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Stories For Children, Histories of Childhood / Histoires d'enfant, histoires d'enfance. Tome II

 | 
Rosie Findlay
, 
Sébastien Salbayre

Uncanny Visitors: The Child Ghost in “haunted” Children’s Literature1

Lynne Vallone

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  • 1 I would like to acknowledge Howard Marchitello and Roberta Trites for their thoughtful responses t (...)
  • 2 Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny.” 1919. Trans. David McClintock. New York, Penguin Classics (2003), p (...)

1I begin with two related propositions that suggest a perhaps quirky way of understanding the contours of western children’s literature: first, that an unquiet ghost waits at the heart of children’s literature; and second, that children’s literature’s “primal scene” is the haunting. As a means to argue my point that children’s literature is “haunted” fiction, I will test my hypotheses by way of a few representative texts: a pair of well-known post-war British children’s ghost stories and three exemplary nineteenth-century works perhaps not typically considered part of the ghost story tradition. This exploration into the inherently haunted nature of children’s literature is indebted to the theoretical model offered by the uncanny. Haunting is linked to the uncanny by the fact that one generally recognizes what one is haunted by—whether a spirit or memory or fear—or comes to know it through repetition (haunting is defined, in part, by its recurrent nature). It’s a quick step to argue, then, given Freud’s famous formation of the uncanny (“das unheimlich”) as eeriness associated with the return of the repressed familiar thing especially related to childhood, that classic British fantasy fiction of the first and second “Golden Ages” is itself uncanny. Freud concludes, “the uncanny element we know from experience arises either when repressed childhood complexes are revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs that have been surmounted appear to be once again confirmed.”2 Indeed, the uncanny ghosts of children’s literature are themselves persistent, if sometimes obscured. Like the transmigrating souls of palingenesis that never rest but are forever born again, the “ghosts” of children’s literature continue to haunt children’s fiction through uncanny elements such as repetition, doubling and the irruption of “memories” from older books, or by the sentimentality, nostalgia and anxieties about the Child imported from an earlier time and reflected in contemporary children’s literature. My interest in this paper is to tell the “palingenetic” story of children’s literature by doing what I argue children’s literature always does—tell ghost stories.

1. THE STRANGE CHILD:

  • 3 The three books to which I refer include a retelling called “The Fairy Child” by Marjorie R. Watso (...)
  • 4 All quotations, unless other remarked, are from the (unpaged) Bell/Zwerger picture book.
  • 5 In the Orgel retelling, Sir Thaddeus confesses to the children in this way: “’When I was your age (...)

2The first ghost story I would like to tell emerges from the dream-worlds conceived in the German Romantic tradition of high emotion and visionary imagination. While Sigmund Freud, in his famous 1919 essay “The Uncanny,” chose Ε. T. A. Hoffmann’s tale “The Sandman” as his literary example of the uncanny, I would like to consider a Hoffmann tale specifically written for children, “The Strange Child” (1817, “Das fremde Kind”), as an example of a haunted children’s text that sets the terms, conditions and structure so pervasive to this phenomenon. Less well-known than his “Nutcracker”—to American audiences at least—Hoffmann’s “The Strange Child” has nevertheless been adapted at least three times as illustrated books for English-speaking children.3 The tale concerns two innocents, Felix and Christlieb, who are true children of Nature, loving nothing better than to play together in the forest near their modest home. Discord arrives in the form of snobbish visiting relatives who introduce book learning, mechanical and fragile toys, and ultimately an evil tutor, into the carefree lives of the children. As Sir Thaddeus, their father, remarks, these “gifts” do nothing but “bewilder” the children.4 When Felix and Christlieb take their new toys out for a good run in the woods, they are ruined, and the children berate themselves for their “ignorance.” Felix and Christlieb are startled out of their despair, however, when, heralded by sweet music, a beautiful child suddenly appears before them, beckoning from a bright light overhead. The children’s complicated emotional reaction to the presence of the stranger perfectly enacts an uncanny response to the simultaneously foreign and familiar nature of this spirit: “The children felt very strange. Their grief was all gone and although tears still stood in their eyes, they were tears of a sweet sadness they had never known before... For both children really felt as if they had known the strange child forever, and that they had all played together before, and that it was only the loss of their playmate that had made them sad.” Though not a ghost per se, that is, a returning departed soul, the Strange Child “haunts” the children in part by restoring what they had forgotten they had lost. In fact, the Strange Child functions as the Unheimlich-Kind, or Uncanny-Child. Thereafter, Felix and Christlieb are routinely visited by the Strange Child in the forest and they play blissfully with him/her, even as their stories about the child are discounted by their parents. Ultimately, this innocent relationship, based on a shared appreciation of the simplicity, beauty and wonders of Nature, is threatened by the tutor, the disguised evil Gnome King, who interrupts the children’s play and interjects useless book knowledge into their lives. After succeeding in driving the Gnome King away, Sir Thaddeus suffers a mysterious decline. In his last days, Sir Thaddeus reflects upon his own childhood and confesses to the children that he had forgotten that years ago he, too, had played in the forest with the strange child: “’But now that I have been remembering the happy days of my youth, and that lovely and magical child, and the same longing you feel yourselves filled my breast, but it will break my heart!’”5 At Sir Thaddeus’death, his widow and children are left in grief and poverty. They are not completely abandoned, however, as the strange child returns to remind the children that she will remain in their hearts, keeping them safe and happy. This promise is kept since the children retain their simple and loving natures, playing with the strange child in their dreams and succeeding in all they attempt during their waking lives.

