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  • Revisiting Childhood Landscapes:Revenants of Druid's Grove and Narnia

Twentieth-century children's literature is full of characters going back: Wendy revisits Neverland; heroes and heroines of boarding school stories return to school; Bilbo travels "there and back again"; and Lyra and Will promise to reenter the Botanic Garden year after year. In this article I focus on two instances in children's literature where characters return to a significant landscape from their past: the first occurs in Nina Bawden's Carrie's War (1973) and the second in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, specifically in Prince Caspian (1951), although I shall also be making reference to The Last Battle (1956). Aside from the fact that Carrie and the Pevensie children are also evacuees, at first glance there seems little else to connect Carrie's War and Prince Caspian; however, it is perhaps not insignificant that Bawden and Lewis were both displaced by war (Bawden herself was an evacuee in the Second World War while Lewis was wounded while serving in France in 1917) or that Bawden studied philosophy (along with politics and economics) at Oxford in the 1940s while Lewis was a fellow teaching English literature and language there.1 Their novels share a strong sense of treasured and mythical place and an even stronger relationship between remembered landscapes and remembered selves. Druid's Grove and Narnia evoke powerful memories and emotions for the fictional adults and children who revisit them. These characters act as revenants of a kind, experiencing a jolt of recognition alongside a strong sense of change in both the place of return and their own identity. Carrie's War and Prince Caspian therefore provide a useful comparison pair, offering complex perspectives on the trope of return as the adult Carrie revisits her childhood environment and the Pevensie children return to the topography of their first adventure in Lewis's fantasy world. Indeed, the French term revenir with its spectral connections to the "revenant" and thus an implication that death inhabits these places is even more apt, as I shall go on to explain. Exploring the revisited landscapes of [End Page 303] Druid's Grove and Narnia allows us to consider how place constructs child and adult identities in these children's books, while the complex themes of memory, aging, and mortality within them help us understand some of their uncanny power.

Studies of space and place2 in literature, particularly children's literature, rely heavily on Romantic ideas about nature and its influence on individual imagination and growth. Real and fantastic landscapes provide the setting for adventures and character development but also reflect the child's status as natural. Roni Natov notes the particular force of pastoral in children's literature and argues that the "green world," as she puts it, represents a retreat from unnatural civilization. More than this, the child in children's literature can also "serve as the green world itself. In such an allegory, where childhood is the green world, the retreat from the worldly world is the child himself, the figure of escape, renewal and possibility" (Natov 92). As Natov indicates, the pastoral, the garden, the sublime have all been extensively interpreted as metaphorical reflections of essential aspects of child protagonists or the more abstract concept of "childhood" itself. However, the effect of specific places on particular characters can also be illuminating, especially if we ask how the environment shapes identity, or indeed, how environment and identity are co-constructed. The concept is familiar to humanistic geographers who broadly speaking claim that "worlds, places, landscapes, meanings, and human experiences are socially constructed" (Adams et al. xv). According to this perspective, there is no simple distinction between reality "out there" and imagination within; rather, the world we experience is formed by our interactions with it while our subjective selves, in turn, are partially created through those interactions. This is a commonplace of cultural studies, of course, and represents a constructionist stance that has been influential in literary criticism since the 1960s, but the rise of ecocriticism and ecological approaches to literature has helped shift attention away from an exclusive focus on the social world toward...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6563
Print ISSN
0147-2593
Pages
pp. 303-319
Launched on MUSE
2010-12-05
Open Access
No
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