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From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, how fantasy harnesses the cultural power of magic, medievalism, and childhood to re-enchant the modern world   Why are so many people drawn to fantasy set in medieval, British-looking lands? This question has immediate significance for millions around the world: from fans of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones to th From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, how fantasy harnesses the cultural power of magic, medievalism, and childhood to re-enchant the modern world   Why are so many people drawn to fantasy set in medieval, British-looking lands? This question has immediate significance for millions around the world: from fans of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones to those who avoid fantasy because of the racist, sexist, and escapist tendencies they have found there. Drawing on the history and power of children’s fantasy literature, Re-Enchanted argues that magic, medievalism, and childhood hold the paradoxical ability to re-enchant modern life.   Focusing on works by authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, and Nnedi Okorafor, Re-Enchanted uncovers a new genealogy for medievalist fantasy—one that reveals the genre to be as important to the history of English studies and literary modernism as it is to shaping beliefs across geographies and generations. Maria Sachiko Cecire follows children’s fantasy as it transforms over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—including the rise of diverse counternarratives and fantasy’s move into “high-brow” literary fiction. Grounded in a combination of archival scholarship and literary and cultural analysis, Re-Enchanted argues that medievalist fantasy has become a psychologized landscape for contemporary explorations of what it means to grow up, live well, and belong. The influential “Oxford School” of children’s fantasy connects to key issues throughout this book, from the legacies of empire and racial exclusion in children’s literature to what Christmas magic tells us about the roles of childhood and enchantment in Anglo-American culture.   Re-Enchanted engages with critical debates around what constitutes high and low culture during moments of crisis in the humanities, political and affective uses of childhood and the mythological past, the anxieties of modernity, and the social impact of racially charged origin stories.  


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From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, how fantasy harnesses the cultural power of magic, medievalism, and childhood to re-enchant the modern world   Why are so many people drawn to fantasy set in medieval, British-looking lands? This question has immediate significance for millions around the world: from fans of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones to th From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, how fantasy harnesses the cultural power of magic, medievalism, and childhood to re-enchant the modern world   Why are so many people drawn to fantasy set in medieval, British-looking lands? This question has immediate significance for millions around the world: from fans of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones to those who avoid fantasy because of the racist, sexist, and escapist tendencies they have found there. Drawing on the history and power of children’s fantasy literature, Re-Enchanted argues that magic, medievalism, and childhood hold the paradoxical ability to re-enchant modern life.   Focusing on works by authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, and Nnedi Okorafor, Re-Enchanted uncovers a new genealogy for medievalist fantasy—one that reveals the genre to be as important to the history of English studies and literary modernism as it is to shaping beliefs across geographies and generations. Maria Sachiko Cecire follows children’s fantasy as it transforms over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—including the rise of diverse counternarratives and fantasy’s move into “high-brow” literary fiction. Grounded in a combination of archival scholarship and literary and cultural analysis, Re-Enchanted argues that medievalist fantasy has become a psychologized landscape for contemporary explorations of what it means to grow up, live well, and belong. The influential “Oxford School” of children’s fantasy connects to key issues throughout this book, from the legacies of empire and racial exclusion in children’s literature to what Christmas magic tells us about the roles of childhood and enchantment in Anglo-American culture.   Re-Enchanted engages with critical debates around what constitutes high and low culture during moments of crisis in the humanities, political and affective uses of childhood and the mythological past, the anxieties of modernity, and the social impact of racially charged origin stories.  

