Emerging Voices

Thomas Crisp, editor

Exploring the Intent and Ramifications of Spiritual Archetypes in Children’s Fantasy Literature

Stacey Freeman

Stacey Freeman graduated from Bard College with a Bachelor's degree in Literature and Writing and recently earned her Master's degree, in the same field, from Union Institute & University. She is an adjunct instructor of Literature and Composition at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, NY, and her current research focuses on the implications of the presence of marginalized voices in the collective works of Hunter S. Thompson.

The December 2011 National Geographic features a cover-story article which demonstrates the pervasiveness of the King James Bible.  Adam Nicolson writes:

You don’t have to be Christian to hear the power of those words – simple in vocabulary, cosmic in scale, stately in their rhythms, deeply emotional in their impact.  Most of us might think we have forgotten its words, but the King James Bible has sewn itself into the fabric of language.  If a child is ever the apple of her parents’ eye or an idea seems as old as the hills, if we are at death’s door or at our wits’ end, if we have gone through a baptism of fire or are about to bite the dust, if it seems at times that the blind are leading the blind or we are casting pearls before swine, if you are either buttering someone up or casting the first stone, the King James Bible, whether we know it or not, is speaking through us.  (Nicolson 43)

I open with this particular passage in order to point to several key concepts.  The fact that this article is featured as a cover-story in a popular magazine establishes the discussion and debate surrounding Christianity as both contemporary and significant.  Nicolson also embraces a wider view of spirituality by assuring his readers that they “don’t have to be Christian” (Nicolson 43) to appreciate the value of the King James Bible.  Furthermore, Nicolson points to the manner in which Christianity, or in this case a reinterpretation of Christianity in the form of the King James Bible, has saturated our language in idioms with a frequency that is both remarkable and surreptitious.  This article reveals that the language of spirituality is a persistent and often unrecognized presence in every aspect of most everything in which we engage ourselves because unbeknownst to most people, according to Nicolson, it “is speaking through us” (Nicolson 43).  In this article, I first examine the abundance of spiritual archetypes in children’s fantasy literature and utilize Carl Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000) to investigate the possible reasoning for this abundance.  I then delve into Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, with a discussion of her inadvertent use of the archetype of Death, in order to further explicate the concept of a universal psyche.  I conclude with an exploration of Michel Foucault’s concept of the Panopticon in order to explain the possible ramifications of spiritual archetypes in children’s fantasy literature. 

The intense permeation of the language of spirituality is most evident in children’s fantasy literature where it has been free to roam, wildly, in an uninhibited manner.  C.S Lewis briefly explores the topic of spirituality in discussing his choice of genre for The Chronicles of Narnia series.  According to Lewis he “wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say” (Lewis 37).  Lewis makes clear that the series was not initially intended to be thematically Christian due to the fact that it began only “with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion” (Lewis 36).  Amanda Jones suggests that these images originated “close to the pre-lingual edge of his mind” (Jones 52), initially lacking religious didacticism.  He also makes clear that “stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood” (Lewis 37) but that he allowed the images to tell “their own moral” (Lewis 33).  Therefore, for Lewis and many other writers, the genre of children’s literature allows for any and every possibility.  Children’s fantasy literature has an honesty, an openness, and a directness unlike any other genre; an author can discuss topics in children’s fantasy literature, through the use of analogy, that may be frowned upon in adult literature.  Perry Nodelman suggests that children’s books “tend to deny impossibility.  Indeed, I might almost commit myself to the position that the main subject of children’s fiction is just that: impossible things happening.  Rabbits talk and dress like humans, and spiders spell words in their webs.  Forests grow in bedrooms and there are fairies at the bottom of the garden” (Nodelman, “Pleasure and Genre”, 7).  The genre, by its very nature, allows for spirituality, because it makes allowances for all other impossibilities.  The myth of Jesus, the archetype of The Martyr, can be recreated in Lewis’s character Aslan because, in children’s fantasy literature it is possible for a glorious talking lion to be sacrificed and rise again, renewed. 

