Child of Nature: Wilderness, Myth, and Childhood in Middle-Grade Fantasy

  • Author / Creator
    Parrila, Sofia A
  • Childhood forms the basis for a lifetime of ecological interaction. Due to many contemporary ecological challenges, including the threat of climate change, children today grow up with complex relationships to the environment. However, there remains relatively little scholarship on recent novels for preteens dealing with ecological themes. This thesis aims to further scholarship on children’s literature by applying an ecocritical lens to three representative middle-grade fantasy series published in the first decade of the twenty-first century: Patrick Carman’s The Land of Elyon series (2005-2008), Isobelle Carmody’s Little Fur series (2005-2008), and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (2005-2009). These texts, all marketed to children aged approximately 9-12, were all international bestsellers, and all prominently feature depictions of environmentalist awakenings in their protagonists. How does middle-grade fantasy use magic and mythology to contextualize ecological conflict for children? What is the role of the child in this conflict? Finally, how do these texts construct childhood in relation to nature? I argue that texts for and about the liminal age between child and teenager are uniquely situated to explore the simultaneous elusiveness and necessity of human bonds with non-human beings. All three texts appeal to an assumed affinity between child and wild, drawing on children’s experiences of alienation with the adult world to build sympathy between children as a class and the marginalized figures—animals, plants, and nature spirits—that inhabit the natural world. The mythological and speculative elements in these novels dramatize and foreground environmental agency, and orient child readers towards recognizing and defending the “real magic” of the ecosystems around them, with the aim of educating children into ecological awareness. These novels use fantastical elements to portray children as natural allies of the environment, and specifically this affinity for nature places children at the centre of ecological crises.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2023
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.