3The Uncanny-Child enters the children’s lives in order to help them resolve the emotional crisis of self-doubt and self-hatred that the intrusion of artifice (in the form of the toys) and worldly knowledge (the tutor’s lessons) have instigated. By associating with the Strange Child in the forest, and then later assimilating her spirit into themselves, the children retain their natural innocence. However, a second, and perhaps more climactic resolution of the uncanny also offered by tale—one that will become important in my argument that follows—concerns the father’s recollection of the strange child from his own childhood. It is the return of this hidden awareness of the loss of the strange child’s presence—the absence of childhood itself—that breaks Sir Thaddeus’ heart and hastens his death. By recovering his memory and revealing it to his children, Sir Thaddeus completes a cycle that returns the uncanny to the canny—the homelike and domestic—for his children. For the adult, childhood itself functions as the uncanny.

4This strange and beautiful child—both male and female—who brings the delights of Nature and fairyland to receptive, lonely children functions as a kind of ancestor to many works of children’s literature that similarly use the child figure to symbolize an essential and recurring immortal child-self consisting of play, simplicity and goodness. Only by retaining this essential child—the inner child, if you will—can adulthood, can death, be tolerated. Belief in the uncanny Strange Child is the legacy that the dying Sir Thaddeus offers both Felix and Christlieb and to children’s literature in general. This gift both results in the child characters’ future happiness and success within the tale, and conjures the fantasy, the repetitive “dreams” of literature created for a child audience.

2. GOLDEN AGE GHOSTS

5My next ghost story begins with men haunted by children. It was during the period of the first “Golden Age” (approximately 1860-1910) of children’s literature that the haunting of three men, and of children’s literature itself, begins in earnest.

  • 6 Julia Briggs has argued in her study of the English ghost story that alienation from the “magical (...)
  • 7 Jacqueline Rose. The Case of Peter Pan: or, the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. 1984. Philade (...)
  • 8 Certainly, the desire that, especially, Carroll and Barrie exhibit toward their child love-objects (...)

6Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885) and Peter Pan (1904/1928) are each ghost stories and Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, and J. M. Barrie men haunted by Uncanny-Children.6 As I will describe briefly below, the haunting expressed in the fiction and evident in the lives of these nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century writers, while particular to each individual, arises in part from the condition of children’s literature itself—its “impossibility” to use Jacqueline Rose’s wellworn but insightful theorizing: “Children’s fiction is clearly about [the relation between adult and child], but it has the remarkable characteristics of being about something that hardly ever talks of children. Fiction sets up a world in which the adult comes first (author, maker, giver) and the child comes after (reader, product, receiver), but where neither of them enters the space in between.”7 Children’s literature resides on that swaying bridge that spans the gulf between adult and child, self and other, experience and innocence. And as these three texts demonstrate, that bridge is indeed haunted by the Uncanny-Children who inspire and frighten grown men.8

  • 9 Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland. 2d. ed. Ed. Donald J. Gray. New York, W. W. Norton and Company (...)
  • 10 Valerie Krips describes the figure of Alice as “a memory as well as a contemporary presence.” The (...)

