not prudent to confidently categorise characters into neat theories or boxes, the early beginnings of each character have strong parallels with this myth. Understanding the, ‘Hero myth’ is imperative to then understanding the ramifications of the characters struggle with their shadow side and eventual integration. Jung writes of the ‘Hero myth’ as:

. . . structurally very similar . . . universal pattern . . . over and over again . . . a tale of . . . miraculous . . . humble      birth . . . early proof of superhuman strength . . . rapid rise to prominence . . . triumphant struggle with the forces of evil . . . fallibility to the sin of pride (hubris) . . . and his fall through betrayal or a “heroic” sacrifice that ends in his death (1964, p.101).

Ged is born in a, ‘lonely village’ on top of a mountain. His Mother died when he was an infant and his Father was the bronze-smith of the village and a, ‘grim unspeaking man’; ‘There was no one to bring the child up in tenderness’ (Le Guin 1971, p.2).  After casting a spell upon goats, his Aunt, a ‘wise woman’ figure in the village, ‘…saw that he must have in him the makings of power’ (Le Guin 1971, p.4) He then has a ‘rapid rise to prominence’ in recognition from the village adults and his peers. Ged’s inner workings are revealed in a scene where:

As the witch kept talking of the glory and the riches and the great power over men that a sorcerer could gain, he set himself to learn more useful          lore. He was very quick at it. The witch praised him and… he himself was sure that very soon he would become great among men (Le Guin 1971,          p.8).

This initial insight into Ged’s, ‘fallibility to the sin of pride (hubris)’ is what becomes his undoing and creates the shadow that is to be his, ‘triumphant struggle with the forces of evil’.

Harry Potter’s background can also be seen to contain strong elements of the ‘Hero myth’. Harry is born to two loving parents, however both die when he is an infant by trying to protect him from the ‘evil’ wizard in the novel, Voldemort. His instantaneous removal from his home and placement with his Mother’s sisters family, the Durselys, means that he is brought up within a non magical (Muggle) family and incognito in the Muggle world; in this way he has a ‘humble birth’. The Dursleys have an instant and avid dislike for Harry and the magical world he represents and so treat Harry in an abominable manner. Similarly to Ged, ‘There was no one to bring the child up in tenderness’ (Le Guin 1971, p.2). While Harry is a hero in the magical world for being the only one to survive the curse of Voldemort, he is a nobody in the Muggle world. As he grows older he becomes aware of his power although he struggles  to understand the, ‘superhuman strength’ that ensured his survival with an encounter with Voledemort.

Much is made of his Mother’s unselfish sacrifice of her life for him which resulted in leaving on him a physical brand of love that deflected Voldemort’s power from killing him. However in his attempt to murder Harry, something intangible is exchanged between both characters and makes them vulnerable to each other. This is explored in greater detail later in the essay. Harry’s ,’rapid rise to prominence’ when he enters the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is the first time he experiences anything akin to being accepted and this support creates the setting for Harry to embark on his, ‘triumphant struggle with the forces of evil’, personified in Voldemort.  While Ged’s shortcoming is pride, Harry is motivated by something different; an overwhelming need to prove himself and find the acceptance and belonging that has never been his.

Harry finds some part of this acceptance in Dumbledore, the Principal of Hogwarts. Jung writes of the ‘Hero myth’:

. . . another important characteristic . . . provides a clue . . . the early weakness . . . is balanced by . . . strong “tutelary” figures . . . who enable him        to perform the superhuman tasks that he cannot accomplish unaided (1964, p.101).

Dumbledore becomes the grounding figure in Harry’s life; the one who is old, stable, wise, accepting and encouraging and who supports him in his efforts to confront and conquer Voldemort. For Ged, the character of Ogien is the ‘strong “tutelary” figure’, a mage who is all those things to him that Dumbledore is to Harry. Ogien and Dumbledore are the, ‘strong “tutelary” figures’ who enable each to embrace the struggle with their shadow and conquer their fear.

As demonstrated, each character’s background has parallels with the ‘Hero myth’, so the focus now turns to the, ‘triumphant struggle with evil’ that each must endure. For Ged, it is the struggle with, ‘the shadow’. While Ged is learning and exploring his power at ‘wizarding school’ he challenges another student to a duel motivated by pride, hatred and his desire to be recognised by his peers. In his efforts to win the duel by magic beyond his comprehension and ability, Ged unleashes a ‘shadow’ into the world. Le Guin (1971, p.79) initially describes it as, ‘…like a clot of black shadow, quick and hideous, and it leaped straight out at Ged’s face’. She elaborates further by saying:

It was like a black beast, the size of a young child, though it seemed to swell and shrink; and it had no head or face, only the four taloned paws              with which it gripped and tore (Le Guin 1971, p.79).

