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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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9 Psychological Gothic: Reflections on Rowling’s Back Stories 187


9 Psychological Gothic: Reflections on Rowling’s Back Stories Kreature’s Tale The psychological gothic, as pointed out in the preceding chapter on Rowl- ing’s political gothic imagination, is a genre that deals primarily with the divided self. It explores interior conflicts resulting from psychic dismem- berment that can shade easily from angst and neurosis into obsession and even madness. In the supernatural gothic genre, such transformations are frequently portrayed in terms of a physical transformation from man into beast (or monster) as in Mary Shelley’s the Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus and R. L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Just as fre- quently, however, gothic writers and film makers toy with ambiguous situations that can be interpreted as either psychological or supernatural in nature. The shadow-side of the divided self often eludes detection until it is too late for us or others to mount an effective defense against it. Our dark compulsions can appear in the guise of an unsuspected beast-within or, more terrifying still, in the guise of a reassuring friend, lover, or neighbor. “Com- plicated creatures we are,” writes Madeleine L’Engle, “aware of only the smallest fragment of ourselves” (Walking on Water 131). In a similar vein Lurie Sheck observes, “So much of life is invisible, inscrutable: layers of thoughts, feelings, outward events entwined with secrecies, ambiguities, ambivalences, obscurities, darknesses strongly present even to the one who’s lived it—maybe especially to the one who’s lived it” (Sheck x). The existence of hidden dimensions lurking deep within the psyches...

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