English and Creative Writing Research Talk
‘Transitional Identities: Crossing the Threshold in Young Adult Genre Fiction’
Human Sadri, University of Gothenburg
Wednesday 19th October, 1pm
Fincham 001, Digby Stuart, University of Roehampton
Do the protagonists of Young Adult genre narratives correspond to the status of monomythical hero, and if so to what extent?
Maria Nikolajeva has noted that fiction written specifically for a younger audience tends to correspond to the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey, as defined by the mythologist Joseph Campbell. This pattern describes the trajectory of the protagonist of any given narrative from that which they are now towards the person they are ultimately meant to become. Nikolajeva argues that “[t]he hero in Campbell’s model is a young person going through a rite of passage. In this respect, the pattern of all children’s literature is similar to the monomyth, and all characters in children’s fiction are a further development of the mythic hero.”1 She suggests that this is doubly true of fantasy-based Young Adult (YA) and children’s literature, wherein the crossing of the threshold tends to be represented by the literal transportation of the protagonist to some kind of alternate world or reality.2 In contrast to the literalism of this approach, in which Campbell’s narrative model is taken in its entirety as the basis for YA narrative structure, this paper sets out to suggest that these fantastic realist narratives – while conforming to monomythical structures and tropes – actually represent only the fulfilment of the first chapter of Campbell’s pattern. By the conclusion of their narrative trajectory the protagonists have achieved only the crossing of the threshold into burgeoning maturity or adulthood, as opposed to enlightenment or a boon for mankind. Throughout their respective narratives, these nascent heroes develop transitional identities, and the boon they achieve is to cross the threshold towards eventually becoming their true selves. This analysis is supported through a dual methodology. Firstly, through close readings of three key YA genre texts – Coraline by Neil Gaiman, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond. These have been chosen not only for the contrasting ways in which they approach folkloric and mythological tropes and storytelling patterns, but also because of the differing ages of the novels’ protagonists; in this way I also explore the different implications of the transitions in question on young people at different stages of their emotional development. Secondly, the stages of the Hero’s Journey itself, and the movement of the adult hero towards the boon of enlightenment are contrasted with that of the young hero towards the goal of beginning his or her journey anew, and in doing this the monomyth is shown to be open-ended in nature: enlightenment does not need to be a boon that is only granted once.
1 Nikolajeva, Maria. “The Changing Aesthetics of Character in Children’s Fiction.” Style Volume 35, No.3, 2001. (p431.) 2 Ibid.