Review of Re-Enchanted:The Rise of Children’s Fantasy Literature in the Twentieth Century

SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of Re-Enchanted:The Rise of Children’s Fantasy Literature in the Twentieth Century


Marie Sachiko Cecire. Re-Enchanted: The Rise of Children’s Fantasy Literature in the Twentieth Century. U of Minnesota P, 2019. 336 pg. $108. ISBN 9781517906573. $27.00. Paper ISBN 9781517906580

Apparently an attempt to popularize and expand upon a flawed 2011 dissertation, The Oxford School of Children’s Fantasy Literature: Medieval Afterlives and The Production of Culture (Oxford University), this book begins with a shorter reprise of that work. Cecire believes that the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in establishing an Oxford University English curriculum that focused on pre-Nineteenth Century English, and drew upon their scholarship in Old, Middle and Early Modern English literature, resulted in shaping an “Oxford School” of writers of “medievalist children’s fantasy” (4). Besides Tolkien and Lewis, in some of their work for children, this includes the writers Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, Kevin Crossley-Holland and Philip Pullman.

The discussion of Tolkien and Lewis, including their academic interests and their use of aspects of ‘medieval’ literary antecedents, particularly in their own fiction, is good. But it mostly revisits what many other critics, historians and biographers have had to say.  Cecire does provide some discussion of the curriculum at Oxford, including such details—new to me—as brief descriptions of some of the questions presented to students to write their final exams. Later, she offers some careful readings of scenes from her ‘school’ writers, tracing motifs and themes from some of the medieval texts that were part of the reading program at Oxford. This is well-done, and Cecire demonstrates her own familiarity with some of these medieval sources. It seems reasonable that writers who read Malory or Chaucer might indeed have been influenced when they went on to write their fantasy stories for children. But Cecire fails to account for the similar approaches and achievements of other writers drawing upon such medieval texts without the ‘shaping’ of the Oxford curriculum. She also fails to consider other medieval influences on her writers, for example via Diana Wynne Jones’s marriage to the prominent medievalist, John Burrow—though he, too, studied the English curriculum at Oxford—or Crossley-Holland’s extensive career as a medievalist, both in translating and editing Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon texts, and as a professor of English for many years before writing his Arthur Trilogy (2000-2003).

Many other writers, beginning well before Tolkien and Lewis, and continuing up through the twentieth century, have written what can only be described as work similar to the Oxford school ‘medievalist children’s fantasy’ without direct recourse to that Oxford curriculum, or even influence from its fiction. Indeed, the impact of this school cannot be much felt in broader children’s fantasy until the second half of the century—besides the outlier, Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937), not terribly influential though respected in the forties, fifties and sixties, the Narnia stories don’t appear until the second half of the century, when Tolkien’s adult romance, The Lord of the Rings (1954-55), was also published. The influence of these works on other fantasy can hardly be seen until the publishing phenomena of the 1970s, mostly in adult fantasy and science fiction, and the other Oxford school writers only begin to impact the literary scene in the later 1970s.  The fantasy by Crossley-Holland and Pullman discussed by Cecire was not even published until the end of the 1990s (1995-2003).

As far as discussion of the works of these writers go, Cecire does not really attempt to differentiate their ‘medievalist fantasy’ from that written by other Twentieth Century writers, such as Henry Treece, Alan Garner, Lloyd Alexander, Mollie Hunter, or many others. She does offer a straw-man attack on T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone (1938), as a “Cambridge fantasy” (114), but is unclear about what other texts might fit into this alternative school. She suggests that the comic and ironic tone of White’s narrative is modernist, against and counter to the Oxford school, which is anti-modernist and thus free of irony and comedy.  This is due to the roots in that medieval heritage that Tolkien and Lewis introduced into the Twentieth Century.

