Date of Completion
children's literature, ecocriticism, fantasy, biophilia, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
Children’s literature has traditionally been analyzed through humanist critical frameworks such as psychoanalysis and gender theory. These approaches, while effective in some respects, do little to accommodate or account for the superabundance of animals, rural settings, and reverent representations of the natural matrix in children’s literature. This project examines the genre instead from an “inhumanist” biological and sociobiological viewpoint. It posits that children’s literature has for the past 100-plus years acted to foster and transmit what E. O. Wilson calls “biophilia”: an evolution-based affinity for other living things, expressed through a pervasive set of impulses and predispositions. Focusing on a number of children’s fantasies from the early 1900s to the start of the new millennium, the project shows how a syncretic biotheism has arisen in and become endemic to children’s literature, and how, concomitantly, the genre firmly rejects immortalist thinking—whether the Western/Christian conception of “post-death” immortality or the techno-secular pursuit of “pre-death” life extension. The texts in the project, including Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, and Ursula Le Guin’s The Other Wind, present alternative modes and conceptions of human bodily death, ones that depict the human animal re-integrated into the natural cycle of life. Such conceptions, the project argues, give the Western child reader a largely overlooked depth of “ecological literacy,” even while it cultivates values and perspectives that conflict sharply with the orthodox mores of Industrialism, urbanization, and Christianity, and thus create what I call “internal anomie” as the reader enters the adult world.
Swanigan, Pamela R., ""I Shall Live For Ever and Ever!": Ecological Perspectives on Immortality in Children's Fantasy" (2015). Doctoral Dissertations. 710.
Available for download on Monday, April 21, 2025