Paul Shuttleworth

TMA 01- EA300


‘What is lurking behind the apparently innocent children’s book is in fact something very intrusive, controlling, and often downright sinister.’ Discuss this statement with reference to either Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or Northern Lights. Children’s Literature is a long debated topic and many questions have arisen that are yet to be answered. Children’s literature seems vary hard to define, the topics and themes now used in texts classed for children are coming under increasing scrutiny‘What is lurking behind the apparently innocent children’s book is in fact something very intrusive, controlling, and often downright sinister.’ (Hunt, 2009, p.14) this would suggest that authors have a power over their readers and use this power to exert control over them. This essay will discuss how childhood is a social construction and the idea of ‘childhood innocence’ could be an outdated notion. Within the global society there are a range of cultural differences that determine how we view any literature, especially as being controlling or sinister this will also be explored. A key part of any discussion regarding books and their controlling power is the ideology of the author and how their views are imparted through their text. These ideas will be discussed with direct reference to the text Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by J K Rowling, the first book in the Harry Potter series that has become a global phenomenon. The books have faced widespread criticism for containing pagan, sexist and racist themes that could be viewed as intrusive, controlling and sinister. An interesting starting point for this discussion is who decides what is and isn’t sinister, controlling and intrusive within children’s books. Culturally across the world people share many differences in the way they lead their lives and the values and beliefs they aspire to thus creating different points of view on what is appropriate for their children. An example of this is in the text Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone the story is all about witchcraft and wizardry and following the life of a particular group of young witches and wizards as they go through a school year in a parallel world where predominantly christian festivals are celebrated such as Christmas, this in itself has caused controversy. Devout Christians have described the book as encouraging paganism within children and therefore argue that it is controlling and intrusive into their beliefs, this maybe true but if as a reader, adult or child, you were not a christian but an atheist then the storyline would not be seen in this way. The United Kingdom is considered to be a multi-faith society, and the way cultures are valued is key to how the population functions, in light of this these values have changed over recent years for example The Two Dutch Dolls- and a Golliwog by Bertha and Florence Upton in 1985 whose main characters named as the title were seen as heroic figures before being seen as racist, this shows how over time, less than twenty years in fact, values change and can change the meaning of texts. When that text was written it was unlikely that the authors were choosing to be racist it’s just how the characters were developed but now in Western society we see such things as racist and therefore sinister and controlling. Historical changes are also an important element in this discussion. The purpose of children’s literature since is early beginnings in the 1700’s has changed dramatically as Hunt describes “Most histories of children’s literature suggest that children’s books were initially entirely designed for educational purposes, with ‘delight’ if any, an incidental sugar-ing of the pill” (2009 p.22) he goes on to say this

P56) but as childhood has changed Hunt states the “assumption that children like shellfish. but can filter them out.24) In addition Rousseau highlights that during childhood “children learn(t) what they needed to at their own pace” (cited in Block 1 EA300 p. An authors ideologies have an affect on their writing and Hunt argues “Even those writers who claim to be nothing but entertainers have their own ideological stance. This provides evidence both that sinister issues have their place in texts but also that authors can use them to control readers thought processes if they relate their situations to that of the characters. 2009. Writers have differing views on their impact on readers. 44) Some including Hunt say that “the printed book is really of little relevance to the modern child and that we should be looking at is the mediation of story through electronic and multimedia channel” (2009 p. sinister themes but some readers may either not see them or have the cognitive ability to establish between right and wrong. is wishful thinking” (2009 p. this was not apparent in the early years of children literature in Locke’s early theory he “gave children virtually nothing to stimulate their imaginations” (Carpenter. 21) Also the importance of the fact that children are inviduals must not be forgotten and what is appropriate for one child to be reading is not for another even if they are the same age. their own way of seeing the world” (2009 P. and subsist in a pure innocent state.15). 2009 P. their own ideas of what is right and wrong. Childhood is a social construction and many theorists have presented their thoughts in relation to childrens literature. live among unsavoury things. texts were not just aimed at children but at early readers as it was not just children that were learning to read at the time of early books. and suggest digressions and discussions between mother and child” (Hilton et al.16) Therefore children’s literature can be used as a tool to show young people ways to deal with given negative situations. as Joan Aiken said “What terrifies one child may seem merely comic to another or maybe completely ignored” (cited in Hunt. This is another interesting point about adult assumption of what the child will take from a text “Locke believed children were born neither evil nor good but as blank slates…would be shaped by education and training” (Block 1 EA300 p23) This is a ‘nuture’ rather than ‘nature’ way of perceiving childhood. controlling and intrusive for the modern day child. Books were written with a different audience in mind. as the western world has become more widely literate the function of texts has become more widespread this is what Grenby says is a demographic change “ demographic change is clearly one important factor for a diminishing childhood mortality rate resulted in a larger market for children’s books and a greater willingness to invest in children” (2009 p. Harry stands up to the bully (Malfroy) and supports his friends but without telling an authoritative adult. In terms of literature does this mean that if intrusive and sinister themes are used children will become ‘evil’? Or could it be used as a tool to illustrate to the child reader right from wrong and “invite a dialogue. 1997 cited Block 1 EA300 p. Children living in the modern world are exposed to a wide range of things that some may view as inappropriate or unsavoury but with the growth in technology children and young people have growing access to content through various media and on the internet.EA300 X4916812 instruction went onto change to entertainment through the nineteenth century and he identified that “children had fewer things to entertain them”. for example in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone the issue of bullying is dealt with between two of the main characters Harry and Malfroy.23) this shows that children’s books can contain controlling.22) This shows how the way people perceive children at any give time through history is a merely a snapshot from society at that point and therefore it is very hard to classify what is sinister. However. .Paul Shuttleworth TMA 01.

he only breaks them when he truly believes that his actions are necessary.Paul Shuttleworth TMA 01. a popular children’s author was asked what the point of her writing was she stated that “when you finish the book. . when Anne Fine. a key theme throughout the book is that of rule breaking but significantly Harry never breaks the rules simply for the sake of it. you know a little bit more about how to live your life happily and effectively. In Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone there is evidence that Rowling uses her own ideologies to influence her writing. This convey the message that in Rowling’s view it is acceptable to break the rules if you have good intentions.” (DVD 1 No 2) the important element here is that it her view on happiness and effectiveness that is imparted therefore showing that some authors are controlling of their readers. this could be seen as controlling of her readers thought processing.EA300 X4916812 The power of a text leads to authors having a responsibility.

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