This is absurd on the face of it, ignoring the comic and ironic work of Tolkien (not only in The Hobbit and sections of The Lord of the Rings, but in Farmer Giles of Ham [1949] and The Father Christmas Letters [1976], among other texts), and in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (1942), but also the later work of Susan Cooper (the fine Boggart trilogy [1993-2018]), and Diana Wynne Jones (practically everything she ever wrote, but consider The Tough Guide to Fantasyland [1996]). Even Cecire doesn’t attempt to argue that Pullman isn’t ironic but explains his irony as a direct response to and dialogue with Tolkien and Lewis. Nor does Cecire attempt discussion of the majority of these writers’ work which is not so clearly displaying ‘medieval’ tropes. In arguing that Tolkien and Lewis are anti-modernist, Cecire is not very careful to describe what she intends, with the consequence that when she starts employing these distinctions and arguing that Lewis and Tolkien channel racism and imperialism and sexism from the medieval texts that they study, one must suppose that she is contrasting this with the modernist writers—but to attempt to see T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and other modernists as free of medieval influence and of racism, sexism and so forth requires a difficult squint in perspective. Similarly, although many other critics of the Inklings have seen them as anti-modernist, citing for instance Lewis’s ironic send-up of Eliot’s “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (cited by Cecire, p. 53), this overlooks the clear modernism of much of the Inklings’ work in response to their war experience, as well as the familiarity of Eliot and other writers with the medieval heritage. Not to mention friendly interactions between the Inklings and Eliot and other Modernist writers.

But Cecire adds a significant writer to her ‘school’ without any account of exposure to the Oxford curriculum, or particular literary influence from medieval writers, or from the other Oxford school writers. This is J.K. Rowling, who didn’t begin publishing her Harry Potter books until the last couple of years in the Twentieth Century.  Linking Rowling to her Oxford school is a serious flaw in Cecire’s dissertation, and it is not further explained or defended here. Rowling acknowledges reading Tolkien’s fiction, and probably Lewis’s Narnia stories at least, but only along with the work of many other writers. The ostensible evidence that Cecire cites for Rowling’s inclusion in the ‘Oxford school’ even more than writers who attended Oxford and wrote medievalist children’s fantasy, such as Alan Garner or Katherine Briggs, is the Oxford-like school setting in the stories, even though it’s a twentieth-century Oxford, and there is little medievalism in the stories. (Interestingly, Rowling has described her Harry Potter as an heir not of Bilbo or Frodo, but of modernist T.H. White’s Wart, in The Sword and the Stone). Indeed, Rowling and her works come in for rather more attention than the actual medievalist in her Oxford School second generation writers, Kevin Crossley-Holland, who receives about three pages of discussion. There is no discussion of his extensive scholarly work as a professor and translator-editor of Beowulf, and other medievalist studies, his opera libretti, or even his Carnegie winning children’s book, Storm (1985). The work that Cecire only briefly discusses, his Arthur trilogy, was actually published in the twenty-first century.

The next phase of Cecire’s argument is hinted in her dissertation, but developed, or rather, sketched out in this book.  Unlike the earlier, more careful and documented work on Lewis and Tolkien and medieval roots in some of the fiction of the later writers, Cecire claims that her Oxford school writers—including Rowling—are the key writers in the whole of twentieth century fantasy, and that they ultimately dominate fantasy more generally, not only in books but in television and film and online discourse for adults, such as Game of Thrones (2011-19) and Lev Grossman’s Magicians (2015-2020), and thanks to the pop psychology of the ‘Inner Child,’ have a huge influence on popular culture and on channeling or focusing medieval roots of imperialism, racism, anti-semitism and sexism in Anglo-American and European culture, through the Tolkien-Lewis anti-modernist pedagogy. Cecire offers some acute critique of Lewis’s imperialism in Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), and some interesting views not only of other Oxford School writers but of American fantasy in general, including (apparently) Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea,” and Tamora Pierce, and especially J.K. Rowling, but offers otherwise very sketchy discussions and odd emphases and readings of other critics.

For instance, besides citing Le Guin’s famous “The Child and the Shadow” essay (1975) exactly backwards in details (though, in fairness, not necessarily wrongly in making her point), she finds in Brian Attebery a justification for dispensing with all non-Tolkienien fantasy as apart from the center of the main stream of fantasy. But this is a bizarre mis-reading of Attebery’s insight, that in the wake of Kathryn Hume’s magisterial discussion of Fantasy as a mode in Fantasy and Mimesis (1984), Attebery offered a powerful image of fantasy as a genre typified in “fuzzy sets”—radiating from multiple centers of exemplar texts, and Attebery playfully offers a mock scientific polling to settle on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as a starting point—but significantly, over the course of his book (Strategies of Fantasy [[1992]) Attebery discusses many other texts which depart from that model or establish alternative streams.  (James Gifford’s A Modernist Fantasy [2018] develops an alternative strain focusing on Modernist anarchist fantasy, traced from Morris through Peake and Mirrlees and Treece up through Poul Anderson to Samuel Delany, and Neil Gaiman—the latter two writers that Cecire also mentions and would seem to bizarrely claim into her Tolkien-Rowling axis).

