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Bloody Murder

The Homicide Tradition in Children's Literature

Michelle Ann Abate

Publication Year: 2013

Given the long-standing belief that children ought to be shielded from disturbing life events, it is surprising to see how many stories for kids involve killing. Bloody Murder is the first full-length critical study of this pervasive theme of murder in children’s literature. Through rereadings of well-known works, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and The Outsiders, Michelle Ann Abate explores how acts of homicide connect these works with an array of previously unforeseen literary, social, political, and cultural issues. Topics range from changes in the America criminal justice system, the rise of forensic science, and shifting attitudes about crime and punishment to changing cultural conceptions about the nature of evil and the different ways that murder has been popularly presented and socially interpreted. Bloody Murder adds to the body of inquiry into America's ongoing fascination with violent crime. Abate argues that when narratives for children are considered along with other representations of homicide in the United States, they not only provide a more accurate portrait of the range, depth, and variety of crime literature, they also alter existing ideas about the meaning of violence, the emotional appeal of fear, and the cultural construction of death and dying.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov once wrote, ‘‘You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style’’ (9). This book examines a variety of homicide-themed narratives that possess, if not a ‘‘fancy prose style,’’ then certainly gripping plots and interesting characters. Accordingly, it seems appropriate...

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Introduction: Once upon a Crime: Homicide in American Culture and Popular Children’s Literature from ‘‘Bluebeard’’ to Harry Potter

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pp. 1-35

In 2007, David F. Schmid, a professor of English and author of Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture (2005), told a journalist that ‘‘most societies, perhaps all, find murder and murderers of compelling interest, but Americans have taken this fascination to another level entirely’’ (qtd. in Donovan, par. 8). Patricia...

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1.‘‘You Must Kill Her and Bring Me Her Lungs and Liver as Proof’’: ‘‘Snow White’’ and the Fact as well as Fantasy of Filicide

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pp. 36-59

Psychologists Geoffrey R. McKee and Steven J. Shea assert that ‘‘few crimes generate greater public reaction than the intentional murder of children’’ (678). Given prevailing views about the innocence and defenselessness of young people, the slaying of a boy or girl is seen as particularly heinous. While individuals can imagine an array...

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2. ‘‘The Queen Had Only One Way of Settling All Difficulties . . . ‘Off with His Head!’ ’’: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Antigallows Movement

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pp. 60-91

Of all the villainous characters in children’s literature, the Queen of Hearts from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is one the most infamous. With her haughty attitude, volatile mood, and tempestuous personality, she has become arguably as well known as the book’s title character. Even those who...

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3. ‘‘Swarthy, Sun-Tanned, Villainous Looking Fellows’’: Tarzan of the Apes and Criminal Anthropology

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pp. 92-117

Perhaps more than any other author of boys’ adventure novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs is known for the gory violence of his narratives. As biographer Richard A. Lupoff observes, ‘‘There is the unquestioned sanguinary tone of the great bulk of Burroughs’ tales’’ (193). Whether it is ‘‘John Carter or Carson Napier slashing...

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4. ‘‘A Sixth Sense Seemed to Tell Her That She Had Encountered Something Unusual’’: Psychic Sleuthing in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

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pp. 118-147

Of all the myriad forms of print material that discuss murder, perhaps none is more popular than mystery novels. Detective fiction ‘‘is possibly the most widely read kind of literature’’ (Mansfield-Kelley and Marchino 2), and statistical surveys taken during the 1990s indicated ‘‘that 20 to 22 percent of all books sold in the United...

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5. ‘‘How’d You Like That Haircut to Begin Just Below the Chin?’’: Juvenile Delinquency, Teenage Killers, and a Pulp Aesthetic in The Outsiders

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pp. 148-174

Since its appearance in 1967, The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton’s novel about a group of working-class boys struggling to survive in an environment riddled with gang violence, has been heralded as a landmark in the history of literature for young readers. For more than four decades, Hinton’s novel has been...

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6 ‘‘My Job Is . . . to Make You a Human Being in the Eyes of the Jury’’: Confronting the Demonization—and Dramatization—of Murder in Walter Dean Myers’s Monster

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pp. 175-204

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the murder rate in the United States revealed a powerful paradox. On one hand, this figure had declined steadily throughout the 1990s. As Peter Vronsky has written, criminal homicides stood at 9.8 per 100,000 citizens in 1991 but, by 2000, had dropped ‘‘to a record...

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Epilogue. ‘‘Just Because You Don’t Have a Pulse Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Be Perky’’: My So-Called Death, Young Adult Zombie Fiction, and Murder in the Posthuman Age

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pp. 205-225

By the dawn of the twenty-first century, literature in the United States had seemingly presented every conceivable type of murder. After centuries of featuring killings by family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and strangers, both fiction and nonfiction narratives had ostensibly exhausted all of the possible combinations...

Works Cited

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pp. 227-250


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pp. 251-266

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408415
E-ISBN-10: 1421408414
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421408408
Print-ISBN-10: 1421408406

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 834604112
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bloody Murder

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Children's literature, English -- History and criticism.
  • Johnson, Crockett, -- 1906-1975.
  • Homicide in literature.
  • Crime in popular culture -- United States -- History.
  • Literature and society -- United States -- History.
  • Social values in literature.
  • Children's literature, English ǂx History and criticism.
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