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MA Research

MA Dissertation Title: Crossing Over: ‘Coming of Age’ in Twentieth Century Children’s Literature

MA Dissertation Abstract


This dissertation uses texts by J. M. Barrie, J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling to explore the changing cultural constructions of childhood, the child and their representation in children’s literature of the twentieth century. The central contention is that the traditional definition of the child has always failed fully to represent the reality and that the literature in which the child appears is always already an adult and ideological nostalgic idealisation of childhood. Written by adults and, as I argue, in many ways for adults, children’s literature is an impossibility. Focusing on the literary conventions of the form such as the home-away-home pattern and the use of intertexuality, and using the concept of ‘coming of age’ as the key signifier of change, this dissertation demonstrates the ways in which writing for children has come to acknowledge the fluidity of childhood, the child and the literature and the problems inherent in attempting their definition and delimitation. There has been, I contend, a ‘crossing over’ of the boundaries between adult fiction and children’s literature which parallels the crossing over from the depiction of the idealised innocent to a realist and realistic representation of the knowing child of the twenty-first century.


Primary texts


  • Barrie, J. M., Peter Pan (1911; London: Armada, 1988)
  • Barrie, J. M., The Little White Bird in Farewell Miss Julie Logan: A Barrie Omnibus (1902; Edinburgh: Canongate Classics, 2000)
  • Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (London: Bloomsbury, 1998)
  • Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (London: Bloomsbury, 2000)
  • Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 1997)
  • Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (London: Bloomsbury, 1999)
  • Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (London: Bloomsbury, 2003)
  • Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (London: Bloomsbury, 2005)
  • Tolkien, J. R. R., The Hobbit (1937; London: Harper Collins, 1999)
  • Tolkien, J. R. R., The Lord of the Rings (1954-5; London: Harper Collins, 1995)