7Lewis Carroll, it hardly needs to be mentioned, was haunted by the child ghost of Alice Liddell. Although his fantasy stories of Wonderland may not appear to be ghost stories themselves, the more revealing poetry that interleaves the books, constitutes a significant figuration of the ghostly tale and the Uncanny-Child. For it is in these dedications that the “dream-child” Alice haunts most effectively and repetitively in her many literary reincarnations as a child from 1862 pleading for a story, offering a “loving smile,” and providing the “body” for the acrostic poem that concludes the books: “Still she haunts me, phantomwise./ Alice moving under skies/ never seen by waking eyes.”9 “Embalmed” and “entombed” in Carroll’s prose, poetry, photography and memory, the essence of Alice Liddell transmigrates into memory, hope and desire.10

8In his collection of poems A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885), Robert Louis Stevenson’s was inspired by his own child life, yet these poems about carefree childhood filled with imaginative play were filtered through the lens of an idealizing nostalgia. The child figures who play so earnestly and dream so deeply throughout the collection are themselves uncanny figures—familiar in their activities and attitudes yet foreign in their “perfect” enactment of an idealized (white) middle-class childhood that never was. In his final poem, “To Any Reader,” Stevenson recalls the “child of air” who haunts the poems as a shadow, or a ghost and the deep, but fruitless, desire the adult may have to recapture that fantasized childhood:

  • 11 Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses. 1885. London: Puffin Books, 1952. Reissued 199 (...)

But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window , call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there. 11

  • 12 George, the eldest, died in 1915 and Michael, the second youngest, died in 1921.
  • 13 Rose notes that in the second draft of the 1908 ending of the play, Mrs. Darling explicitly identi (...)
  • 14 This comment appears in the novelization of the play, Peter and Wendy (1911), often retitled Peter (...)

9Yet it is J. M. Barrie in his longing who has created the most ghost-like, haunting, character of all: the immortal Peter Pan, who is weightless and ageless. Barrie’s drama is haunted by the shades of the Llewellyn-Davies boys, fully embodied in his imagination, yet amalgamated and only partially glimpsed in the play. By the time Barrie published the final dramatic version of Peter Pan in 1928, replete with a long-winded, self-indulgent dedication to the children who inspired his creation of the character, two of these former boys were already dead.12 While Peter may well claim that “to die will be an awfully big adventure,” this statement, in fact, serves as his epitaph.13 A “child of air” formed from nostalgia and bitterness—only the “gay and innocent and heartless” may fly— we learn that like Barrie’s other boys, Peter Pan, too, is already dead.14

  • 15 After the exchange between Peter and Wendy—who asks why he cannot be touched—the stage directions (...)

10Peter Pan’s status as an “always already” dead child helps to explain both his uncanny qualities and his attractive characteristics. In fact, none of the uneasy child characters of Carroll, Stevenson and Barrie are “embraceable”—Peter tells Wendy “no one must ever touch me” (Act l)15; Alice roams Wonderland as a solitary figure, meeting others yet essentially alone; Stevenson’s child self is both transparent and deaf to adult pleas to look around, to acknowledge, and to forgive, his adult creator. These fragile haunted men—afraid of their Uncanny-Children, hoping for gentle treatment, desiring a place in memory—perhaps unwittingly position the children who inspired their work as memento mori. Conventionally, of course, the memento mori would be represented by a skull, dying flower or hourglass; the child would seem to be the antithesis of such imagery. Paradoxically, however anxious, if loving, attempts to fix the child in literature, to recreate Alice’s dream or celebrate the self-interested actions of the boy who won’t grow up, similarly acknowledge an inevitable end initiated by childhood.

  • 16 Much twentieth and twenty-first century children’s literature is “haunted” in more conventional wa (...)

11Created out of loss and longing, these Uncanny-Children “haunt” British children’s books of the first Golden Age and continue to “haunt” twentieth-century and twenty-first century children’s books through their transformation into conventional character types: the curious child, the innocent child, and the “heartless” child.16

3. POST-WAR HAUNTING

  • 17 The Presence of the Past: Memory, Heritage and Childhood in Postwar Britain. New York and London, (...)
  • 18 Tom made Peter an audience for his experiences in the garden through postcards and letters. When, (...)

