Beyond Demons and Darkness: A Genealogy of Evil in American Fantasy Literature for Young Adults Since1950
Simone, Louise Pisano
This thesis investigates the portrayal of evil in fantasy novels written for readers between the ages of 12 and 18, over the last 60 years as it relates to the notion of Otherness. Using an interdisciplinary approach, I analyze select fantasy novels through the lens of Western ethics to examine the American historical, political and social environment between 1950 and 2014. Using Western ethics as a guide, reading the texts exposes underlying themes concerning war and American values of good and evil. The portrayal of war in fantasy fiction for young adults has important implications for understanding how American culture responds to its enemies or anyone who falls outside the white Judeo-Christian mainstream. In the 47 young adult novels examined, I find that American attitudes about war and their enemies, and how we respond to them, have changed since the beginning of the Cold War and the continuing international struggle against terrorism.Beginning with the 1950s’s fantasies examined, novelists equated the fictional battle between good and evil with the defense of freedom and prosperity. Protagonists defend humanity in a just war against forces whose stated or implied goal is the enslavement or destruction of the human race. In these early novels (those written between 1950 and 1970), evil is portrayed as a force of nature or the result of the meddling of supernatural beings in the affairs of humans. Later novelists (beginning by 1970 and continuing through the 1980s) portray evil as an outcome of human choice. Inherent in this portrayal remains the belief that the cause the hero fights is just. Human freedom rests on the hero’s victory. The final group of novels, those written in the era after the collapse of the Soviet Union (1990 through 2014), authors explore the danger of seeing the world in binary terms of good and evil, instead positing the idea that the battle itself is the greatest threat to human freedom, prosperity and happiness. In addition, these later novelists explore alternative means of overcoming evil besides eternal conflict and revenge. Finally, I include guiding questions concerning teaching fantasy literature for the purpose of understanding how fantasy literature reflects and addresses issues of social justice in the reader and writer’s consensus reality.
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