But Cecire is not just tracing one line of fantasy development, examining one alternative “fuzzy set,” setting some of these Inklings fantasies as her ’starting place,’ but arguing that her Oxford school is the primary descent for a medieval heritage that bypasses interim fantasy to flower in contemporary culture and superseding all other previous fantasy to affect culture much more broadly. To make this argument, she needs the Rowling publishing success in addition to the Tolkien and ‘Tol-clone’ publishing.

For an illustration of how this argument goes wrong, consider Cecire’s discussion of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony (19-22). After carefully limiting the ‘Oxford School’ fantasy writers to six who will be considered in this book, the text describes how in this television event “medievalist children’s fantasy grows out of and is reinscribed in major national and cultural institutions” (19). Following a breathless paean to “children’s fantasy [as] one of Britain’s most important exports and gifts to the world” (20), the production, “Isles of Wonder,” is described.

J. K. Rowling reads from an early Twentieth Century fantasy story, Barrie’s Peter Pan (1911), leading to a dramatic sequence with characters from Alice in Wonderland (1865), Smith’s (and Disney’s) The Hundred and One Dalmations (1956—film 1961), Rowling’s own “Harry Potter” stories (1997-), and finally a “squadron of Mary Poppinses” (21) who shoo away threatening characters and deliver a rescue from scary threats, assisted by Doctors and nurses from the NHS, and a giant, inflated baby that represents Scottish advances in obstetric ultrasound technology.

Nowhere in this scenario is there any appearance by Bilbo Baggins or Prince Caspian, Jones’s Chrestomanci, or Pullman’s Lyra. All of the works and their writers mentioned in this description have indeed played a role in the development of Children’s Fantasy, but clearly Barrie, Carroll, Smith, and Travers were not much influenced by Tolkien or Lewis. So, Cecire shoehorns in the ‘Oxford School’ by reading its influence into Rowling’s participation. The status of Rowling’s books, as medievalist fantasy, “thanks to the traditions of the Oxford School” (20), is based on elements such as the flowing black cloaks of Tolkien’s Ringwraiths, and the “Green and Pleasant Land” of the Hobbits’ Shire.

It is likely that Rowling was influenced by the works of Tolkien and Lewis, but unlikely that she was much influenced by the Oxford English curriculum established in the 1930s. Furthermore, it’s pretty clear that flowing black cloaks on villains or even ambiguous characters, such as Drosselmayer in The Nutcracker (1892), or the SouthWest Wind in Ruskin’s “The King of the Golden River” (1841) and right through countless mustached figures in stage melodrama, are not specific to the Oxford School. The very phrase “Green and Pleasant Land” is not from Tolkien but from Blake’s introduction to “Milton” (1808). Though of course, it may have contributed to Tolkien’s vision of Hobbiton and The Shire, far more influenced by 18th and 19th and 20th Century literature and Tolkien’s own experience in England than any medieval manuscripts.

It is likely that Rowling was influenced by the works of Tolkien and Lewis, but unlikely that she was much influenced by the Oxford English curriculum established in the 1930s. Furthermore, it’s pretty clear that flowing black cloaks on villains or even ambiguous characters, such as Drosselmayer in The Nutcracker (1892), or the SouthWest Wind in Ruskin’s “The King of the Golden River” (1841) and right through countless mustached figures in stage melodrama, are not specific to the Oxford School. The very phrase “Green and Pleasant Land” is not from Tolkien but from Blake’s introduction to “Milton” (1808). Though of course, it may have contributed to Tolkien’s vision of Hobbiton and The Shire, far more influenced by 18th and 19th and 20th Century literature and Tolkien’s own experience in England than any medieval manuscripts.

Cecire moves through an outline of fantasy permeating US and internet popular culture, and pretty much leaves children’s fantasy behind—busy with grand pronouncements about shaping western culture through television and the wider cultural impact of Game of Thrones and other adult works.  Then, suddenly, she finds that somehow the overall sweep of cultural development has empowered new writers to move beyond the sexism and racism to a post-ironic children’s fantasy in writers like Nnedi Okorafor. This is perhaps a welcome idea, but it has nothing to do with her starting point with Tolkien and Lewis’s introductions from medieval literature. It is also a poorly developed idea, in that she barely discusses the works she is praising, and even her ideas of post-irony, apart from citing an inspiring critic, Lee Konstantinou, aren’t well explained. One might expect her to tie this back to the ‘ironic’ Cambridge school of medievalist children’s fantasy, but this is not again discussed.

