In and Out of Otherness: Being and Not-being in Children's Literature

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Journal Article
Neohelicon, 2009, 36 (1), pp. 45 - 54
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This paper suggests that the ultimate `otherness' of children's literature is not of `wildnesss' in its many manifestations, nor difference, nor ethnic heritage, nor even imaginative distinctiveness, although there exist telling examples of all of these. Rather, it is the incipient otherness of non-being. Paradoxically, growth into beingness, into subjectivity and identity, is progressively and ever more insistently stalked by this otherness of non-being of non-being a child by growing up and out of `childhood', of the potential nonbeingness of loved others, but most of all, and most deeply and most profoundly, of knowledge of the inevitable non-being of self. That is, the ultimate other of children's literature, and indeed of life, is the otherness of death. This paper begins an exploration of these ideas by referring to three well-known children's plays, one that spans a century and has become a cultural icon and two that are the works of one of the best writers of our day. The complex and sensual genre of plays for theatre - itself somewhat of an other in critical discussions of children's literature - offers a particularly acute focus for such a study: theatre involves writers and producers, actors and audiences, in aesthetic and kinesthetic conventions that are at once corporate and intimate, physical and intellectual, visual and aural. The plays for discussion are Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up by J. M. Barrie, and Wild Girl, Wild Boy and Skellig, The Play both by David Almond.
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