12The setting of the third haunting I want to tell is Cambridgeshire, England in the aftermath of the Second World War. During the mid-1950s, signal achievements in the field of children’s literature included the publication of Lucy Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe and Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, in 1954 and 1958, respectively. These books are not haunted by the ghosts of the war dead or by dreams unfulfilled, but by ghosts who emerge, just the same, from loss and longing. As Valerie Krips suggests, “the child we find written about for children in the second half of the twentieth century is... as good a calibration as we are likely to get of cultural change and adaptation, a figure wrought out of a desire for the child, which is a longing for and a fear of a lost self constructed within the frameworks of culture.”17 The structure of both of these ghost stories goes something like this: for the child character, an initial loss or abandonment leads to the yearning desire for a companion and an end to loneliness. This longing is satisfied by the appearance of a “ghost” (or ghosts) who replicate the child’s own need and a pleasurable haunting made up of mutual play ensues. During this haunting, the “living” child character lives a kind of divided life with his ghostly double simultaneously in the past and present. Ultimately, however, the child must assimilate and internalize the Uncanny-Child in order to create a unified self in the present moment. The consolation provided by the uncanny child ghost figures in these novels is completed only through a physical embrace formed across generations. In this way, the Heimlich—the cosy and domestic—is dis-entangled from unheimlich and the novels end with the newly-consolidated child—Tolly and Tom—finding satisfaction and consolation from living playmates. Tom and Tolly are themselves doubles, and the two “live” children who promise future carefree childhood days—Tom’s brother Peter and Tolly’s new friend Percy—are doubles, too.18

  • 19 The others are The Chimneys of Green Knowe (1958), The River at Green Knowe (1959), A Stranger at (...)
  • 20 Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe. 1954. Harcourt Inc., 2002, p. 3. Hereafter cited in the (...)
  • 21 When he first sees the family portrait and learns that there were once other children who lived at (...)

13Lucy Boston’s first book in the six-book Green Knowe series,19 The Children of Green Knowe, begins with the conventional abandonment found in many children’s books—the loss of a parent. Although not a complete orphan, seven-year-old Toseland’s mother has died and his father remarried and moved off to Burma. His profound loneliness during school holidays from his boarding school gives rise to the wish “that he had a family like other people—brothers and sisters, even if his father were away.”20 Toseland’s rescue is engineered by an ancient relative, his great-grandmother Old Mrs. Oldknow, who claims him, renames him Tolly, and brings him to her ancestral home, Green Knowe.21

  • 22 Excellent examples of uncanny events appear in other notable children’s books of the period, such (...)
  • 23 Freud, “The Uncanny.” 1919. Trans. David McClintock. New York: Penguin Classics (2003), pp. 141-14 (...)
  • 24 The current Boggis says the same: “’Isn’t he the fair spit of his grandfather! Might be the same c (...)

14In describing the house and grounds and inhabitants of Green Knowe, the novel is replete with so many of the motifs described by Freud in his literary analyses of Ε. T. A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman” and other works, that this ghost story almost appears to be a handbook of Freud’s uncanny.22 For example, The Children of Green Knowe includes the idea of the double (the Doppelganger), the identification of one person so firmly with another that the true self is doubted, and, in Freud’s words, the “repetition of the same facial features, the same characters, the same destinies, the same misdeeds, even the same names, through successive generations” (p. 142).23 As he enters the manor house, Tolly is met with an eerie sight: his reflected image in the many mirrors that line the hall so that “he almost wondered which was really himself” (p. 9). Each main character has at least one double from previous generations going deep into the past: Tolly is named for his grandfather who was named for previous Toselands since the seventeenth century, beginning with the Toseland nicknamed Toby, who haunts Tolly at Green Knowe. Tolly’s mother was called “Linnet,” Old Mrs. Oldknow’s Christian name, both for the little girl, Linnet, who died with her brothers Toby and Alexander in the Great Plague, and there are the many Boggis’, stewards for the Oldknow family, who reappear in every generation, serving their masters in the stables and about the manor. When Old Mrs. Oldknow meets Tolly for the first time she remarks with pleasure, “’So you’ve come back!”ʼ (p. 12) His face is the image of his grandfather’s.24

15Tolly’s deep longing for a playmate is answered by the ghost children who have haunted his great-grandmother and who return to haunt him. The three tease and trick Tolly—invisibly riding the creaking rocking horse, playing the flute and laughing without being seen—before finally showing themselves to him and introducing him to their games and cheerful ways. In the questions Tolly asks the children before he can fully accept them as ghosts, questions that any motherless boy might want to know, his feelings of loss and abandonment are subtly remarked: he wonders, where does one’s dead mother go, and is dying awful? Tolly is comforted by the ghosts’casual responses: Linnet responds that her mother is in “heaven” and “’She doesn’t mind our coming here”ʼ (p. 113) while Alexander reassures Tolly that their deaths from plague were nothing of consequence: “’[The plague] only lasted a few hours. I’d forgotten all about it,”ʼ (p. 113).