This ‘shadow’, a seemingly malignant and evil force, strives to attach itself to Ged and hounds him ceaselessly over water, land and mountain. Ged continually flees in terror but cannot escape it. Initially he believes that if he can find its name, he can then have power over it; for to know the name of a thing, is to know its essence. In his wanderings he encounters a dragon who suggests, ‘If you could name it you could master it, maybe, little wizard’ (Le Guin 1971, p.115).

Ged’s overwhelming desire to know the name of the shadow is supplanted by his wariness of ‘doing business with a dragon’ so he does not give in to the dragons bargaining. However the meaning of this interaction is interesting in relation to power being drawn from knowing the name of something. The shadow, both symbolically in this book and according to Jung, gathers its power because it is the unconscious, that is, that which is at the present unnamed and knowable. Once it comes into consciousness, it loses its power by being able to be named, known and therefore understood. However Ged still believes he has no choice but to run from it, as turning to face it meant inevitable death: ‘But if once the shadow caught up with Ged it could draw his power out of him, and take from him the very weight and warmth and life of his body and the well that moved him’ (Le Guin 1971, p.125).

Eventually Ged realises that to conquer the shadow, he must literally embrace it. Jung attests:

There is only one thing that seems to work . . . to turn directly toward the approaching darkness without prejudice and totally naively . . . find out      what its secret aim is and what it wants from you (1964, p.170).

The surprising twist is that the moment Ged changes the dynamic from hunted to hunter, ‘…In utter silence the shadow, wavering, turned and fled’ (Le Guin 1971, p.171). This then becomes Ged’s quest, to chase and find the shadow and to embrace it. In the concluding events, where Ged hunts down the shadow and faces it, a dramatic thing happens. It changes shape and form, quickly flicking from person to person that Ged has encountered and that have provoked feelings of pride and hatred within him. Ged realises that the shadow is the embodiment of his pride and hatred and that in order for him to be free from its power and presence, he must become one with it.

In a powerful paragraph Le Guin describes:

In silence, man and shadow met face to face and stopped. Aloud and clearly, Ged spoke the shadow’s name, and in the same moment the shadow        spoke saying the same word: ‘Ged’. And the two voices were one…Ged reached out his hands…and took hold of his shadow, of the black self that          reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one (Le Guin 1971, p.228).

Of significance here is the first time the phrase, ‘his shadow’ and, ‘the black self’ are used; the meaning is clear, Ged has named and identified the part of himself that was fragmented in the duel due to his pride, and in naming his, ‘black self’ and accepting it, it in effect loses all malevolence and power. As Jung (1964, p.182) explains, ‘Whether our shadow becomes our friend or enemy depends largely upon ourselves. The shadow becomes hostile only when he is ignored or misunderstood’.

Harry’s encounter with his shadow is explored with more complexity, subtlety and symbolism than Ged’s literal encounter with his shadow side. He is physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually connected to Voldemort due to his surviving Voldemort’s attempts to murder him, even though his parents were killed in the process. In that one act of atrocious evil, Harry and Voldemort  exchange a piece of themselves with the other; that is, Harry can now access Voldemort’s thoughts, sights, feelings in the same way Voldemort can access his. In his desperate striving to seek revenge on Voldemort and rid the world of the threat of evil, Harry must continually check himself that he does not succumb to the same overwhelming desire for power, fame and recognition that alienated Voldemort from the Wizarding world in the first place.

Harry’s growing power, fame and notoriety mean that he is continually perched on the brink of the tantalising option of using all he has for his own gain, however cleverly it is disguised in the noble pursuit of evil to atone for his parents death. Both Harry and Voldemort come from a early background of no parental love or influence and no mentor like figure to balance out this loss (as discussed previously this comes later for Harry when meeting Dumbledore at Hogwarts). In this way, Harry and Voldemort share the pain of alienation which informs both of their choices in their pursuit of identity. Voldemort is Harry’s shadow side in that he epitomises what Harry could be if he gave in to his deep repressed desire for belonging and recognition in the manner which Voldemort sought to fulfil his own life.