Cecire also discusses the darker sexism, imperialism, racism and anti-semitism that she finds in Tolkien and Lewis. To a limited degree, she also describes this as a dark side of medievalism, and cites some medieval portrayals of the Saracen, and the like. She finds some parallels in later writers such as Cooper, Pierce, Rowling and Pullman, and describes her own analysis as similar to work being done by Helen Young (Race and Popular Fantasy Literature [2015]) and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (The Dark Fantastic [2019]). However, the work of these critics is far more convincing and extensive, with Cecire’s approach twisted by her failure to consider the broader context from the Nineteenth and earlier Twentieth Century writers of children’s and adult fantasy.

Being so focused on Tolkien’s medievalism is also a mistake in this and other regards—if fairly common in many other Inklings-focused critical works that approach their work too much from the perspective of medieval studies. Though it’s fair to recognize Tolkien’s scholarship in Old and Middle English, he was a man of his age as well, growing up reading E. Nesbit, George MacDonald, and all of the great Victorian writers and poets, as well as many Twentieth Century writers of even science fiction. His own prose in The Lord of the Rings owes far more to H. R. Haggard than to the Pearl Poet. Likewise, C.S. Lewis read everything, and (while I am always more reminded of John Gower reading his prose than of Haggard) he was also a writer of his time, and he saw himself in dialogue with SF pulp writers and novelists such as Olaf Stapledon and Arthur C. Clarke. They didn’t exclude the nineteenth century from their English syllabus because they didn’t expect their students to read such literature, but because they didn’t think it was necessary to include it when their students had the necessary foundation in earlier literature to read it on their own. The ‘sources’ of imperialism, sexism and racism in medievalism are almost lost in the flood of influences from post-1650 writers. As in this book, exaggerating the importance of Lewis and Tolkien and their work results in missing other achievements in Children’s and other fantasy from the Nineteenth through the Twentieth centuries.

It seems problematic that the Oxford School doesn’t exist apart from Cecire’s description. The four younger writers might well have acknowledged their common debts to their Oxford reading (though both Crossley-Holland and Pullman did not do well as undergraduates, and only later came to appreciate the medieval literary heritage—and neither had direct contact with the Lewis or Tolkien lectures), but they never worked together or even shared the same social circles while at University. This is discussed at much greater depth in Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper, by Charles Butler (2006). Cecire avoids discussion of this fine earlier study of two of her writers, which offers far more in-depth discussions of their work, and a much more thoughtful and nuanced discussion of “Oxford Fantasies” in its first chapter, even giving Philip Pullman some attention. Butler offered consideration of the work of these writers in the context of the second golden age of children’s fantasy that Cecire mostly ignores. Perhaps Cecire avoids discussing Butler’s book because it contradicts many of her own premises. Cecire only cites Butler directly once (123), and as a secondary source in quoting Cooper, who was quoted in Butler’s book. But Cecire’s own description of ‘medievalist children’s fantasy,’ apart from attributing it to her Oxford School, and vaguely including some other writers, notably Rowling, is remarkably thin in definition—it’s very difficult to figure out just what other children’s fantasy might be included or excluded.

This actually reflects a curious practice in this book—although studded with citations of critical work and studies, some of them literary criticism or history, mostly the book does not explicate how these authorities and sources are being cited. Often, their use seems intended to support vague assertions that are not defended—but, in some cases the sources are at variance with the assertion at hand. Some of these unsupported assertions may be critical to the overall sweep of Cecire’s tour through children’s and adult fantasy in popular reception, via television spectaculars and series like Game of Thrones. It may be that in some cases Cecire means for the reader to find a contrary opinion by consulting a particular work, but mostly she seems to cite these works as not only inspiring her observation, but establishing facts of cultural and social science in support of such observations and assertions.

Cecire’s discussions of Cooper and Wynne Jones can be fine, but they’re really part of a discussion of Children’s fantasy in the late Twentieth Century, and the discussion of Pullman—and even Rowling—is really opening discussion for the next century, and ties into the developments with new writers.  Cecire totally ignores Cooper’s work in the new century, and indeed, the discussions of the earlier work of these writers really need more context in that many things she asserts apply to other Twentieth Century writers.  The roots of most of this writing in Children’s Fantasy of the twentieth century don’t owe that much to Tolkien, Lewis or their Oxford curriculum. They probably owe more to the broad Nineteenth and earlier Twentieth Century sweep of Children’s Literature, and particularly fantasy.  In the Twentieth Century the dominant influences are such classic writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, E. Nesbit, L. Frank Baum, and John Masefield, on up through such contemporaries of Lewis as Philippa Pearce, Edward Eager, Walter R. Brooks, and contemporaries of Cooper (whose first novel was undertaken in homage to E. Nesbit, not Tolkien or even Malory) such as Alan Garner, Natalie Babbit, Jane Yolen, Maurice Sendak, Margaret Mahy, Patricia McKillip, Mollie Hunter, Jane Langton, Lloyd Alexander, Penelope Lively, Robert Westall, and William Mayne. 

