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The Myth of Cokaygne in Children’s Literature

The Consuming and the Consumed Child


Franziska Burstyn

In the English-speaking world, the medieval concept of Cokaygne as a paradisiac landscape made of food is merely preserved as a part of American folklore, the «Big Rock Candy Mountain». This motif of food in abundance is recurrent in children’s literature, which is discussed here first of all from a psychoanalytic angle, arguing that the infant’s first contact with the world is established through food intake. In addition, a scarce diet as part of child-rearing in the 19 th century and the rationing system during World War II triggered the fantasy in children and adults alike. Accordingly, the medieval land of plenty found a new place in the imagination of the Victorian and post-war child. Apart from the predominant theme of the consuming child, this book also links the notion of cannibalism to the imagined cornucopia of food in children’s literature, which is a frequent motif in many children’s books up to the 21 st century.
Contents: The Myth of Cokaygne – Literary References – An Etymological Approach to ‘Cokaygne’ – The Carnivalesque – Historical Background – Significant Elements of the Land of Plenty – Children and Food – A Psychoanalytical Approach – A History of Abstinence – The Land of Cokaygne in Children’s Literature – The Domestic Cokaygne – Never-Ending Food Supply – The Land of Plenty – Cokaygne Reversed: The Child as an Object of Indulgence – A Socio-historical Approach to Cannibalism – The Fear of Child-Eaters – Wicked Witches – Gruesome Giants – The Starving Child in a World of Abundance.