The pivotal moment revealing Harry’s repressed motivations and feelings is revealed in the encounter with the sorting hat (used to put students into House’s within Hogwart’s ):

‘Hmm,’ said a small voice in his ear. Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There’s talent, oh my goodness, yes-         and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that’s interesting…So where should I put you?’. When Harry thinks, ‘Not Slytherin’, the Sorting Hat                 replies, ‘Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt                 about that…’ (Rowling 1997,  p.91).

Harry’s avid desire to not be in Slytherin, the house that Voldemort was in when at Hogwarts, provides an insight into his early recognition of his shadow side and his conscious choice not to follow in the footsteps of Voldemort and act out of his, ‘nice thirst to prove himself’.

In referring to the ‘Hero myth’ Jung writes:

For most people the dark . . . side of the personality remains unconscious. The hero . . . must realize that the shadow exists and that he can draw         strength from it. He must come to terms with his destructive powers if he is to . . . overcome the dragon (1964, p.112).

Both Ged and Harry come to realize the shadow side of their personality and bring it into their consciousness. In doing this, the shadow not only becomes impotent of destructive power, but they draw strength from the acknowledgement of their capability to use their powers destructively. This becomes important for each characters identity formation and move towards adulthood.  Jung (1964, p.120) explains further, ‘ . . . it would appear . . .that the hero myth is the first stage of differentiation of the psyche. Unless some degree of autonomy is achieved, the individual is unable to relate himself to his adult environment’. Ged and Harry, in acknowledging and embracing their shadow side make the first step towards individuation that is autonomous and able to relate to the adult environment. They are propelled towards a, ‘. . . conscious coming-to-terms with one’s own inner centre or Self . ..’(Jung 1964, p.169) and this in effect liberates them from the potentially harmful effect of the shadow. Jung writes of the final stage of the ‘Hero myth’ that he has a, ‘…fall through betrayal or a “heroic” sacrifice that ends in his death’ (1964, p.101).  While neither Ged nor Harry perish in their respective quests both symbolically sacrifice their pride and fear to confront and embrace their shadow side, and in doing so experience the death of the malign influence of repressed emotions and motivations that could , if left untended, been the cause for their actual physical death.

 

 

 

 

Reference List

 

Von Franz, M.L 1995, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Shambhala, Boston

Jung, C 1964, Man and His Symbols, Dell Publishing, New York

Le Guin, U 1971, A Wizard of Earthsea, Puffin Books, London

Rowling, J 1997,  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,  Bloomsbury, London

 

 

Copyright © Belinda Lyons-Lee 2014

 

 

 

A key concern of children’s literature is how identity-formation relates to place

The children’s book, The Crowfield Curse is a successful blend of both fantasy and historical fiction, and as Raley (2010,p.38) cheekily suggests, ‘historical fiction and fantasy are two great tastes that taste great together.’ In terms of time and place, the novel is set within the time frame of the 1300’s and moves between the buildings and grounds of a Benedictine abbey named Crowfield and the nature setting of  Foxwist Wood and Whistling Hollow. The abbey and its inner rhythms of prayer, work and recreation are presented in accurate historic detail as well as descriptions of the church, gatehouse, chapter house, workshops, the monks cells, the kitchen, cloisters, graveyard and infirmary. The abbey is, ‘small and poor as grave dirt’ (Walsh 2010,p.6) The prevailing theological and ideological views of a 13th century Benedictine abbey are duly represented and upheld by the brothers with rigour, passion and supreme belief in their infallibility. This representation of the abbey conjures in the mind of the reader all those associations of what can only be speculated life in an abbey of this period may have been like; routine, structure, predictability, sameness and for some a satisfying sense of timelessness. However it is within this ‘ordinary’ place that Walsh introduces magic and the injection of fantasy begins.

Foxwist Wood and the Whistling Hollow are the secondary physical places that the characters inhabit and provide the ingredients for the fantasy element to grow. While, ‘the pastoral in literature is a privileged place, secluded, protected from harm, unravaged by seasonal change and strife…’ ( Scutter 1993, p.22), the forest or woods has been used in fairytale and children’s literature as a metonym to symbolise secrets, fears, adventures, the unknown and mysterious. A metonym, as defined by Bradford ( 2004,p.7) is, ‘…when one object or scene stands for a large number of similar objects or scene-it’s often described as ‘ a part standing for the whole’. The forest as a metonym can also be used to symbolise the boundary of human control and domain, it is all that is wild, untameable and unknowable. Pertinent to the storyline is that in ancient societies the forest has also been the setting for pagan sacred sites, rites and rituals, practices that the abbey and the dominating force of Christianity that they espoused, was vehemently (and at times aggressively) opposed to.