Children’s fantasy literature may make allowances for fantastic themes but it is the author that determines the direction of these themes.  Lewis’s analysis of the creation of The Chronicles of Narnia series points to the duality involved in the fabrication of these themes, a juxtaposition which engages both the unconscious and conscious minds. The creation of The Chronicles of Narnia began with pictures, a set of images that were archetypically spiritual prior to Lewis’s conscious interjection of Christian themes, prior to “Man’s motive” (Lewis 37).  Aslan, the lion, may not have been the archetypical Martyr prior to the interjection of these Christian themes but he was still the archetypical Hero, the archetypical Father, and the archetypical Hunter (or strength).  As the archetypical Hero, Father, and Hunter, Aslan was similar to Jesus prior to Lewis equating him to Jesus.  Aslan becomes thoroughly aligned with Jesus when he is sacrificed by the Witch on the Stone Table, becoming the archetypical Martyr.  

Northrop Frye, a leading scholar in the field of archetypal literary criticism, suggests that a critic should be “concerned only with the ritual or dream patterns which are actually in what he is studying, however they got there” (Frye 109).  I disagree with this sentiment.  Literary criticism is in some ways a science; it is not an exact science, but it is a science nonetheless.  A biologist cannot study the aggressive tendencies of the grizzly bear without looking at the possible elements that might provoke the bear into aggression.  In order to understand the person on the page, the critic, in much the same way as the biologist, has to understand, to some extent, the person behind the page or, at the very least, that person’s possible motives in creating the person on the page. 

Contrary to Frye’s attempt to disassociate his theory of archetypes from a psychoanalytic approach, the connection is relevant to the foundation of archetypal literary criticism.  Carl Jung, from whom Frye gleaned his theory of archetypes, discusses archetypes within the framework of his discussion of the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000).  According to Jung, the “collective unconscious” is constructed of “inborn possibilities of ideas that set bounds to even the boldest fantasy and keep our fantasy activity within certain categories: a priori ideas, as it were, the existence of which cannot be ascertained except from their effects” (Jung 1000).  These ideas, which are given voice only through art, demonstrate that “the primordial image, or archetype, is a figure – be it a daemon, a human being, or a process – that constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever creative fantasy is freely expressed.  Essentially, therefore, it is a mythological figure” (Jung 1000-1001).  Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats describes this phenomenon in the following manner:

    1.  That the borders of our minds are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.
    2.  That the borders of our memories are as shifting, and that our memories are a part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.
    3.  That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.  (Yeats 16)

Though Jung and Yeats approach the discussion of archetypes from different perspectives – Jung from a scientific standpoint and Yeats from an artistic angle – the conclusion is the same.  I think it important to note that neither Jung nor Yeats is suggesting that certain ideas are regurgitated era after era but rather that the thematic foundation of the ideas reoccur.  Both Jung and Yeats also point to the manifestation of archetypes in the form of a “mythological figure” (Jung 1001) or “symbols” (Yeats 16).

The concept of a universal, veiled psyche is fascinating particularly when applied to the presence of spirituality in children’s fantasy literature; it suggests that some authors of texts that display spiritual themes may not consciously interject these themes.  Natalie Babbitt’s man in the yellow suit in her book Tuck Everlasting is an excellent example of the unconscious addition of an archetypal theme.  The book describes the man in the following manner:

He laughed, gesturing in self-deprecation with long, tin fingers.  His tall body moved continuously; a foot tapped, a shoulder twitched.  And it moved in angles, rather jerkily.  But at the same time he had a kind of grace, like a well-handled marionette.  Indeed, he seemed almost to hang suspended there in the twilight.  But Winnie, though she was half charmed, was suddenly reminded of the stiff black ribbons they had hung on the door of the cottage for her grandfather’s funeral.  She frowned and looked at the man more closely.  But his smile seemed perfectly all right, quite agreeable and friendly.  (Babbitt 18)

