- Midsummer Night's Dreams:Fantasy and Self-Realization in Children's Fiction
In literature involving any kind of a journey, whether psychological or literal, there are two major structural patterns. The first is a linear journey, inwhich the hero travels from Point A to Point B. Point B is generally more desirable than Point A, and the narrative explains why and shows how the hero reaches the desired location. Generally these are stories of wish fulfillment or actual achievement. Examples of realistic novels which contain this pattern are Doris Gates's Blue Willow and Ann Holm's North to Freedom. An example of fantasy is C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle, where the children enter heaven.
More prevalent in children's fantasy, however, is the second structural pattern, the circular journey. The destination here is the same as the departure point. In these stories, the hero escapes from the normal world as defined by home and society, into a fantasy world where he undergoes experiences that ultimately allow him to return to the normal world a more self-confident, knowledgeable, and adjusted individual. Such stories follow the basic pattern of comedy as described by Northrop Frye. As he has stated in Anatomy of Criticism and elsewhere, the movement of comedy is generally toward social integration and discovery of identity and often involves a movement from illusion to reality. "The action of comedy begins in a world represented as a normal world, moves into the green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution is achieved, and returns to the normal world."1 He also states that "the green world has analogies . . . to the dream world that we create out of our own desires."2 Stories using the circular journey are thus reality oriented, while those using the linear journey are directed toward an ideal world.
A variant of the circular pattern is one in which a child who is dissatisfied with his life moves into a new world, where, although apparently escaping reality, he is forced to confront his own problems and solve them, thus making possible his healthy return to his own world. Three particularly interesting [End Page 25] examples shall be considered here: Virginia Hamilton's Zeely, in which a young girl daydreams because her life seems dull; Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang which examines the actual dream of a little boy who feels inadequate because he is the youngest of five children; and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time which traces the interstellar journeys of a teenager who feels out of place both in her family and at school. In each, the escape to the different world is instrumental in helping the central character function more happily when he or she returns to everyday life.
Virginia Hamilton's Zeely is the story of a young girl, at the edge of adolescence, who is searching to establish her identity. In her search, she creates fantasies about herself and others to give herself a sense of importance and to escape from the boredom of her life. At the center of her fantasies is a beautiful young woman named Zeely who becomes a focus for her romantic dreaming, a dreaming which blatantly ignores the obvious realities that surround her. Eventually, by coming to understand the truth of three stories—a legend, a folktale, and an autobiography—she is brought to an acceptance of her own and Zeely's lives.
The novel begins as Elizabeth Perry and her younger brother John arrive at the railroad station with their parents and prepare to take their first train journey, alone and at night, to spend the summer at their uncle's farm. The children are leaving the normal world as defined by school, parents, and city for one which may be seen as a dream world, a summertime, country world, new and exciting to them. Her father's parting words, "And now . . . I leave it all to you,"3 suggest to Elizabeth that she is about to take part in some exciting and significant action. And as soon as she boards the train, she begins to alter...