Raley (2010) elaborates on the combination of historical fiction and fantasy further by explaining,

Both fantasy and historical fiction are built upon the world the author creates for the reader: exploring its environment, explaining its rules, and        introducing characters that fit within such a world. The only difference is that historical fiction uses the past as a starting point, while fantasy               relies upon an author’s imagination to create a new world or put a new spin on our own world. When the author reinvents the past with fantastical     elements, it gives the novel more opportunities for creativity. The fantasy is given a sense of reality thanks to history and the historical fiction is       given a shot of vitality from fantasy. (Raley 2010,p.39)

This particular combination of Christian place (historical fiction) versus Pagan place (fantasy) is an interesting one. The author cleverly plays with both and uses symbols of each throughout the novel as catalysts for the lead character, a young boy William, to begin pushing out of his tightly held theological and ideological ideas and  in doing so, explore his identity. Bradford (2004,p.4) writes of this connection between place and developing identity when she explains, ‘Place is often of great importance in children’ literature, and is frequently aligned with the processes by which child characters experience identity formation’.

William is an orphan whose whole family died in a fire at the mill in the not too distant past. Somehow he survived, although an explanation for this is not given. Walsh deals deftly with William’s past in the focalising statement made by William, ‘ His old life had died in the fire with his family and now he had to make the best of this new life. It wasn’t what he would have chosen for himself, but at least he had a roof over his head and food in his belly and for now, that was enough’ (Walsh 2010,p.7) William is allowed to stay at the abbey, given a bed and food and, ‘…worked hard every single day to repay the abbey’s great generosity.’(Walsh 2010, p.55)

The abbey may be interpreted as a metonym of a particular strain of Christianity that has been concerned with using religion as a tool of power, authority, control and subordination of ‘the people/masses’ since its inception. The vows that the monks make of chastity, obedience and poverty underpin the atmosphere and culture of the abbey. They make for a life that is centred around the clearly understood and accepted notions of order, routine, and adherence to a rigorous and tightly held set of beliefs that were not to be questioned. The pervasive ideology of the time, grounded in the theology of the time, was dualistic in its essence. Only opposites existed, good or evil, right or wrong, heaven or hell, God or the Devil, believer or pagan. Any action, thought, motive, dream, event or person was neatly and succinctly categorised into either end of the spectrum. And it is into the powerful influence of this theology and ideology that William is thrust when he becomes an orphan who needs food, shelter and clothing.

The abbot, Prior Ardo  epitomises this dualistic thinking, and his tenuous relationship with William is filled with curt exchanges, orders and constant reminders to William to remember his obedience and duty. Brother Snail, one of William’s few allies within the abbey remarks to William, ‘I think God sent the prior to us to test our patience and our devotion to Him…And I fear we don’t always do too well.’ (Walsh 2010,p.13) Through this conversation and admission by Brother Snail (whom the reader recognises as a ‘safe’ character to like as he is a friend of William’s), the reader is positioned to be wary and cautious of Prior Ardo and all that he symbolises. It is also interesting to note that Walsh litters the text with references to the temperature in the abbey, ‘ It was almost as cold inside as it was outside’(Walsh 2010,p.284).  While the references are made literally about the constant coldness, one can’t help but hypothesise that this is a deliberate technique used to further entrench in the readers mind the often cold and unforgiving nature of  Prior Ardo who governs the abbey with the harsh doctrines he embodies.

William’s beginning transition from his inherited and conditioned divisive and dualistic thinking, begins with a trip into Foxwist Wood, where he has explicitly been told to stay away from. ‘This is an unholy place, boy,’ Brother Gabriel had told him. ‘Step off the track between the Boundary Oak and the sighting stone above the Weforde Brook and you’ll be lost. The devil himself walks the woods hereabouts and he is always on the lookout for Christian souls.’ (Walsh 2010,p.16) This warning is both literal and symbolic as it is a turning point for William when he flagrantly disobeys this instruction and goes deep into the Whistling Hollow adjoining Foxwist Wood,  literally ‘off the track’  physically,  spiritually, theologically and ideologically.