Babbitt’s use of language in this passage indicates that the man in the yellow suit is, quite obviously, modeled after the archetype of Death.  She describes him as having “long, thin fingers” (Babbitt 18) which evokes an image of a certain skeletal leanness.  The man moves “jerkily” but with “a kind of grace, like a well-handled marionette” (Babbitt 18) which calls into question whether he is actually human or just feigning personhood.  The puppet allusion also raises the issue of the invisible puppeteer.  This puppet master is not directly mentioned but someone or something must be there yanking the strings and, mentioned or not, it is easy to envision a master who proves more terrifying than the puppet.  (S)he must be more terrifying in order to create the man in the yellow suit who is, in Babbitt’s assessment, nothing more than a doll, nothing more than a child’s plaything.  This renders the man nearly inconsequential, at least by adult standards.  A child’s plaything is of very little importance to the adult, but of the utmost importance to the child.  The man in the yellow suit therefore, as a child’s plaything, belongs to the child.  Babbitt offers a character clearly modeled after the archetype of Death to the child rather than to the adult. 

Babbitt’s main character, Winnie, also produces an image from the funeral of her grandfather, “of the stiff black ribbons they had hung on the door of the cottage” (Babbitt 18) in considering the man in the yellow suit.  This is an indirect method of aligning the archetype of Death to the man in the yellow suit.  Winnienever directly verbalizes that the man is modeled after the archetype of Death; instead she correlates a symbol of death, the ribbons, to the man.  The symbolic nature of this correlation is intriguing because the man in the yellow suit is not necessarily Death.  He, like the black ribbons, is a symbol of death.

It is also of interest that the man lacks a true name.  He is only referred to as the man in the yellow suit which lends him an air of mystery.  Trudelle H. Thomas discusses the concept of Naming and un-Naming, in reference to spirituality in the work of Madeleine L’Engle, which can be suitably applied to Babbitt’s the man in the yellow suit.  Thomas writes:

The second spiritual practice that Meg learns is ‘Naming’ (with a capital ‘N’).  This process is similar to kything in that it involves regarding another person with an open, loving heart.  But while kything is a form of communication with another, Naming is a mode of knowing.  Naming involves recognition; when a person Names another, she compassionately discovers their common ground (shared humanity or shared being-ness).  Naming fosters a deep understanding of another.  (Thomas 162)

Thomas further posits that Naming is a “way of affirming goodness” (Thomas 162) and that “to Name links humans to the Creator, the ultimate Namer” (Thomas 163).  In not allowing the man in the yellow suit a true name Winnie refuses to acknowledge their primary shared attribute, that of personhood.  Winnie effectively renders the man inhuman and severs the connection between him and the Creator.

If Naming is a “way of affirming goodness” (Thomas 162) then un-Naming must affirm the opposite; it must affirm evil.  Thomas writes:

The first sign of evil is impersonality or ‘un-Naming’ – the tendency in contemporary culture to view human beings in impersonal categories.  When a person views others not as individual humans but simply as types, numbers, or labels, she is committing the sin of ‘un-Naming’.  To un-Name is not merely to fail to truly see a person, it is to assign a false, misleading Name.  Un-Naming places excessive emphasis on superficial attributes and often enforces conformity.  To un-Name is to dehumanize, to view a person without compassion or understanding.  (Thomas 160)

Winnie un-Names the man in the yellow suit by denying him a proper name.  Though she does make a correlation between the man and the black ribbons she does not directly state that he is Death incarnate.  Instead of dubbing him “Death” she assigns him “a false, misleading Name” (Thomas 160) which focuses on his “superficial attributes” (Thomas 160), the clothes he is wearing.  He becomes the man in the yellow suit because Winnie refuses to see him as he truly is – a dark, twisted, and unsavory manifestation of evil.