16Although the ghost children are externalized—Tolly can see and hear them when they choose—they form, in fact, a part of Tolly. When he learns that he had been sitting upon the chair that Toby already occupied, Tolly wonders why he couldn’t see Toby. Linnet explains, “’Well, you were sitting in the same place, so how could you [see him]? It’s as if you were both in the same person”ʼ (p. 115). As, of course, they are “both in the same person.” Indeed, as Old Mrs. Oldknow comments, “[Tolly] has it all hidden in him somewhere” (p. 30). The Uncanny-Child visitors are the animated form of the repressed memories of the Oldknow family itself, critical to Tolly’s consolation and integration into family history and future happiness. The novel concludes with the introduction of a “real” boy—the youngest Boggis, Percy (grandson of the current steward)—whose physicality is emphasized through his great appetite and sturdy “peasant” stock. Lonely no longer and ready to take the next step into growing up—which includes playing with other children and learning to ride a horse rather than playing with ghost children and ghost horses—Tolly enfolds his ghostly ancestors into his newly-unified self and, like Felix and Christlieb, needs them in his waking life no longer.

  • 25 Until the first effective vaccines were developed in the 1960s, measles had been the world’s great (...)

17Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce, is similarly a tale of longing and haunting, of a child whose loneliness at the beginning of the summer holidays will be assuaged by an Uncanny-Child figure. Tom Long—his desire is present in his name—is made sick with disappointment when plans for carefree playtime with his brother are mined by Peter’s measles and Tom’s necessary quarantine away from the family.25

18Of course, neither Tom nor Hatty, the orphaned child from the past who plays in the garden with Tom, are actually ghosts since neither has died. Yet their “ghostliness” is apparent in many ways: when Hatty dreams the Past, in the garden, Tom has no weight or substance. He can, with effort, go through solid doors. He is invisible to all but Hatty, various creatures, and the gardener, Abel (a kind of Boggis figure). Although Hatty is physically embodied and can be hurt and feel pain, her girlhood had ended long ago and her activities with Tom in the garden are the stuff of memory and dreams—of hauntings. In his waking days spent with his prosaic aunt and uncle, Tom is “haunted” by Hatty’s image (p. 101) and he begins to consider seriously that she is a ghost and that he has wandered into a ghost story (pp. 102-103). A curiosity about ghosts, about death, is very real for both the child Hatty and Tom and although each will identify the other as a ghost, they both reject the label for themselves. They argue: for Hatty, Tom’s ability to pass through solid materials, such as the orchard door, proves that Tom is a ghost. Tom’s counter argument is that his abilities can only be explained if the door, and the garden, and Hatty herself, are all ghosts (pp. 105-106). Tom’s unusual (for Hatty) nightclothes, his one slipper (the other is used, each night, to wedge open the flat door), and his invisibility are all evidence against him. Finally, in frustration and anger, Tom strikes Hatty to demonstrate that she is insubstantial, disembodied. When his hand goes through her wrist—or her wrist goes through his hand—the test terrifies Hatty, who cries out, “’You’re a ghost, with a cruel, ghostly hand!”ʼ to which Tom replies, “’You’re a ghost, and I’ve proved it! You’re dead and gone and a ghost!”ʼ This accusation proves to be too much for the orphaned Hatty, whose grief at the loss of her parents—like Tolly’s loss of his mother—returns in an emotional flood so painful that she cannot bear to think that she, too, might be dead (p. 107). The children never accuse each other again.

  • 26 The children are kept alive through Old Mrs. Oldknow’s stories and Tolly’s deep need for playmates (...)
  • 27 In Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes, Charlotte, a lonely girl from the 1960s, newly-matriculated at an (...)