It is within the depths of Foxwist Wood that William meets a hob ensnared in a trap, ‘This was neither animal nor man, but he could speak. What manner of creature could do that?’ (Walsh 2010, p.2). In response to seeing the creatures pain, William frees it and shocks himself by physically embracing the hob and deciding to care for it back at the abbey. As the reader understands through Williams focalised thoughts, the creature is neither animal or human and therefore in his dualistic mind it is not a creature of God.  It clearly does not fit into his previously held ideologies and world view. Walsh creates in this a kairos moment for William; ‘ The term kairos refers to a point in time which intersects with chronos and which is imbued with significance’ (Bradford 2004, p.1) This kairos moment comes for William in the place of the forest, when he physically reaches out to embrace what he previously held was non-existent or at best evil. In the physical reaction of embracing the suffering creature William is also opening himself up to the possibility of embracing a new ideology and world view that allows for spaces in between dualist thinking.

While William initially briefly entertained some doubts over whether he was doing the ‘right thing’ by bringing the hob into the abbey, he draws courage from acting upon his deeper sense of intuition that overrides his previously held ideologies and attitudes. He turns to his ally Brother Snail for advice and Walsh underscores in William’s focalising question to himself the strict beliefs that the abbey and some of its inhabitants uphold;  ‘Had he made a mistake in trusting Brother Snail? Would he consider the hob to be a creature of the devil, not to be tolerated on holy ground?’ (Walsh 2010,p.25) The implication is clear, the abbey is Christian and therefore holy, while the creature is from the wood, therefore potentially ‘a creature of the devil’.

The encounter with the hob and the subsequent relationship that is formed becomes the vehicle through which William’s ‘eyes are opened’ and his previously unquestioned theological and ideological beliefs are challenged. As Bradford (2004,p.2) claims, ‘Narratives for children (and narratives generally) generally select particular relationships between characters in order to construct subjectivities and shifts in perceptions of self and others’. William’s openness to developing a relationship with the hob is the definitive catalyst for his undergoing this, ‘shift in perception’ of himself and others.

It is a clever technique that the author brings the hob from the Wood ( all that is mystery and unknown), right into the heart of the abbey ( all that is known and understood), and grows the relationship between the two within its buildings. Walsh tentatively begins to explore this relationship in the following dialogue between William and the hob,

I suppose I should not be surprised, William thought, If hobs exist, then why not tree spirits?’…

‘It disturbs you, knowing it isn’t just your world, doesn’t it?’

‘Perhaps,’ William said, feeling more uncomfortable by the minute, as if he had been caught out in some wrongdoing, without      fully knowing what it was he was supposed to have done, ‘It’s just…’

‘You didn’t realise you were sharing it?’ the hob suggested, eyes narrowed.

William nodded.

‘Most humans don’t. They believe it is theirs alone, and that all the living things in it are there for them to use as they please’. (Walsh 2010,p.51)

The focalising disclosure (highlighted by me) made by William gives the reader the first indication that this ‘shift in perception’ is already beginning to take root in William’s mind and that his ideologies and attitudes are beginning to be stretched. What is also revealing is that this makes William clearly uncomfortable; his loyalty to a subscribed and conditioned set of ideologies and attitudes that were never really owned by him internally, still induced a feeling of guilt when he began to question them. This demonstrates how deeply the influence of his previous contact with a Priest in his home town was felt, as well as the current dominating influence of the abbey.

Another conversation later in the book between William and the hob further emphasises William’s growing awareness and discomfort that his reality is rapidly outgrowing his ideologies and attitudes:

‘I can talk, and I have a spirit that will never die, but I am not human.’

William was feeling more uncomfortable by the minute. ‘But you’re…different. Not animal, not human.’

‘You aren’t a Christian creature,’ William said. ‘You can’t be buried in a churchyard if you are not Christian.’

‘Why?’

