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  • Of Archetypes and Heffalumps
  • William F. Touponce (bio)
Mere Creatures: A Study of Modern Fantasy Tales for Children, by Elliott Gose. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.

This book is a study of ten works of fantasy published over the past one hundred years: Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories and The Jungle Book, A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz and Ozma of Oz, Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child, Richard Adams's Watership Down, and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The subtitle is a bit misleading because Gose concentrates exclusively on works with animals or other humanized creatures (such as stuffed or mechanical toys); it is not a study of fantasy per se. The method is largely that of Jungian depth psychology, which has long held that animals in dreams and myths are archetypes representing our instinctual life, which civilization may require us to repress or deny. In addition, Gose borrows insights from Freudian psychoanalysis (especially W. D. Winnicott's notions about the role of play and transitional objects) and the structural analysis of folklore.

By setting up these theoretical concerns and underpinnings in an introductory chapter and then focusing on a single work in each chapter (contrary to the usual practice of archetypal criticism, which tends to fragment texts and then to subsume them under archetypal categories), Gose leads the reader to expect a major critical reading of these works. Unfortunately, this is not the case. He spends too much of his time on detailed plot summaries, adding almost as an afterthought a few analytic paragraphs relating the work in question to the premises of the introductory chapter. Winnicott's suggestive notions are applied scantily in the analyses, which become rather predictable: animal fantasy is read as an allegory of psychic integration. The analysis of Winnie the Pooh is fairly typical. Christopher Robin stands for the self, Pooh can be the developing ego, and Piglet can represent the fears of the id (33). For [End Page 184] Gose the party at the end of Milne's book indulges the animal pleasure in eating but also the social need for harmonious relations among diverse creatures (that is, parts of the psyche). It thus reinforces what is for him the consistent import of the narrative—that both fearful and ignorant creatures can gain confidence and mastery over the unconscious forces or undeveloped aspects of their psyches.

Although Gose is aware that this kind of critical reading runs the risk of being very schematic, at times he seems to force the meaning of the text to make it fit his preconceived Procrustean bed of the archetype. For example, he draws extensively upon the work of Joseph Campbell (even including an appendix reproducing Campbell's schematization of the monomyth) to uncover a pattern of meaning in the hero's adventures, which according to Campbell must include a descent into darkness and psychic disintegration that leads to a reintegration when the hero returns to society with some sort of cultural gift. It is a bit difficult to find convincing evidence of this cyclic pattern in Milne's Winnie the Pooh, but Gose nonetheless insists that at least part of it is there: "Winnie-the-Pooh's descent into darkness takes place in the Heffalump pit. As he approaches it in the pre-dawn, 'the Very Deep Pit' contains Pooh's honey jar as 'something mysterious, a shape and no more.' Pooh climbs down and immerses his head in that barely defined shape" (176). Gose adds that Pooh, with the pot stuck on his head, takes the place of the Heffalump and frightens Piglet. True enough, but on rereading this episode I noted that what Milne emphasizes is not the mysteriousness of the scene, but the fact that Pooh very soon discerns by means of his nose and animal instincts that it is indeed honey at the bottom. That is why he descends. And the fact that Milne capitalizes "Very Deep Pit" ought to signal an ironic or comic perception (as in Very Clever Brain) and...


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pp. 184-187
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