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  • Freud in Oz: At the Intersection of Psychoanalysis and Children's Literature by Kenneth Kidd
  • Valerie Krips (bio)
Kenneth Kidd . Freud in Oz: At the Intersection of Psychoanalysis and Children's Literature. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011.

As early as 1935, William Empson wrote that "To make the dream-story from which Wonderland was elaborated seem Freudian one has only to tell it." Quoting Empson, Kenneth Kidd reminds us both of the ubiquity of Freudian thought ("one only has to tell it") and the relationship of it to children's literature. It's at the intersection of psychoanalysis and children's literature, in which critics of children's books as well as writers, readers, and analysts operate, that Kidd's own hermeneutic comes into play as he takes us through a history of a relationship that in spite—and perhaps because—of frequent internal theoretical struggles, remains highly productive.

As Kidd relates, Freud came across fairy tales frequently in his analytic work. They were not only a "common cultural reference point" but were already a form associated with childhood and development more generally (5). Almost all psychoanalysts of the early period wrote papers in which fairy tales figured, and Kidd argues that it was in part through them (or through folklore, with which fairy tales were then conflated) that psychoanalysis itself was popularized. Appearing in dreams, fairy tales were vehicles for wish fulfillment, for notions of omnipotence and secret powers (perhaps one only has to say this to think of Where the Wild Things Are).

Beginning with Freud and fairy tales which, by the twentieth century, had become "the primal form of children's literature" according to William Kerrigan (1), Kidd's trajectory moves through child analysis, case histories, picture book psychology, and the adolescent novel, all the way to trauma writing. He walks carefully in the minefield over which he casts his eye. Child analysis (endorsed by Freud, but something of a problem for Lacanian theorists, as Kidd notes) turned to materials for children, including books, and particularly to play in order to attend better to the analysand. Kidd's discussion of ego psychology follows on the heels of child analysis and object-relations theory, all of which are discussed in an extended reading of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh.

Kidd argues that from an inherited didactism we have arrived at an "instrumentalism of children's forms": children today "need to fantasize, to dream, to sail where the wild things are" (24). The hypercanonical Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wizard of Oz each provide case studies. All three are rich in possibility within the "cultural imaginary of the interpretive community" [End Page 94] of children's literature (76). Reading what critics have said about these three texts, and the ways in which the characters, plots, and authors have been interpreted, is to revisit some of the most troubling psychoanalytic readings of children's books, in which the fine line between an intersection with and the colonization of one discourse by the other is frequently crossed, to the detriment of both psychoanalytic criticism and children's literature. Kidd traverses the terrain with acumen and skill and, with the introduction of the idea of the cultural imaginary and interpretive community, opens the path to what he calls the psychologization of children's literature, a way paved by picture books and followed by the adolescent and YA novel.

This psychologization has also seen the protagonization of the American character, in which identity has become "a literary as well as a psychological term" (139). This development affords an opening for questioning some of the basic premises of contemporary literature for children, which turns "away from the social" and privileges "adolescent interiority" (173). It's here, amid the currents of criticism that circulate around the construction of the self, that Kidd's judiciousness begins to soften—his aim has been to "describe rather than evaluate" (205)—and the sense of a "shadow text," to use his term for the text not written, becomes more evident.

Careful to remember the historical context of the criticism he discusses, Kidd's account reaches the immediately contemporary cultural imaginary in its...


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pp. 94-97
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