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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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7 Another Side of the Inklings: Smith of Wootton Major 143

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7 Another Side of the Inklings: Smith of Wootton Major An undisputed landmark of fantasy literature, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is perhaps the only modern work of its kind, prior to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga, to achieve cult status among young and adult readers alike. Numerous books and articles have been lavished both on it and the Narnia Chronicles of C. S. Lewis, Tolkien’s academic colleague; though critical consensus suggests that Tolkien’s longer three-part epic outdistances Lewis’s seven part narrative qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Both works, familiar though they are, have recently reached a wide movie going audience as well, which is why this chapter will focus instead on one of the lesser known literary products to arise from that informal fraternity of medievalists, Christian polemicists, and modern exponents of Kunstmärchen known collectively as the Inklings. Tolkien’s 1967 short story, entitled Smith of Wootton Major, unlike The Lord of the Rings or Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—both of which culminate in a pitched battle between the forces of good and evil—takes up a familiar heroic theme, the Spiritual Quest of Everyman, but couches it in more intimate, decidedly less epic terms. With regard to Lewis (who has become the darling of the religious far Right) it is worth noting that this one-time atheist did not attend church regularly. He was also a frequent and unabashed imbiber of alcohol. Fur- thermore, as a literate Christian, he did not expect Jesus...

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