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  • Boundary Issues
  • Richard Flynn

The boundaries between "children's literature" and "adult literature" have shifted historically and have alternated between the rigid and the permeable depending on the political and cultural climate. Some adults feel so strongly the need to police this literary border that they attempt to erect a fence across its entire length. Just this past semester, one of my graduate students, who is an elementary school teacher, reported her colleagues' disapproval that I was teaching The Golden Compass in my class. According to her, they said, "Tell your professor he shouldn't be teaching that book. The man who wrote that isn't a Christian." This prompted another student in the class to inform me that during the furor surrounding the film adaptation's release, the book had been quietly removed from her school's library, even though no parent had challenged it.

Pullman's trilogy is, of course, critical of this kind of misguided use of power and authority. Amelia Rutledge argues convincingly that the "elegance and richness" of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is reflected in the nuanced ways in which the texts "maintain a tension between . . . [a] young person's drive toward agency and their need for guidance." While the positive forms of nurture provided by surrogates contrasts with "the inadequacies of biological parents" and institutions, ultimately Pullman insists that children cannot go it entirely alone—they are in need of mature guidance. But unlike the censorious authorities my students confronted, the nurturing surrogates in Lyra and Will's world "serve to guide, not repress" their development of agency.

It almost goes without saying that Eric Tribunella's discussion of Chris Kent's pornographic adult retellings of Hughes's Tom Brown's School Days and Ballantyne's The Coral Island tests the boundaries between children's literature and adult literature. Kent's books are explicitly erotic parodies of their Victorian precursors, but it seems that their appeal is often a nostalgic one. For adult readers the retellings evoke an idealized or even a utopian re-imagining of a youth during which same-sex desire and sexual activity among boys are celebrated rather than condemned. In the context of hysteria about pedophilia invoked [End Page 117] during a ten-year battle in the United Kingdom to lower the age of consent for homosexual sex to sixteen, the same as the age of consent for heterosexual sex, Kent's novels reinvent "a preferred past, pleasure in childhood agency, a hybridity of childhood and adulthood," and in this they resemble much children's literature.

Amy Pattee argues that David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy is a queer utopian novel by virtue of its appropriation of the "'wish-fulfillment' narratives" of the romance novel genre, the themes of GLBTQ-themed young adult literature, and gay pornography to "describe and normalize . . . same-sex relationships." Paradoxically, the novel makes visible the ideology of compulsory heterosexuality in large part because that ideology is absent from the novel's utopian world.

Examining two mid-twentieth-century novels about American girls traveling to Europe, Claudia Mills demonstrates the tension between two versions of American condescension to foreigners. The naïvely superior American girl in Betsy and the Great World (1952), who thinks of herself as an ambassador from a democratic and classless culture, assumes American perfection so thoroughly "that it never needs to be openly stated." In contrast to Betsy Ray, Jill Brown in My Heart's in the Highland (1958) is overtly an Ugly American, who learns to temper her snobbishness and cultural insensitivity. Both novels reflect the anxieties of a nation fresh from victory in World War II as it negotiates the world stage in the early years of the Cold War.

When Tison Pugh and David Wallace sent us the postscript to their article from the Fall 2006 issue of the Quarterly—"Heteronormative Heroism and Queering the School Story in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series"—in light of Rowling's post-series outing of Dumbledore, we decided to invite responses from Potter scholars Karin Westman and Catherine Tosenberger. The forum, edited by Associate Editor Kenneth Kidd, ultimately raises questions similar to those raised by the articles...


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pp. 117-118
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