The Hazards of Fairyland: The Wall Street Journal Reviews Critical Children, by Richard Locke

Critical Children, Richard Locke

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a very thoughtful review of Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels.

The reviewer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, calls the book “incisive and entertaining,” and discusses Locke’s examination of novels such as David Copperfield, Peter Pan, Huckleberry Finn, and Lolita. As Boyce explains, Locke views these novels as prism to understand cultural issues ranging from economic exploitation and racism to sexuality and mortality.

Boyce concludes the review, writing

For all the exuberant genius of Twain and Dickens, for all the dangerous potency of “Peter Pan,” the most accurate book about children on Mr. Locke’s list is surely Henry James’s horror story “The Turn of the Screw”—not because it says that children are wicked or amoral but because it says that they are unknowable. Mr. Locke calls it “a perfect example of a work constructed to defeat the reader’s effort to resolve its intrinsic indeterminacy.” We do not know if the ghosts in the story are haunting the young girl and boy or haunting their governess—or if the children are on the side of the ghosts. Because it is impossible, James realizes, to know what children are really thinking. The horror at the heart of “The Turn of the Screw” is the revelation that there are places even a great story cannot take you.

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