19Although alive, Hatty resembles the plague victims of The Children of Green Knowe in that she is a living memory.26 Both Tom and Hatty function as uncanny visitors from another time who meet in the dreamlike tension between Past and Present that is created by their deep longing. Like Tolly and Toby, they appear to share one body: Tom finds Hatty’s hidden skates from his time and brings them to the winter-time garden to meet Hatty—who wears the same pair of skates upon her feet. They take off upon the ice, “two skaters on one pair of skates, which seemed to Tom both the eeriest and the most natural thing in the world” (p. 190). This uncanny event prefigures not the inevitable separation that must ensue as Hatty grows into a sexual being and Tom remains a child, but the reunion of child and old woman that will take place both many years later and in the present moment. When Tom takes leave of Mrs. Bartholomew, as Tom’s aunt remarks with awe, their embrace erases all difference: “’... they hugged each other as if they had known each other for years and years, instead of only having met for the first time this morning.... [Tom] put his arms right round her and he hugged her good-bye as if she were a little girl”ʼ (p. 229). Thus the Uncanny-Child transforms from uncanny to cosy, from eerie-yet-natural to ordinary-yet-powerful. In his introduction to Freud’s essay on the uncanny, Hugh Haughton reminds us that Freud’s essay was written, in part, as a response to the trauma of the First World War: “... the uncanny is not only about the souls of the departed, but the departed, or departing, idea of souls, something that haunted all of Europe in these years” (liii).27 Uncanny children’s literature, the ghost literature I have been describing, however, does not share this same fear. As we have seen in this brief exploration of the subject of haunted fiction, children’s literature remains anxiously concerned that “childness,” the child soul, remain constant and immortal.

  • 28 The Second World War is noted more by its absence, or its relation to the First World War, than in (...)
  • 29 In her extended analysis of Barrie and Carroll, Karen Coats helpfully describes one way to underst (...)

20There are two hauntings at work here: inside the book and outside of it. In The Children of Green Knowe and Tom’s Midnight Garden, the crisis of the mid-twentieth century—war, devastation, anger, alienation, and death—is resolved by Uncanny-Children whose presence-then-absence allows the longing child to find contentment in the domestic sphere. It is not the event of the war or its aftermath that is important in these ghost stories for children. Indeed, they are only subtly and barely remarked.28 1950s-era children were not fed upon the meat of the war—in Britain and Europe there was little meat to be had—but upon the milk of consolation. Outside of the book, for adults, of course, ghost stories such as these, in which Uncanny-Child visitors assist the longing self in satisfying its tme desires, lead us not to gothic fears of childhood itself (as expressed by James’s anxious and overwrought governess Miss Jessel in The Turn of the Screw [1898]), but to reassurances that memories and ghosts and children’s literature exist to comfort and sustain us, ease our sorrows and attempt to lead us back to innocence.29 Yet, this path is troubled and, finally, a lost cause. There is no “innocence” nor cultural, cosmic longing that ghost stories can ultimately heal. Even Robert Louis Stevenson recognizes that his own discourse of endless childhood innocence must fail. In “Keepsake Mill” he writes, “Years may go by, and the wheel in the river/ Wheel as it wheels for us, children, to-day,/ Wheel and keep roaring and foaming for ever/ Long after all of the boys are away” (p. 29). The wheel of time is just another form of haunting that reminds us of the end of childhood. Although this awareness may haunt children’s literature, we are not frightened by it.

21The only answer to the uncanny haunting at the center of the enterprise of children’s literature is remembering. Given the gaps between adult and child, between anxiety and fantasy, the hauntings of children’s literature might appear simply to be failed therapies, cases in which “the adult” (characters, authors, culture itself) fails to confess to his children that he had forgotten his child self. But Sir Thaddeus remembers and tells, thereby completing a cycle that rehabilitates the repressed uncanny and restores it, for a time, to domesticity; of course, once Felix and Christlieb grow up and the Strange Child stops visiting their dreams (an eventuality suggested in the text), the uncanny will once again be hidden and repressed. But the “happy ending” of encompassing the uncanny—of uniting the familiar and foreign within the self—is not obliterated by this fact. The enterprise of children’s literature is a practice informed by processing the uncanny through its repression and inevitable return. In fact, it is by virtue of attending to the haunted nature of children’s literature—it’s “impossibility”—that the possibility of children’s literature is secured through the endless re-negotiation of the uncanny. That unquiet ghost at the heart of children’s literature I alluded to at the beginning of this paper is reborn in each subsequent ghost story, passing into another body/text, creating the next uncanny moment of longing/consolation, haunting the bridge between adult and child and, though we may startle, we welcome its return every time.

Notes

1 I would like to acknowledge Howard Marchitello and Roberta Trites for their thoughtful responses to drafts of this essay and Brigitte Vossen for her translation work with Das fremde Kind.

2 Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny.” 1919. Trans. David McClintock. New York, Penguin Classics (2003), p 155. Hereafter cited in the body of the essay.

3 The three books to which I refer include a retelling called “The Fairy Child” by Marjorie R. Watson in The Fairy Tales of Hoffmann (1960. New York: Ε. P. Dutton reprint, 1964), The Child From Far Away retold by Doris Orgel and illustratd by Michael Eagle (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1971), and The Strange Child translated and adapted by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger (1981. Saxonville, MA: Picture Book Studio, 1984). Unlike the Bell and Orgel adaptations, Watson’s retelling dramatically changes the ending of the story to a didactic lesson.