This issue of un-Naming is further complicated by the fact that Babbitt strays from the typical archetype of Death in her description of this man.  The man is wearing yellow, a color that is rarely, if ever, associated with Death.  The color of his clothing is deceptive because it is often associated with the conceptual framework of the spring season - of joy, of renewal, and of rebirth.  Winnie is distracted from Naming and resorts to un-Naming because of the color of his clothing.  She cannot Name him because, to use a colloquial phrase, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  He is Death disguised as rebirth.  Though deceptive, this functions as the framework for Babbitt’s entire text.  Babbitt’s text suggests that there is no value in life without the possibility of eventual death.  Joseph O. Milner proposes that Babbitt’s text endorses death as “life-giving” (Milner 19) because the knowledge of eventual death forces individuals to truly live.

The remarkable thing about the man in the yellow suit is that Natalie Babbitt did not intend for him to be a representation of the archetype of Death.  In response to a question regarding this character Babbitt states “I don’t think of him as a death figure, although that’s interesting; he does seem to have some of those qualities, doesn’t he?  But physically he is rather like the person on whom he’s based.  He was very scary, very powerful” (Hearne 156).  Babbitt may not have intentionally assigned the attributes of Death to the man in the yellow suit yet their shared qualities are unmistakable.  The only adequate means of explaining this phenomenon is to apply Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000).  Babbitt created the man in the yellow suit but her influence, on an unconscious level, was “the primordial image” (Jung 1000) of the archetype of Death.  Babbitt put her own creative spin on the archetype of Death by placing her character neatly in yellow clothing which simultaneously aided the premise of her book, that of death as “life-giving” (Milner 19).

Spiritual archetypes are a curious addition to children’s fantasy literature because the genre is already, by its very nature, a direct reflection of the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000).  Nothing is hidden in children’s fantasy literature; the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000) and archetypes seem almost conscious features of children’s fantasy literature.  If one were, for example, to compile a concise list of archetypes and then apply that list to a book like Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, s(he) would be able to locate every listed archetype in that one particular text: Eragon is the Hero, Galbatorix is the Tragic Anti-hero, Murtagh is the Traitor, Nasuada is the Virgin, and Arya is the Temptress.  One could easily continue with this list and appropriately categorize every single character in Paolini’s text.  The fascinating thing about this scenario is that the archetypes existed prior to Paolini’s text yet, in categorizing his characters, one would apply the archetypes to the text rather than the text to the archetypes.  Since the archetypes existed prior to the text, it is only sensible to deduce that Paolini began with a set of predetermined archetypes and developed his text accordingly.  Children’s fantasy literature is unique because it must adhere to archetypical themes in order to qualify as children’s fantasy literature.  Children’s fantasy literature is children’s fantasy literature because myth is the governing feature of the genre.  

The addition of spiritual archetypes adds complexity to the genre by interjecting both interlacing and conflicting themes.  Myths, formal religions, and an all-encompassing spirituality overlap to pressure readers into swallowing a triple dose of archetypical themes.  This further complicates the characters of children’s fantasy literature.  Eragon is not only the Willing Hero, he is also the Unwilling Hero, the Shape Shifter, the Fool, the Child, the Magician, the Virgin, the Martyr, the Judge, the Healer, and the Hunter.  This list is not complete, simply because Eragon is not a static character.  As the story progresses, Eragon grows older becoming something more, something different, than what he was previously.  The problem with myths, formal religions, and spirituality is that they are objects or stories representing archetypical symbols which, in turn, represent the metaphorical identification of actual objects and events.  Children’s fantasy literature, as the physical representation of the culmination of the entire archetypical process, often actively displays myths, formal religions, and spirituality as the vanguard of its subject matter rendering the genre as a symbol of a symbol of a symbol of metaphorical identification of actual objects and events.