‘Because only Christian souls go to heaven.’ That was what the Priest at Iwele had told him, so it must be true, William thought,       though he was no longer certain of that. The hob’s questions were forcing him to look harder at things he had accepted           without a second thought before.’  (Walsh 2010, p.104)

 

At last the readers sees, in the statement highlighted, William articulating in his consciousness that he is no longer certain of his previously held assumptions and ideologies and is prepared to make them give way to embrace a world view that allows for his experiences to be translated and given meaning according to his own intuition; this then is the death knell to the dualistic and divisive thinking and therefore the shedding of a facet of his previously held identity. As Bradford (2004) articulates,

Poststructuralist and postmodern views of subjectivity argue against the idea of a stable, fixed selfhood in a person, but instead proposes that             people develop identities through a dialogue between self and others and between self and world-that is, between the self and the myriad of                 social practices and institutions which constitute the experienced world  (Bradford 2004,p.3)

William’s earlier ‘shift in perception’ allows for the dialogue between himself and the hob, as well as the dialogue between himself and the conditioned world he was a part of, to come under review and in doing so he finds the freedom to be fluid and flexible in the formation of his identity.

In the course of the novel William also stumbles upon a secret of which Prior Ardo is desperate to keep. William discovers that there is an angel, apparently dead, buried within Whistling Hollow. This news causes him further discomfort as although angels were an accepted part of his theology, to accept that one had visited nearby and was killed by a human weapon was incomprehensible, ‘An angel dead and buried? But that’s blasphemy surely? William thought, puzzled and troubled by what he had just witnessed. How could an angel die? And what had it to do with the monks of Crowfield abbey?’ (Walsh 2010, p.44) These questions again jolt William further into a luminal space; the space in between two opposites where everything he once unswervingly believed is up for review.

While William struggles to process this new information and its ramifications, Prior Ardo is busy trying to conceal the secret. He reveals his motives in the following discourse,

‘ If people found out that an angel could die like some mortal creature  of clay, it would raise doubts about the nature of angels, and perhaps even       God Himself, and they would ask questions for which we have no answers. It would shake the church to its very foundations. As far as the world         outside these gates is concerned, angels cannot die. It is Crowfield’s curse that we have to know and guard the terrible truth’. (Walsh 2010,p.113)

As Prior Ardo argues in the above quote, the prevailing attitude of the majority of the monks is a segregation between those, ‘inside the gates’ who possess the truth and answers, and those ‘outside the gates’ who are ignorant and need direction. The threat of acknowledging and accepting that there is mystery beyond explanation, is a direct threat to the power, control and status that as a metonym, Christianity had over people in that period, and more specifically to the story line, what control, power and status the monks exercised over the Villagers.

William’s questioning of the control and power the dominant cultural and religious ideologies posses, result in him feeling, at least in part, an outcast and isolated. It is only through his friendship with Brother Snail that his questions, doubts and fears about his new discoveries are able to be vocalised in an emotionally safe environment without fear of recrimination. Waller (2008, p.55) explains this necessary process:

Identity achievement in teenage fantastic realism is a solitary experience. The hero or heroine is isolated from any sense of wider community by their personal experience of the fantastic…In fantastic realism the teenage protagonist alone encounters the supernatural or the impossible within a realist context and in such a space it is fruitless to appeal to society. Identity achievement here is all about an individual quest to discover a stable sense of self in the face of unsettling or decentred fantasy….It is thus how the individual interacts with the fantastic that is most significant in the teenage fantastic realism in this chapter.

In conclusion, William’s determination to unravel the secret of the angel and his strong acceptance and friendship with the hob mean that he engages in the, ‘individual quest to discover a stable sense of self in the face of unsettling or decentered fantasy’ (Waller 2008,p.55). It is in this process of ‘unsettling’ exploration of his tightly held conditioned ideologies and attitudes that he has a ‘shift in perception’. This enables him to detach from his previous source of meaning and identity shaped by place (the abbey) and embrace a new ideology and identity that is of his own choosing and in congruence with his own intuition and experiences that the places of  Foxwist Wood and Whistling Hollow gave him.

 

 

Reference List

Bradford,C 2004, ‘ Character and genres’, in Narrative Theory and Children’s Literature, Deakin University, Geelong, pp.1-10.

Bradford,C 2004, ‘ Beginnings, endings, time, place’, in Narrative Theory and Children’s Literature, Deakin University, Geelong, pp.1-11.

Raley, M 2010, ‘Historical Fiction Mash-Ups: Broadening Appeal by Mixing Genres’, Young Adult Library Services, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p38-41, 4p

Scutter, H 1993, ‘A green thought in a green shade: a study of the pastoral in Australian children’s fiction of the 1980’s’, Papers, vol.4.no.1,pp.22-37.

Waller, A 2008, Constructing adolescence in fantastic realism, Routledge, London.

Walsh, S 2010, The Crowfield Curse, The Chicken House, Somerset.