Children’s literature

Part II. Forms and genres

 

23. Contemporary religious writing

 

Rita Ghesquiere

 

Conclusions

 

The broad spectrum of texts shows that faith and religion continue to attract a great deal of attention in juvenile fiction. In the course of the past century the presentation and image of the ‘other’ — including the ‘religious other’ - have changed significantly. In the first part of the twentieth century, the other was often presented as the enemy in adventures or historical tales. In missionary tales he was the inferior ‘heathen’ who had to be converted to the true faith as soon as possible. In recent decades the other also appears in realistic stories, often as the protagonist or as an equal partner. In addition, quite a number of information books present the ‘other’ religion in an open and attractive manner.

On a theoretical level the discussion persists whether books about a specific religion are best written by followers of that religion (insider texts) or rather by others (outsider texts) who often claim a more objective perspective. Followers are often very sceptical about the presentation of their religion by outsiders. They fear that others may be led by prejudices and stereotypes, and have too little affinity with the dynamics of the faith. Because of this their stories lack authenticity. The outsiders themselves consider this rejection of their right to write freely about any subject as a form of censorship.

The most important question is probably whether religious subjects have any impact on young readers and in this way have a positive influence on the process of socialisation. Do stories dealing with the fundamental questions of life offer a solid basis for an ethics of virtue, or is their entertainment value more important than their formative influence? Can we share the optimism of C. S. Lewis, who believed that ‘hidden’ religious symbols also take root in the memories of the young reader, or do we follow the pessimists, who claim that stories read in youth vanish without trace from our memories?

 

References

Cunningham, H. (1995) Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500, London: Longman.

Sommerville, C. J. (1992) The Discovery of Childhood in Puritan England, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

 

Further reading

Bookbird (1996) Special Issue, ‘Philosophy for Children’ 34, 3.

Bookbird (1997) Special Issue, ‘Children’s Literature of the Islamic World’ 35, 3.

Bookbird (1997) Special Issue, ‘Science Fiction’ 35, 4.

Butler, F. (1990) ‘The Theme of Peace in Children’s Literature’, The Lion and the Unicorn 14: 128-38.

Deuser, H. (1982) ‘Jim Knopf - Timm Thaler - Krumel Lowenherz - Bastian Balthasar Bux. Vier Geschichten in theologisch-asthetischer Interpretation’, in Werner, A. (ed.) Es mussen nicht Engel mit Elugeln sein, Munchen: Kaiser, 174-88.

Doderer, K. (1975-82) Lexikon der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur (4 volumes), Weinheim and Basel: Belz Verlag.

Donelson, K. L. and Nilsen, A. P. (1989) Literature for Today’s Young Adults, Glenview, IL and London: Scott, Foresman.

Fisher, L. W. (1990) ‘Mystical Fantasy for Children. Silence and Community’, The Lion and the Unicorn 14: 37-57.

Ghesquiere, R. (1999) ‘Waar komen die engelen vandaan? Filosofie en kinderliteratuur’, in Mooren, P., van Lierop-Debrauwer, H. and de Vries, A. (eds) Morele Verbeelding. Normen en waarden in de jeugdcultuur, Tilburg: Tilburg University Press, 29-46.

Ghesquiere, R., Ewers, H., Manson, M. and Pinsent, P. (eds) (2003) Religion, Children’s Literature and Modernity, Leuven: Leuvense Universitaire Press.

Halbfas, H. (1984) ‘Das religiose Kinder- und Jugendbuch’, in Haas, G. (ed.) Kinder- und Jugendliteratur, Stuttgart: Ph. Reclam, 229-43.

Jen, J. (1996) ‘Women in Chinese Children’s Literature’, Bookbird 34, 1: 17-21.

Kümmerling-Meibauer, B. (1999) Klassiker der Kinder-und Jugendliteratur. Ein internationales Lexikon (2 volumes), Stuttgart Weimar: J. B. Metzler.

Lion and the Unicorn (2000) Special Issue, ‘Violence and Children’s Literature’ 24, 3.

McGillis, R. (1997) ‘Self, Other and Other Self: Recognizing the Other in Children’s Literature’, The Lion and the Unicorn 21, 2: 215-29.

Sandroni, L. (1993) ‘Violence in Brazilian Children’s Books’, Bookbird 31, 3: 13-18.

Solat, K. (1997) ‘The Boundaries of Fantasy in German Children’s Literature’, Bookbird 35, 3: 6-11.

Wener, A. (1982) Es mussen nicht Engel mit Elugeln sein. Religion und Christentum in der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur, Munich: Kaiser.