47 review for Re-Enchanted: The Rise of Children's Fantasy Literature in the Twentieth Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Described on the back cover blurb as a new genealogy for medievalist fantasy Maria Sachiko Cecire's study is important for recalibrating -- in literature, in other media, in philosophical outlooks -- the assumptions of many of us admirers of this genre. Focusing on five areas, namely childhood reading, the Oxford University English syllabus, the fabricated enchantment of Christmas, so-called 'empires of the mind', and developments in the 21st century, Cecire takes apart the foundations of 20th-c Described on the back cover blurb as a new genealogy for medievalist fantasy Maria Sachiko Cecire's study is important for recalibrating -- in literature, in other media, in philosophical outlooks -- the assumptions of many of us admirers of this genre. Focusing on five areas, namely childhood reading, the Oxford University English syllabus, the fabricated enchantment of Christmas, so-called 'empires of the mind', and developments in the 21st century, Cecire takes apart the foundations of 20th-century fantasy, examines them, finds what's wanting but then also points out what remains of real worth. She starts with her own childhood realisation that, as an American of Japanese-Italian descent she "would never grow up to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed fairy-tale princess"; she later learnt that her experience of "racialized self-alienation [was] far from unique." Re-Enchanted thus became a project searching for the origins of Anglo-American fantasy and, as she puts it, "its special relationship to ideas about childhood, modernity, and the raced, gendered self." I can't emphasise how important this study is in helping not just academics but also a wider public to understand how white European medievalist fantasies adopted an imperialist and colonialist stance, one which has held sway for too long -- but one which may yet have the capacity to evolve and change to suit 21st-century sensibilities, particularly where race and gender and culture are concerned. Tempting though it may be to quote extensively from the text (Cecire makes her points both succinctly and in depth, paradoxical though that may seem) I shall try to resist the urge -- while simultaneously hoping my paraphrasing doesn't misrepresent her argument. She begins in Oxford in the interwar years when Tolkien and C S Lewis were writing the English syllabus with an emphasis on Anglo-Saxon and medieval texts as suitable grounding for literature students; in this she makes clear that they were trying to resist modernist movements instigating literary and social changes. What she calls the Oxford School of Children's Fantasy Literature included not just Lewis and Tolkien but also a later generation of English students who would go on to be formative in fantasy's development -- Susan Cooper, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman and, to a lesser extent, Roger Lancelyn Green, another Inkling. The Oxford dons' influence would also extend to those not in the English department, such as Alan Garner, Richard Adams and Penelope Lively. What this syllabus did was to invest medieval English literature (Beowulf, Chaucer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and so on) with an importance that fed into fantasy -- initially fantasy for children such as Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The fact that both Tolkien and Lewis wrote influential books for younger readers meant they reinforced the conviction that "modern children's culture is premised on the child's supposed capacity to bring enchantment into everyday life and the primeval into the present, often as part of the same process" (18) and, as the opening show of the 2012 London Olympics emphasised, reading this genre provided "formative building blocks in the constitution of the self," providing a foundation for adult identity. Cecire acknowledges fantasy as a "literature of desire" (30), identifying "power in triviality and consequence in seeming inconsequence" (35). Moreover it "does not have to contain an intended moral" (as, say, Victorian children's literature often did) "but its status as knowingly not-real seems to invite interpretive reading to make sense of the gaps between the impossible and the possible" (44). Having established its origins and its power to enchant, the author outlines the kind of golden age that followed in which authors from the antimodernist Oxford School and their imitators emphasised British -- and more particularly, English -- culture, history and traditions as foundational for fantasy, tropes which would have huge influence beyond the island's shores. In her third chapter Cecire follows on from her observation that children feature as "trans-historical travelers" (64) by pointing out their centrality in the invented tradition that is the modern feast of Christmas, a holiday period which has become a mishmash of Dickensian make-believe where everybody becomes child-like, in which an idealised and enthroned childhood is privileged above all. The modern Christmas is accorded an "affective authenticity" (162) which she describes as "the sensation of something being emotionally true, even if it is not empirically true. These are the truths that Lewis and Tolkien argued are the most important in life, beyond facts and beyond time." But all through these three chapters a growing unease becomes increasingly evident: the context is the loosening of what the author identifies as the hegemony of Anglo-American geographical empires and their replacement by what Churchill termed "empires of the mind" (175) based on language and influence, all the time "affirming racial and gender hierarchies": as medievalist English-language fantasy rushed in to buttress Anglo-American empires of the mind concepts like a multi-racial Europe of the Middle Ages created cognitive dissonance in the minds of those wedded to "the new model of Anglo-American imperial domination in the twilight of empire", a model which she suggests "laid the groundwork for heroic visions of 'geek' masculinity in the information age." The heart of Cecire's critique is a measured and justifiable polemic about how spaces in fiction and culture modelled around childhood are fixated on what she identifies as the image, frozen in time, of the innocent, white Romantic child within a colonialist bildungsroman, an image as misleading as the imaginary, often otherworldly, Middle Ages dominating much the genre. In a postcolonialist world, she intimates, these alternative worlds and times ("outside of real-world time") allow Anglo-American writers and readers to envision a pretend "trajectory of national growth" (205); often this involves defeating an evil empire, a scenario that unfortunately echoes the neoconservative, 'neomedievalist' International Relations (IR) theory that rose to prominence after 9/11, encapsulated by the ill-judged crusading meme from George W Bush's so-called War on Terror. From fantasy's foundational white magic Cecire studies the self-help movement that developed in the late 20th century and which often featured the Inner Child (the "therapeutic child") sought out in the quest for self-improvement. This search, she suggests, may have arisen from fraying social bonds because of challenges from identity categories (race, ethnicity, worker status, for example) to established communal institutions. While self-help could morph into selfishness and, ultimately, neoliberalism, the Inner Child archetype found its concomitant in children's fantasy, a genre that could foster allegorical spaces for personal quests and self-realisation. More recently developments in the genre have exhibited what has been labelled postirony, allowing fantasy to convey enchantment without succumbing to naïveté (Cecire cites the several manifestations of Game of Thrones as a ready example). Even though postironic and postmodern fantasy warns against letting children's fiction "unduly shape readers' identities and life expectations" she notes it has the capacity to "convey important affective experiences like enchantment, pleasure, and joy" (256). From a genre that rose against a background of white exceptionalism, post-imperialism and neocolonialism, laden with raced and gendered assumptions, fantasy has embraced diversity, postmodernism and postirony to allow a broad range of readers to feel at home in fictional cultures that are neither (as Lee Konstintinou is quoted, 248-9) "uncritically earnest [nor] naively nostalgic". This reader went from recognising the historical context from which modern fantasy arose to feeling guilty about enjoying books which implicitly subscribed to its insular, misogynistic and racially prejudiced roots, and then on to acknowledging the core worth that fictional enchantment represents. Re-Enchanted is, I'd maintain, essential reading for personal and group discourse about not only the genre's rise but also its future in a world that seems more fragmented despite being more linked up than can have been imagined a century ago. I'll leave the final words to the author herself, words which seem to me to encapsulate the continued draw and consolation of epic or High Fantasy in its varied manifestations for many of its fans: "This is the work that fantasy can do: providing in seemingly timeless terms an allegorical narrative that reflects the striving of everyday people [...] defeating not only external dangers but also the internal, psychological ones that haunt a society." (169)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