When Cecire attempts to broaden the strands of medievalist study to sweeping conclusions about children’s fantasy, and more broadly fantasy in adult and non-literary forms, ignoring the development of the broader context leaves her critical approach incapable of considering developments in response to that broad stream which begin much earlier than the ‘post-ironic,’ antiracist new fictions of the 2020s. And these new developments deserve a much more careful and critical description than a mere listing of important new writers.

In the relatively few places where Cecire settles in to discuss the actual fiction of Oxford school writers, I very much appreciate her close attention to the text and sensitive discussion. For instance, her critical analysis of racism in the Narnia stories, or her appreciation of Pullman as a critic of ‘his’ Oxford school, but also her critical observation about Pullman’s own, and Cooper’s time-bound myopias, compared with the enlightened 2020s. Her discussions of Christmas scenes in Cooper and Crossley-Holland are penetrating and sensitive. At the same time, the overall implicit argument presented here seems to be that the Oxford school is responsible for bringing Christmas stories to the Twentieth century, brought forth from such medieval traditions as the story of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, taught by Tolkien and Lewis at Oxford.

Certainly, the tradition of Christmas stories was carried forward by the great Nineteenth Century writers in such a poem as Tennyson’s “The Epic/Morte D’Arthur” as presented in the 1842 English Idyls and Other Poems, or Dickens’s various Christmas stories, or many, many others. I think that Tolkien himself was following this tradition in part in his Father Christmas Letters (curiously, ignored by Cecire).  These Oxford writers are not really introducing anything new, and if their “Medieval” focus is unique, Cecire has not explained how.

Most of Jones’s work is similarly ignored in these discussions, perhaps because it’s less ‘medieval’? If so, though, the constant discussion of Rowling is curious, insofar as her ‘medieval’ antecedents are pretty slender in writing these school stories with more debt to a tradition that supersedes the Oxford school as well—C.S. Lewis barely dips his pen into this stream in Prince Caspian (1951) or The Silver Chair (1953), and even he acknowledges E. Nesbit, directly in The Magician’s Nephew (1955)—an actual twentieth century writer who anticipates nearly all Children’s Fantasy in the century, providing some foundational ideas to Tolkien, as well, but who is not even in Cecire’s index.

Perhaps if Cecire had omitted her discussion of the Oxford School, and focused instead on the overall response to implicit racism and imperialism and sexism in Children’s Fantasy writers of the recent decades this book could have been a valuable addition to scholarship.  Certainly, a critique of and response to issues in Tolkien’s and Lewis’s children’s fantasy might be found in many writers, but she might broaden this to looking at responses to many other writers as well.  The writers she praises in her final chapters, including Gaiman, Junot Díaz, Catherynne Valente, and Nnedi Okorofor, are not responding only to her Oxford school writers, but to a much broader context.  Omitting that dimension in the way that she does is confusing. Increasingly as the book progresses, Cecile also blurs the distinction between children’s and adult fantasy. This is not explained or justified along the way, and the result is a very confused narrative.

It would truly be fine to see a discussion of fantasy and its development that includes children’s literature, but if she is to specifically limit her discussion to children’s fantasy—as implied in early chapters and even her book title, her extensive discussion of Lev Grossman’s “Magicians” series seems out of bounds, as it clearly was written for adult readers. In fact, in her extended discussion of these novels, she never even acknowledges the curious aspect of writing an adult novel which largely responds to children’s stories (also to Rowling’s Harry Potter stories). Alternately, and despite suggesting that critique of Oxford School fantasy was largely absent earlier, she might have considered the 1960s work of Carol Kendall, whose three children’s fantasy novels implicitly critique Tolkien in a remarkably thoughtful and acute narrative for children (see particularly, The Whisper of Glocken [1965]). A more careful and comprehensive discussion of “The Problem of Susan” (as a critical theme preceding the Neil Gaiman story by that title, which focuses on the issue) and other responses to the Narnia books would also be worthwhile, and it might give context to Cecire’s insufficient (though worthwhile) discussions of work by Pullman and Grossman. Such a discussion would have to consider also Laura Miller’s Magician’s Book (2009), Gaiman’s story, and books such as The Light Between Worlds (2018), by Laura E. Weymouth.