4 All quotations, unless other remarked, are from the (unpaged) Bell/Zwerger picture book.

5 In the Orgel retelling, Sir Thaddeus confesses to the children in this way: “’When I was your age the child came to me also, and played with me in these woods. I can’t remember just when it stopped. But I must have forgotten, for when you told me 1 didn’t believe you—yet deep inside my heart I knew you were telling the truth. These last days, though, I’ve been remembering my childhood very vividly, and I remember the child. Now, I feel the same longing you do—it’s tearing at my heart!”ʼ (pp. 59-60). In the Watson adaptation, Sir Thaddeus does not die at all, but remakes the experience of the “fairy child’s” haunting into a lesson about cultivating egalitarian attitudes and appreciation of the ways of nature (see p. 30).

6 Julia Briggs has argued in her study of the English ghost story that alienation from the “magical perceptions of childhood” is one impetus behind the rise of the nineteenth-century English ghost story. The three haunted men I discuss here, however, rather than alienated, were fixated upon the child-self as well as upon fantasies about particular children. Briggs continues her discussion to identify “the ghosts of their own failure to be at one with themselves or their surroundings, both physical and intellectual” as the source of nineteenth-century writers’ anxiety and inner conflict often expressed in the figure of the double. Indeed, Carroll, Barrie and Stevenson are all doubled in the child ghosts they create. Julia Briggs, Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story. London: Faber, 1977, p. 9.

7 Jacqueline Rose. The Case of Peter Pan: or, the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. 1984. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990, pp. 1-2.

8 Certainly, the desire that, especially, Carroll and Barrie exhibit toward their child love-objects and child characters, has been fully discussed in criticism about these authors in particular and Golden Age literature in general. For a psychoanalytic reading of Barrie and Carroll, see, for example, chapter four of Karen Coats’ Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in Children’s Literature. Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 2004. For Coats, using Lacan, Alice and Peter Pan function as the “objet petit a” created to embody the authors’ desire (p. 78).

9 Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland. 2d. ed. Ed. Donald J. Gray. New York, W. W. Norton and Company (1992), p. 209.

10 Valerie Krips describes the figure of Alice as “a memory as well as a contemporary presence.” The Presence of the Past: Memory, Heritage, and Childhood in Postwar Britain. New York: Routledge (2000), p. 8.

11 Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses. 1885. London: Puffin Books, 1952. Reissued 1994, p. 104. Hereafter cited in the text of the essay.

12 George, the eldest, died in 1915 and Michael, the second youngest, died in 1921.

13 Rose notes that in the second draft of the 1908 ending of the play, Mrs. Darling explicitly identifies Peter as an “undead” figure: “’Don’t be anxious, Nana. This is how I planned it; if he ever comes back. (You see—I think now—that Peter is only a sort of dead baby—he is the baby of all the people who never had one),”ʼ p. 38. This commentary did not survive in subsequent versions of the play.

14 This comment appears in the novelization of the play, Peter and Wendy (1911), often retitled Peter Pan. Rpt. 1986, Puffin Classics, p. 212.

15 After the exchange between Peter and Wendy—who asks why he cannot be touched—the stage directions read “He is never touched by anyone in the play” (p. 1318 Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature edition).

16 Much twentieth and twenty-first century children’s literature is “haunted” in more conventional ways, containing plots in which ghosts appear as integral characters. Some notable examples include The Haunting (1982) and The Tricksters (1986) by Margaret Mahy, The Ghosts by Antonia Barber (1969), and Charlotte Sometimes (1969) and The Castle of Bone (1972) by Penelope Farmer.

17 The Presence of the Past: Memory, Heritage and Childhood in Postwar Britain. New York and London, Garland Publishing (2000), p. 7.

18 Tom made Peter an audience for his experiences in the garden through postcards and letters. When, through his deep desire to be with Tom, Peter is able to dream of him. and meet him at the cathedral at Ely, Peter can “see” Hatty is a way that Tom, at first, cannot: Peter sees that Hatty is “a grown-up woman” (p. 197). It is Peter’s proclamation of knowledge in the garden—Hatty has grown up—however, that ejects Tom from its magical presence forever. Tom abandons his hope to thwart Time and stay in the garden forever: “The garden was still there, but meanwhile Hatty’s Time has stolen a march on him, and had turned Hatty herself from his playmate into a grown-up woman. What Peter had seen was true” (p. 205). And again, once Tom and Hatty/Old Mrs. Bartholomew meet in the present, Peter’s crucial role in the novel to both Tom and to Hatty re-emerges: “He sat down again and told her about Peter, and especially of how Peter had loved to hear about the garden and of their adventures there” (p. 228). Mrs. Bartholomew “firmly” asks that Peter be brought to visit her, too. In this way, two boys are restored to her.

