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Hogwarts and All

Gothic Perspectives on Children’s Literature

Gregory G. Pepetone

Hogwarts and All explores modern children’s literature from its origins in the nineteenth-century cult of childhood, a cultural movement inseparable from Christian theology. From the Kunstmärchen (adult fairy tales) of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century German romanticism through Charles Dickens, J. R. R. Tolkien, and J. K. Rowling, this genre, like all gothic arts, has served as an alternative cultural perspective to that of scientific materialism. Its benignly subversive message is that a civilization that abandons its commitment to the childlike values of wonder, trust, sacrificial love, spontaneity, vulnerability, and faith in radical possibilities for peace, social justice, and human happiness – all qualities endorsed by Ray Bradbury, Susan Cooper, Madeleine L’Engle, and other authors discussed in this volume – is a civilization at risk.

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Preface: Kinder-Goth and the Seedtime of the Soul 1

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Preface: Kinder-Goth and Pottermania The Romantic Cult of Childhood The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a proliferation of literature aimed at a younger audience. Much of it has to do with supernatural Gothic subject matter including ghosts, witches, wizards, monsters, vampires, angels, demons, and other mythological or legendary entities. Commercially, the most successful of these books (perhaps the most successful series of books since the Bible) are a recent product of this specialized industry. I refer, of course, to J. K. Rowling’s phenomenally successful Harry Potter series. Rowling’s compelling saga did not, however, arise in a vacuum. Indeed, the way for “Pottermania” was paved two centuries earlier by Romantic educators, poets, novelists, painters, and musicians who conceived of childhood as what the English poet Wordsworth famously called the “seedtime of the soul.” What they had in mind was not the result of statistical studies in child psychology, but a widely shared perception of childhood as a code for certain values—such as openness, vulnerability, imagination, and candor—that define our common humanity throughout our adult lives. They intuited that these values were threatened by industrial, scientific, economic, and political changes then sweeping the European continent. “Old age does not make childish…” writes Goethe in Faust, “it merely finds us children yet” (Goethe 5). More than hundred years after the completion of Faust, Madeleine L’Engle made the same point when she stated, “I need not belabor the point that to retain our childlike openness does not mean to be...

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