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My Research

Landscapes and the Natural World in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy Literature: Pullman, Pratchett and Reeve


My thesis examines the relationship between a selection of contemporary children’s fantasy literature and the landscapes depicted in this literature. I use multiple interpretations of landscape in material, psychoanalytical and socio cultural senses, but most specifically to mean an expanse of scenery in the natural/physical world; both the non-human aspects and the human influence on the natural world. I consider the concept that landscape is related to display or representation. Within the field of ecocriticism I examine the vastness of the ecocritical landscape, considering the usefulness and appropriateness of different definitions. I explore a variety of landscapes in this contemporary children’s fantasy literature including dreamscapes, inverted/rebellious landscapes, invented/other worldly landscapes and future-scapes (relating to utopia and dystopia).

The texts I am working with are Philip Pullman’s ‘multiversal’ His Dark Materials, Philip Reeve’s ‘steampunk’ Mortal Engines quartet and a variety of Terry Pratchett’s parodic fantasy, in which landscapes are a significant narrative feature. I am examining these texts against the critical lens of ecocriticism as a key theoretical tool. The clashes between the human and the non human and reality and fantasy are central tensions running throughout this thesis. I focus on the central idea of ecocriticism in its relationship of literature to the natural world, to critically examine these particular inscriptions of landscapes in contemporary children’s fantasy literature, and also expand definitions of ecocriticism to include nature within contemporary urban spaces and cities. I consider the textual constructions of landscapes in these contemporary works of fantasy in light of ecocritical debates. The primary texts are ultimately about the discrepancy between consciousness and material reality.

I trace the constructions and representations of landscapes and the natural world in the fantasy texts of Pullman, Pratchett and Reeve, to explore what is happening to this relationship between nature and literature, that ecocriticism is based on. This central premise of ecocriticism, the relationship between the natural world and literature, is distorted, disrupted and problematised by fantasy. The image of the pastoral is very often held or sometimes buried in the imagination. Fantasy texts are able to explore this as pastoral and natural imagery comes through in the distorted forms of dreams and fancy. The relationship between the internal space of the mind – the ‘mindscape’ – and the external natural world – the landscape – is of central significance. In fantasy, when even the locales and the natural world can be imagined or invented, the boundaries between mindscape and landscape become blurred and problematic. Fantasy-scapes complicate the representation of landscapes, and allow for dreamscapes, mindscapes, other worldly-scapes and future-scapes, which play with conventions of space and time. I explore the processes through which these innovative and groundbreaking works of fantasy are subverting and disrupting many of the premises that ecocriticism is based upon.
‘Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment’ Cheryl Glotfelty, 1996
'Ecocriticism becomes most interesting and useful […] when it aims to recover the environmental character or orientation of works whose conscious or foregrounded interests lie elsewhere’ Robert Kern, 2003
'Ecocriticism is most appropriately applied to a work in which the landscape itself is a dominant character' Don Scheese, 1994, ASLE website
'"Nature" is […] both that which we are not and that which we are within' Kate Soper, 1995
‘As a critical stance, [ecocriticism] has one foot in literature and the other on land; as a theoretical discourse, it negotiates between the human and the nonhuman’ Cheryl Glotfelty, 1996
‘Surely one of the great things about fantasy literature is that we can be transported to worlds we do not know. We can wear skins that are not ours. We can look at the landscape through someone else’s eyes’ Jane Yollen, 2004
‘Fantasy is not to do with inventing another non-human world: it is not transcendental. It has to do with inverting elements of this world’ Rosemary Jackson, 1998
'Fantasy can also mirror and criticize reality, forcing readers to consider reality, ironically at the same time as they are escaping from it' Carrie Hintz and Elaine Ostry, 2004