    Beautifully written literary history meets unflinching and loving critique in Re-Enchanted. A twin historical account of how medievalist fantasy for children became such a major strand of children's literature in the 20th century and of why that literature looks the way it does, answering the question of why medievalist and why this specific kind of Britain-centric medievalism, the book moves effortlessly between faculty meeting notes, critical writings, and the children's novels in question to Beautifully written literary history meets unflinching and loving critique in Re-Enchanted. A twin historical account of how medievalist fantasy for children became such a major strand of children's literature in the 20th century and of why that literature looks the way it does, answering the question of why medievalist and why this specific kind of Britain-centric medievalism, the book moves effortlessly between faculty meeting notes, critical writings, and the children's novels in question to think seriously about the fantastical and its cultural role. I find Cecire's account of the role Tolkien and Lewis played in building this phenomenon not only through their own fiction but through their curricular and research decisions in the nascent English department at Oxford University extremely compelling and probably my favorite part of the book. In many ways Oxford's cultural power has decreased since Tolkien was teaching (though perhaps in others it has not) and so while it is unclear that a similar curricular force at a single institution could reshape culture in quite the way circumstances allowed Tolkien and Lewis's Oxford to do, I've never seen a more convincing example of just how deeply the fingers of education reach into culture in unexpected ways. None of the fantasists Cecire analyses were taught to write fiction by Tolkien, but Cecire's claim that his English curriculum echoes through their fiction and subsequently from the whole genre of children's fantasy is beautifully argued and works really well. At the same time, though Cecire introduces herself at the beginning of the book as someone personally shaped by this work, she pulls no punches with regards to the whiteness of medievalist children's fantasy nor the nationalist and potentially white-supremacist underpinnings of early and mid twentieth century arugments for a turn to the fantastical, the medieval, and to childhood, pointing directly to Tolkien and Lewis's own writings as evidence. She traces the echoes and attacks on this throughout other medievalist childen's fantasy, ending up at the present and the current shift in the genre of fantasy towards more inclusive visions of both the past and the future. An incisive look into how cultural forms develop and entrench themselves, how even beloved ones are deeply flawed, and how we might be able to change them for the better. Highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Charul Palmer-Patel