A possible motive of this entire process, albeit unconscious on the part of the author, is to force the reader to trace the lineage of children’s fantasy literature back to its initial impetus – fear.  The rationale for this could be any number of things: to make the audience aware of and appreciate that original fear, to include the audience in the perpetuation of metaphorical identification and archetypical allocation, to encourage the audience to join the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000), or even more disturbingly, to manipulate, dominate, and control the audience.  Fear is a great motivator.  The individual capable of manipulating that fear to suit his/her own purposes is in the seat of power.  S(he) is neatly positioned to impart societal precepts, to perpetuate author Robert Hine’s theory that “what a society wants its children to know reveals what a society wants itself to be” (Hine 238). 

Some aspects of manipulation, domination, and control are most likely conscious features of children’s fantasy literature.  Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces writes:

And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself.  Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world – all things and beings – are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve.  This is the power known to science as energy, to the Melanesians as mana, to the Sioux Indians as wakonda, the Hindus as shakti, and the Christians as the power of God.  (Campbell 257)  

Campbell substantiates the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000) and the existence of archetypes, but attributes the manifestation of archetypes in art to the conscious mind.  According to Campbell, these manifestations in art are “controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles” (Campbell 257).  Every individual in every culture from every religious and vocational background has a direct link to the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000), to the same set of spiritual truths.  The manner in which these truths are interpreted, however, vary according to the individual.  The manifestation in art of these individual interpreted truths also varies accordingly.   

Many literary critics have contrasted C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.  The two series are supposedly in a state of constant opposition; Lewis’s series is clearly Christian while Pullman’s series is clearly anti-Christian, Lewis’s series is fantasy while Pullman’s series is “fantastic realism” (Hade & Oziewicz 39), Lewis writes for children while Pullman aims for the “theologically literate” (Gooderham 165).  The uneasy balance between the two series is further compounded by Pullman’s outspoken and incredibly candid hatred for Lewis’s texts.  David Gooderham suggests that Pullman’s “hatred is directed against Lewis partly as an idealization-of-childhood writer, but the vehement attack can be attributable primarily to the fact that in Lewis’s narratives allegorization of the Christian story is at its most evidently and cleverly contrived” (Gooderham 156).  Gooderham also suggests that Pullman’s intention is to “dismantle the grand narrative of the Christian religion” (Gooderham 162).

I think it inaccurate to categorize these two authors as opposites.  Although the texts are each distinctive, as are any books by two different authors, each series is also remarkably similar to the other in their general spiritual principles.  Both authors discuss the importance of love, faith, honesty, forgiveness, and sacrifice.  Each series also explores magic; Lewis addresses his magical themes from the medieval perspective of kings, swords, and dragons while Pullman explores his magical themes from a more modern, yet still slightly antiquated, circa 1920’s era of zeppelins, photograms, and iceboxes.  Both series are roughly based on the myths of the Christian Bible; Lewis follows the New Testament story of Jesus while Pullman recreates the Old Testament story of the Garden of Eden.  The basic thematic ideas, the basic truths, of each series are essentially the same.  Each author, though, interprets these truths differently which subsequently leads to the belief that the reconstruction of these truths, in the form of their individual writings, are in opposition.

The primary difference between these two authors is that Lewis did not initially intend to write a series that was spiritually themed (Lewis 36) while Pullman’s main objective was to create a series rich in spiritual discourse, as is evident from the manner in which his texts openly attack Christian institutions.  In The Amber Spyglass, for example, Pullman writes “the Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all” (Pullman 441).  Curiously enough Pullman uses both the mythology of the Christian Bible and “ecclesiastical language” (Gooderham) in his attempt to persuade his audience to stray from the Christian faith.  The series is based on the Old Testament story of the Garden of Eden and at no point does Pullman attempt to deny the myth – he simply rearranges the myth to suit his purposes.  In purposely criticizing the premises and institutions of Christianity, Pullman ultimately reaffirms the power of spirituality.  Pullman not only reaffirms the power of spirituality, he also reaffirms the power of the myth.  In the end, Pullman’s main character Lyra recreates the Biblical story of Eve and original sin thereby recreating the archetypes of the Madonna and the Temptress.  Pullman consciously perpetuates “spiritual principles” (Campbell 257) validating Campbell’s premise of a “universal doctrine” (Campbell 257). 