19 The others are The Chimneys of Green Knowe (1958), The River at Green Knowe (1959), A Stranger at Green Knowe (1960), An Enemy at Green Knowe (1964) and The Stones at Green Knowe (1976).

20 Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe. 1954. Harcourt Inc., 2002, p. 3. Hereafter cited in the body of the essay.

21 When he first sees the family portrait and learns that there were once other children who lived at Green Knowe, and that their toys and games and possessions exist still, Tolly determines to pretend that they are his siblings, just as Mrs. Oldknow once had imagined them (p. 25).

22 Excellent examples of uncanny events appear in other notable children’s books of the period, such as Penelope Farmer’s A Castle of Bone. For example, the teenage boy, Hugh, is shocked by repressed recognition when he examines a box of buttons that had functioned in a talismanic fashion when he was a child: “When little he had sometimes played with [the box of buttons] for hours, devising button pictures and button patterns. It gave him a sense of curious displacement touching these buttons again now—a sense of loss almost—of time perhaps, but more, of himself.” (A Castle of Bone, New York: Atheneum, 1972, p. 42.)

23 Freud, “The Uncanny.” 1919. Trans. David McClintock. New York: Penguin Classics (2003), pp. 141-142. Hereafter cited in the body of the essay. The novel also includes a scene of the return and destruction of the primitive (discussed by Freud on p. 155) when the cursed and crabbed tree named “Green Noah” comes to life with evil intention. It is foiled by a lightning strike. A similar climactic scene occurs in Tom’s Midnight Garden when the tall fir tree covered in ivy is struck by lightning on Midsummer’s Eve. The falling tree, “like one flame,” and the human cry that accompanies it, terrifies Tom. But the next night, the tree returns. Tom later learns that this was the last time that Hatty ever saw Tom in the garden; it was the night before she was to be married and to leave the garden of innocence forever. Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden. 1958. New York, Harper/Trophy, 1992, p. 53. Hereafter cited in the body of the essay.

24 The current Boggis says the same: “’Isn’t he the fair spit of his grandfather! Might be the same come back”ʼ (p. 29).

25 Until the first effective vaccines were developed in the 1960s, measles had been the world’s greatest childhood killer. The disease is highly contagious among the unvaccinated or those who did not have the disease as children. Sec http://www.worldwidevaccines.com/public/diseas/mmr6.asp

26 The children are kept alive through Old Mrs. Oldknow’s stories and Tolly’s deep need for playmates and acceptance.

27 In Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes, Charlotte, a lonely girl from the 1960s, newly-matriculated at an English boarding school, changes places with Clare, a girl from the turn of the century, who had once attended the same school. At the end of the time-slip novel, Charlotte learns that Clare had died years ago of the flu, just at the end of the First World War. Charlotte is devastated: although she had never met Clare, she lived as her and learned to love her little sister, Emily, as her own. Charlotte realizes that while Clare was a kind of ghost—living in a future after her death, so was she, Charlotte, living in the past (pp. 190-91).

28 The Second World War is noted more by its absence, or its relation to the First World War, than in any other way. The only mention of the Second World War in The Children of Green Knowe is made by the steward, Mr. Boggis who has lost a grandson to it (and two sons to the First World War, p. 134); the children’s deaths in the seventeenth-century Great Plague are of much greater consequence in the novel. Similarly, in Tom’s Midnight Garden, Old Mrs. Bartholomew mentions that both of her sons were killed in the Great War: “’the First World War they call it now”ʼ she tells Tom (p. 224).

29 In her extended analysis of Barrie and Carroll, Karen Coats helpfully describes one way to understand this desire: “... Somewhere between desire and language, somewhere where desire meets language, or language meets desire as itself, Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie have created Alice and Peter Pan to hold a more or less permanent place of signifiers of the modernist desire to preserve the notion of a pristine childhood, marked primarily by a belief that becomes anesthetized or repressed as we grow older” (Looking Glasses and Neverlands, p. 78).

Auteur

Texas A & M University

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2007

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