Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fathers in Children's Lit

I know Father's Day was almost a week ago, but I think I still have a few hours to make it in under the wire for the Carnival of Children's Literature, and I still have a few things to say about fathers in children's lit. So there. I don't, however, have a nice unified post in mind, so I'm going to bullet-point a bunch of stuff and hope some of it sticks.
  • I wrote about writer dads last year for Father's Day, and I still like the two books I wrote about, Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle and Noel Streatfeild's The Painted Garden (Movie Shoes, for US readers). These are two very flawed dads, for sure, but they are writers and they inspire their children in interesting ways.
  • My own father is a writer dad, and was while I was growing up--though he also had a more-than-full-time day job. He's the person who read me the entire Lord of the Rings series (starting with the Hobbit, when I was almost five); he also used to tell me fairy tales at bed time but leave off the ends for me to "dream." I never could actually direct my dreaming, but I did like coming up with endings to tell him the next night. I blame--and am equally grateful to--him for at least some of my current preoccupations. (Mom introduced me to Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and mystery novels, but that's a subject for another post. Or two.)
  • A while ago a student of mine pointed out that two of my favorite fantasy books, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (not to mention the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife) are plotted around the search for the missing father. Even more interestingly, finding the father doesn't really solve anything, though in all three cases the child hopes it will. Are there other fantasy books with this structure? In the Harry Potter series, Harry does eventually get to meet his (dead) father, sort of, but much more of the series revolves around 1) learning who his father was and 2) learning it again. The first time he learns only the good stuff; the second time around he learns James Potter had feet of clay. It seems to me this is a common theme in coming-of-age novels--learning to differentiate from the parent--but these three series handle it differently.
  • Neil Gaiman has an interesting dad in Coraline, one who makes "recipes" (which annoy his daughter), works from home, and seems both loving and a bit distant--or maybe just preoccupied--at the same time. Gaiman's own blog has been focusing on his daughters lately, which is fun to see.
  • Finally, I'm pretty sure I linked to this before*, but if you love His Dark Materials but for some reason haven't read the piece in The Independent about Philip Pullman's father, you should.

*If I did, I can't find it maybe I didn't, after all!

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