Pullman, in his distaste for Christianity, attempts to rewrite the original myth, the original archetype yet, ultimately, the basic story remains the same.  Lyra, like Eve, like Pandora, like any number of mythological, archetypically-based characters still commits that original sin, still eats the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and still opens that box.  In Pullman’s attempt to control and use the original archetype to suit his purposes, he is controlled and used to suit the purposes of the “collective unconscious” (Jung 1000).  As a result Pullman does not succeed in his endeavor; his books are just as didactic and “cleverly contrived” (Gooderham) as Lewis’s series. 

In endeavoring to control and manipulate an archetype an author is also trying to control and manipulate the process of the metaphorical identification of objects and events that cause fear.  In essence, these authors are attempting to control and manipulate fear.  This is the fundamental reason an author would choose to consciously interject spiritual themes into children’s fantasy literature.  Alan Rauch writes:

The concept of order, in general, is one of the most important themes in all forms of early children’s literature.  Order, first and foremost, meant “design”; there was in every facet of creation both purpose and meaning.  Order was designed in a way that allowed children a world view that placed man at the top of a natural hierarchy, and that, at the same time, reinforced humanity’s subordinate role to the supernatural realm within “the creation” itself.  Thus, in a single natural history lesson a sense of order was established as a child learnt what distinguishes man from beast, child from adult, civilization from savagery and, of course, man from God.  (Rauch 15)

Rauch suggests that authors interject spiritual themes into children’s literature to perpetuate and maintain order, to separate mankind from chaotic nature.  Naomi Wood proposes a similar idea in writing “religion in children’s literature functions as a mechanism of social ordering” (Wood 1).  Though both Rauch and Wood are accurate in their individual assessments of the presence of spirituality in children’s literature as providing a sense of order they both fail to recognize that this “natural hierarchy” (Rauch 15) extends to encompass that which distinguishes audience from author.  The relationship between author and audience is precarious, at best; the author is in a state of knowledge and power because (s)he, as the creator, is aware of the final outcome of a text, situating the audience as lower on the hierarchical scale.  The placement of spiritual themes in children’s fantasy literature further solidifies the author as primary and the audience as secondary, as subordinate to the author.  The author knows about spirituality and the audience is learning about spirituality, or at least learning about the author’s individual vision of spirituality. 

This hierarchy becomes even more complex when coupled with the fact that most children’s fantasy literature is written by adults with children as the intended audience.  Perry Nodelman writes, “this reinforces how intermingled are conceptions of the need for a literature for children and the need for adults to reassure children about themselves and their position in relation to adults – to offer children comfort and/or to make adults comfortable about their power over children” (Nodelman, The Hidden Adult, 59).  I again point to Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting to explicate this concept.  Previously, I discussed Babbitt seemingly offering the man in the yellow suit, or Death, to the child rather than to the adult as is evident from the fact that she compares the man to a puppet, a child’s toy.  What purpose would Babbitt have in making such a morbid offer to a child?  The answer is simple: most adults recognize their mortality while children often view themselves as immortal.  Babbitt offers Death to the child so that the child will understand and appreciate the importance of the balance between life and eventual death.  She reinforces the premise of her book through the man in the yellow suit, the premise of death as “life-giving” (Milner 19), while focusing the full attention of her premise on the child reader. 