Jamie Williamson’s The Evolution of Modern Fantasy (2015) discussed the often overlooked categories of verse fantasy, and children’s fantasy—at least in the earlier overview. A Modernist Fantasy, by James Gifford (2018), includes some consideration of E. Nesbit’s and Henry Treece’s children’s books, appropriate to his historical Modernist and Anarchist authors’ circles.

Speaking of Henry Treece, and so many other writers who evoke and draw from the medieval period in their fantasy, Cecire also never explainshowthe treatment of this material from the Oxford School is different from that by other authors. If the comedic and ironic treatments of his subjects by T.H. White are antithetical to the Oxford School, how do irony and comedy in the Oxford writers’ works differ? How are Susan Cooper’s wonderful stories of a Boggart to be differentiated from William Mayne’s Hob stories, or Katherine Briggs’s Hobberdy Dick (2009)? (Briggs might be an interesting case with her history of study at Oxford both before and after the English curriculum was reformed, though I think her path was not through either English curriculum, and as a student in a woman’s college in the 1920s, her exposure to the regular students and faculty may have been much more circumscribed than the later study there by Jones and Cooper. Still, she may have heard Lewis and Tolkien lecture when pursuing her doctorate in the 1950s). Mayne and Alan Garner and Mollie Hunter and L.M. Boston are certainly acclaimed as among the finest writers of children’s fantasy; how are their treatments of medieval subjects different from the handling by Lewis or Crossley-Holland?  Maybe even more significantly, how is Rowling more a member of the ‘Oxford School’ than Garner, or Jane Yolen (with her earlier wizards’ school story, Wizard’s Hall [1991]).

Cecire offers belabored expositions of why Children’s Fantasy is important (many pages are unnecessarily devoted to defending the genre from dismissals as insignificant), and citations of sociological and popular cultural books celebrating the ‘Inner Child,’ and the like in support—she might have cited C.S. Lewis and Eleanor Cameron and left it at that—certainly by the time of Stephen Prickett’s Victorian Fantasy, in 1979, this was no longer necessary, and Butler also included a brief discussion that directly rebuts Cecire’s suggestions. This approach undermines confidence that, apart from several cited critical histories, she is really all that familiar with a very broad genre, featuring hundreds of writers and thousands of texts in the Twentieth Century. Could this be the reason for such breath-takingly mistaken observations as, “Following the publication of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia in the 1950s, the shape and texture of most fantasy landscapes remained remarkably similar until the start of the twenty-first century. . .” (12).

From this book, one really wonders if Cecire has even read most of Diana Wynne Jones’s books, or the later work of Susan Cooper. Focusing on a few writers in her dissertation made sense, but I am far more confident that author Gregory Maguire is conversant with this genre in his 1990 dissertation, Themes in English Language: Fantastic Literature for Children, 1938-1988, which discusses hundreds of books intelligently, and in his fiction and criticism which displays a wide familiarity with critical approaches, literary history and appreciation of children’s books. In so many ways, that is missing in this book. As far as the acceptance of fantasy in ‘mainstream’ or academic circles, discussions such as Stephen Prickett’s (cited in her dissertation) or Ruth Berman’s 1979 U of MN dissertation, Suspending Disbelief, have certainly traced some of this history of criticism in the 19th Century. By the 1950s, Children’s Fantasy had certainly come into its own, with many awards and attention from critics in Education and Library Science. Admittedly, regular English departments would be slower to follow C.S. Lewis’s call to consider children’s literature alongside adult literature. But by 2020, I suspect that there are few English departments that don’t routinely offer classes in the sub-field, and PhD dissertations are prepared on many children’s writers.

Then again, in a book cheerleading for popular culture, and celebrating Rowling and Game of Thrones and other television and cultural events, perhaps Children’s Fantasy Literature is no more than a mounting block, beyond which Cecire hopes to leap to some apotheosis of a television Olympic spectacular. I did appreciate the spotlight on the new work being done that Cecire praises in her final chapters, and which is well worth the attention. Yet, it seems little related to the two hundred pages that have gone before, and in the end, apart from Junot Díaz—again, not really writing for children—most of these writers receive little more than appreciative mention. An exploration of the achievements of these books would be a far more worthwhile 350 pages, and Cecire demonstrates in some passages that she can capably and insightfully illumine such texts, and in consistently smooth and often sparkling prose.

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