The Masters of Literary Theory

No, I am not a master in anything, nor do I think I am. However, after today, I am supposed to at least be adept in the various theories of literary analysis. To be honest, I do not believe most of them – but the test was not bad.

For example, I could try to analyse my own finished manuscript. I’m most likely prejudiced about it, but here we go!

From a feminist point of view, The Face Stealer is probably deemed slightly sexist or otherwise repressed, since the main cast consists of male characters – the two brothers – and they often get into fights with the girls because they are rude and sometimes just mean.

From a postcolonial point of view, I am going to guess that The Face Stealer is viewed as a racist story. Not because it is meant to be racist, but because of the mainly white cast – honestly, what do they expect from a small English town? My main characters are redheads. To the postcolonial criticists, I am sorry that my English boys are Caucasian. Even worse, the monster they have to fight is snow-white! Maybe my professors went a bit too far, but these strange ideas apparently are everywhere.

From a Freudian/psychoanalytic point of view… Well, if you know Freud, you’ll get the point. Of course it’s not an innocent children’s story, there must be some perverse thoughts hidden in there!

To be honest, I really enjoyed this course. It was interesting to find out about all these possible interpretations of stories, although I’ve got to admit that I think most of them are a load of nonsense. I don’t think I am sexist or racist or perverted. Perhaps these theories should not be applied to children’s stories. That would make the world a much better place.

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The Moral Compass

Back in the day when children’s fiction first originated, moral lessons where what counted when it came down to writing for children. In my last blog, I talked about Hans Christian Anders, who is an excellent example in this case. His horrific fairytales were supposed to serve as lessons for children: “If you don’t behave, it won’t end well for you.” Now, I might have a slight problem. My manuscripts do not contain the slightest bit of moral lessons. It itself, that wouldn’t matter, if it weren’t for the fact that my characters steal, swear and basically appear very rude. It’s all for a cause, but here I’m left wondering if I shouldn’t get them punished one way or another.

As for the stealing, it happens twice in my first book. The first time, my main character finds a device in his friend’s shed that he believes may help him solve the mystery. She won’t give it to him because she doesn’t know how it works and is afraid he will break it. The main character steals it, uses it for his cause and then accidentally breaks a part of it. His friend ends up screaming she does not want to be him around him ever again, but ends up sticking around as she wants to help solve the problem that’s affecting everyone in town. In the second instance, the main character needs some bags of salt in order to build a trap. However, he does not realise there is more than enough left at home and breaks into a restaurant, ran by a nice, old lady. In both instances, he definitely feels bad for stealing, but it won’t have any lasting consequences: in the end, it all literally will be forgotten, thanks to the fact that the main character is fighting a magical monster with the ability to erase people’s minds.

As for the swearing, I am not sure how bad it is. My main characters do not go around cursing, but some name calling definitely happens. Most of it is taken from children’s cartoons, to make sure it is acceptable. However, I personally do not have a clue, as I am writing for an audience that I am not part of. What is offensive in The Netherlands is not necessarily offensive in Great Britain, and the other way around – at least, this is what my teachers explained to me. Not to insult anyone, but I’ve heard that the word “shit” is considered very offensive in Great Britain, while around here, people don’t even say it anymore because it is such a weak insult. I would not use the word in a children’s story, but I feel the cultural difference is important to the explanation. I’ve had my characters say “moron” and “crap”, however, mainly because television has taught me those are generally considered alright. Correct me if I’m wrong.

As for the rudeness, the story mostly entails a group of children running around, trying to catch a face-swapping monster before it is too late. They bump into people and often tell them to look in a mirror – not because they are ugly, but because they have become the monster’s victims. Other than that it angers some people, there are no repercussions for it.

My dilemma as a writer is if I should try to be a moral compass. I personally feel it is not necessary – adult intervention would ruin a story driven by children – but sometimes I wonder if the stealing should not be overlooked. I figured that the main character’s guilt would be enough… but is it? Should a writer be clear about morality?

Why Children Love The Horrific

Some adults make the mistake of believing children are fragile little human being. While they may be little, most of them are not nearly as fragile as adults make them out to be. Typical school-aged children are already bombarded by the horrors of their daily lives. Not all of them are that serious – not being allowed to watch a certain television show or buy a certain toy – while others certainly are – like being bullied, excluded from the group or even abuse. Sadly, these are all part of reality. Most children already know about the horrors of reality; therefore, the horrors of fiction might be much more appealing.

As a child, I was bullied by the other kids. It was not that severe – some teasing, some provoking, some exclusion – but it still caused me not to like my classmates very much. For me, fiction was a way out of the stress of daily life. It was not harmful or permanent in any way, yet it allowed me to feel free. Especially horror and fantasy fiction did the trick, mainly because those genres were not based on the reality. None of the things that happened in the stories would ever happen to me – and that was good. It was nice to read about people who got themselves into absolutely crazy situations with witches, fairies and werewolves. Sure, the main characters were children like myself, so I could still pretend that I lived the wonderfully unreal lives they did.

In all honesty, I do not quite understand why the most popular genre – at least in the Netherlands – seemed to deal with whatever gritty ideas writers could come up with, ranging from bullying to sexual assault and dealing with anorexia. I am also not so sure if those subjects truly should be read by children. Sure, they are not fragile. They know what is going on in the world, thanks to the news, the movies and the talks of the day at the school yard. However, I know many that were absolutely shocked when encountering any of the aforementioned subjects. Not all nine-year-olds need to know about sexual assault, especially not in a way that hits as close to home as a book character.

I may be contradicting myself, but truth is: children love the horrific, whether it could happen in reality or not. It is forbidden, it is unknown and therefore, it is alluring. While I sometimes doubt if certain subjects really are appropriate for children, the children are the ones who pick these books up to read them. There must be a reason for that. For me, I preferred fantastic horror to escape this world; others might prefer the real horror they luckily have not encountered for themselves yet.