Frank P. Riga and Craig Werner, in their article “The Persistence of Religion in Children’s Literature” suggest that “the order in books with a religious dimension, then, far from fostering complacency, encourages maturation and growth through the reinforcement of positive values and concepts” (Riga & Werner 3).  Alhough I do see Babbitt’s offer of Death as a method of insuring “maturation and growth” (Riga & Werner 3) in the child, I fail to see how the offer is a “reinforcement of positive values and concepts” (Riga & Werner 3).  Instead, the text presents the reader with intense contradictions.  The man in the yellow suit approaches Babbitt’s child protagonist, Winnie, in order to locate the magical spring that grants eternal life.  Winnie had discovered the spring through the Tuck family, all of whom had become immortal as a result of drinking the water, but had not drunk the water herself.  The man’s purpose is two-fold; he wants to drink from the spring and he also wants to open the spring to every individual in the world, to offer universal eternal life for a fee.  Essentially, Death wants to grant life.  He fails in his endeavor and is killed by the matriarch of the family, Mae Tuck, who Babbitt compares to “Earth Mother” (Hearne 157), or Mother Nature.  Therefore Mother Nature, a force that, like Mae Tuck, eternally endures, conquers Death. 

The concept of the death of Death is intriguing.  If Death is dead, then life prevails.  However, the man in the yellow suit, or Death, wants to offer eternal life to the people of the world while he is still alive.  In killing Death, as a result, Mae Tuck, or Mother Nature, also kills life.  In summary Babbitt’s text demonstrates the following for the child reader:

    1.  If Death survives life prevails.
    2.  If Death survives death dies.
    3.  If Death dies death prevails.
    4.  If Death dies life dies.

Roberta Seelinger Trites suggests, in regards to death, that “acceptance and awareness serve in the power/knowledge dynamic to render the adolescent both powerless in her fear of death and empowered by acknowledging its power” (Trites 119).  I can readily understand how the child might feel powerless when confronting death but Babbitt’s version of the archetype of Death does nothing to encourage a sense of empowerment.  Winnie is certainly not empowered by the scenario in which she finds herself.  Winnie is offered no real choice in ultimately choosing to not drink from the spring.  The Tucks detest their immortality and are miserable because they are forced to endure, day after endless day, rather than truly live.  The Tucks tell Winnie their experiences, passing on to her their distaste for immortality, encouraging her to refrain from drinking from the spring, leaving the final choice, of whether or not to drink, in her hands.  There is no personal choice, there is no empowerment, when that choice is manipulated.  Winnie didn’t decide not to drink from the spring.  Winnie is helpless in the face of both death and Death and is therefore helpless when confronting life.  She doesn’t acknowledge the power of death, she simply gives into it because it is what the Tucks want.  In writing about the juxtaposition of life and death Babbitt succeeds only in rendering both the fictional child and the real child as ineffectual. 

Perry Nodelman posits that children’s literature exists so that “we can show children what we know about childhood in hopes that they will take our word for it and become like the fictional children we have invented – and therefore less threatening to us” (Nodelman, “Other”, 32).  If Nodelman’s theory is accurate, that the real child reader morphs in order to become more like the child on the page, then spiritual themes and archetypes have a tremendous influence in both children’s literature and in the lives of children.  Children’s literature functions in much the same way as Michel Foucault’s concept of the Panopticon.  Foucault writes:

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.  So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.  (Foucault 201)

Children’s fantasy literature, like Foucault’s Panopticon, functions independently to create a system of control in which the child is secondary to the adult.  The adult author creates an idealized fictional child based on his/her interpretation of the real child.  The real child reads about the fictional child and alters his/her personality to mimic the child on the page.  This cycle continues with the adult author interpreting the real child and the real child mimicking the author’s interpretation, ultimately destroying the boundary between the real and fictional child.   

This concept is further compounded by the fact that children eventually become adults.  In mimicking the fictional child, the real child can have no true understanding of actual childhood.  Some of these children grow up to be adult authors that write about childhood as they believe childhood should be, perpetuating the cycle.  Essentially the real child reader is watching the fictional child and then grows up to be a real adult who creates the fictional child.  The “surveillance is permanent in its effects” (Foucault 201) because the cycle is unending.  Children, in mimicking the fictional child, actually aid in the continuation of this bizarre and vicious cycle.

