Aspects of myth and folklore in children's fiction : with particular reference to contemporary writers.
This thesis is an attempt to assess the use made of myth and
folklore by children's writers, and consequently to approach a definition
of myth, of children's literature and of the relationship between the two.
Concentrating on twentieth century writers, and on the myths and folklore
of Britain, it examines the various re-tellings of the legends of Robin
Hood (including the versions of Pierce Egan the Younger, Howard Pyle,
Henry Gilbert, Carola Oman, and Rosemary Sutcliff, and the socialist
interpretation of Geoffrey Trease); fiction which draws on or re-tells
the Matter of Britain (concentrating on the writings of T. H. White, Susan
Cooper and Penelope Farmer); the work of the most important of contemporary
myth-based children's novelists, Alan Garner; and the mythopoeic fantasies
of J. R. R. Tolkien and his followers, including C. S. Lewis and Ursula le
Guin. As far as possible space has been restricted to writers of genuine
literary ability. Since the critic is not a child, questions of literary
merit or achievement have been approached with the same rigour and the same
standards as apply to literature for adults. No attempt is made to make
all the writers or works considered conform to any narrow pattern, but
the tentative conclusion is drawn that for children's writers the function
of myth is often to explore the problem of time, and that in the contradiction
between mythological (cyclical) and historical (sequential) time
children's authors have found both a form of narrative in which abstract
concepts can be expressed concretely, in action rather than in reflection
or analysis, and a metaphor for the child's progress into adulthood.