    Absolutely brilliant. The title is misleading as the impact and scope of the book is essential to understanding the development of English literature as a field of studies alongside the development of canon and English and American national identities. Highly recommend for anyone studying or wanting to learn more about English Literature or about Anglo-American identity in general, and is not limited to children's/fantasy literature. Edit: It's also a pleasure to read, which is sometimes rare in Absolutely brilliant. The title is misleading as the impact and scope of the book is essential to understanding the development of English literature as a field of studies alongside the development of canon and English and American national identities. Highly recommend for anyone studying or wanting to learn more about English Literature or about Anglo-American identity in general, and is not limited to children's/fantasy literature. Edit: It's also a pleasure to read, which is sometimes rare in literary criticism. Deeply engaging, and the author's voice shines through.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    The central thesis of this book (and the support for it) are highly valuable. The portion of the book that addresses the parallel development of English curricula at Oxford and Cambridge was fascinating, and it deserves a book-length treatment of its own. The examination of how the work of the Inklings shaped the development of modern fantasy was also very effectively done. At times, the book wanders a little afield from the strong, central ideas (the portion on medieval conceptions of Christma The central thesis of this book (and the support for it) are highly valuable. The portion of the book that addresses the parallel development of English curricula at Oxford and Cambridge was fascinating, and it deserves a book-length treatment of its own. The examination of how the work of the Inklings shaped the development of modern fantasy was also very effectively done. At times, the book wanders a little afield from the strong, central ideas (the portion on medieval conceptions of Christmas, for instance) and the title of the book is a little misleading with respect to the book's true importance. However, the book makes a huge contribution to the field of children's/young adult literature.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    Read for Dissertation, Queen Mary University of London 2020.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

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    Jessie Atkin

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    Michelle Anjirbag

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    Rebekah

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ashglass

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amelia

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  13. 5 out of 5

    Wordslinger24

  14. 5 out of 5

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  15. 5 out of 5

    Anne Lawson

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    Tom

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    Ayrin Go

  18. 5 out of 5

    Maxine

  19. 5 out of 5

    Grandeurs

  20. 4 out of 5

    Molly Bostrom

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    Christian

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Best

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  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura Salgarolo

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kate (Looking Glass Reads)

  26. 5 out of 5

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    K. C.

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  29. 5 out of 5

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  30. 4 out of 5

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    Musiclib

  32. 5 out of 5

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  33. 5 out of 5

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  36. 4 out of 5

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  37. 5 out of 5

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  40. 4 out of 5

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  42. 4 out of 5

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  44. 4 out of 5

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  45. 4 out of 5

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  46. 5 out of 5

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  47. 5 out of 5

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