The addition of spiritual themes adds another interesting component to this cyclical concept of control in children’s fantasy literature.  Spiritual themes and archetypes in this genre function as a means of maintaining the “natural hierarchy” (Rauch 15) between author and audience, between adult and child.  The addition of spiritual themes and archetypes result in the author creating a fictional child that is ineffectual and helpless, as is the case with Babbitt’s protagonist, Winnie.  Anne Scott Macleod writes “nothing in literature is more striking than the sense that adults have lost confidence in their ability to tell children how to live in the world” (MacLeod).  MacLeod’s premise is of no surprise, particularly when considered against the backdrop of a genre rich in spiritual themes and archetypes, and viewed in tandem with Foucault’s concept of the Panopticon.  Adult authors are unable to guide children in the world because the conceptual framework of adult knowledge of the world is based on what they learned as children.  Unfortunately, children are often presented with concepts that are too difficult for even the adult mind to process, leaving children to flounder in an unfamiliar and hostile world.


Works Cited

Babbitt, Natalie.  Tuck Everlasting.  New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007. Print.

Campbell, Joseph.  The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973. Print.

Foucault, Michel.  Discipline & Punish.  New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.

Frye, Northrop.  Anatomy of Criticism.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957. Print.

Gooderham, David.  “Fantasizing It As It Is: Religious Language in Phillip Pullman’s Trilogy, His Dark Materials.”  Children’s Literature 31 (2003): 155-175. Web.  28 April 2011.

Hade, Daniel.  Marek Oziewicz.  “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell?  Phillip Pullman, C.S. Lewis, and the Fantasy Tradition.” Mythlore 28.3-4 (2010): 39.  Web.  28 April 2011.

Hearne, Betsy.  “Circling Tuck: An Interview with Natalie Babbitt.”  Horn Book Magazine 76.2 (2000): 153-161Web.  7 April 2011.

Hine, Robert V.  The American West: An Interpretive History.  Boston: Little Brown & Company, 1973. Print.

Jones, Amanda Rogers.  "The Narnian Schism: Reading the Christian Subtext as Other in the Children's Stories of C.S. Lewis."  Children's Literature Association Quarterly 29.1-2 (2004 Volume 29): 45-61. Web. 6 May 2011.

Jung, Carl Gustav.  “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry”.  Ed. Vincent B. Leitch The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. Print.

Lewis, C.S.  Of Other Worlds.  San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1966. Print.

MacLeod, Anne Scott.  “An End to Innocence: The Transformation of Childhood in Twentieth Century Children’s Literature.”  Children’ Literature Review. 102 (2005).  Web. 25 May 2011.

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Nicolson, Adam. “The Bible of King James”.  National Geographic December 2011 Pages 36-61.

Nodelman, Perry.  “The Other: Orientalism, Colonialism, and Children’s Literature”.  Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 17.1 (1992): 29-35.  Web.  13 June 2011.

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---.  The Hidden Adult.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. Print.

Pullman, Philip.  The Amber Spyglass.  New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2002. Print.

Rauch, Alan.  “A World of Faith on a Foundation of Science: Science and Religion in British Children’s Literature: 1761-1878.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 14.1 (1989): 13-19Web.  6 May 2011.

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Thomas, Trudelle H.  “Spiritual Practices Children Understand: an Analysis of Madeleine L’Engle’s Fantasy, A Wind in the Door.”  International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 13.2 (2008): 157-169Web.  22 July 2011.

Trites, Roberta Seelinger.  Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature.  Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000. Print.

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Yeats, W.B.  Ideas of Good and Evil.  Lexington: Filiquarian Publishing, 2011.  Print.



Stacey Freeman

Volume 17, Issue 1 The Looking Glass,May/June 2013

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"Exploring the Intent and Ramifications of Spiritual Archetypes in Children’s Fantasy Literature
" © Stacey Freeman, 2013
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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

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