In the hope white people will like them: Andrew Lang and the colonization of fairyland

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In the hope white people will like them: Andrew Lang and the colonization of fairyland

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Publication BookChapter
Title In the hope white people will like them: Andrew Lang and the colonization of fairyland
Author(s) Sundmark, Björn
Date 2007
Editor(s) Bradford, Clare; Bradford, Clare; Coghlan, Valerie
English abstract
The Victorians embraced different theories of oral culture and its relationship to children’s literature and childhood. Most early folklorists and authors fail to see any connection at all between oral culture and children’s literature. This is evident in, for instance, W. B. Yeats’ fairy tale anthology Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888), a collection that has a decidedly adult perspective and is more concerned with legends and the supernatural than with childhood and nursery tales. However, already in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book (1889) we find a radically different approach. In it Lang establishes principles that have become normative: the intended child audience, the eminence of the wonder tale, the international approach, as well as uniformity of language and style. This may seem unproblematic, but in my paper I will show that Lang’s fairy tale project is part of a colonial discourse that effectively leads to the appropriation of oral culture and the colonisation of Fairyland. Lang’s now generally accepted premise was that the same fairy tales have evolved all over the globe and have gone through the same kind of transitions into myth and literature (and sometimes back again). More problematically, he also shared the colonial and social Darwinist belief that cultures go through developmental phases that correspond to those of biological evolution and individual maturation. Bluntly, these assumptions lead up to the idea that an adult savage is on the same level, culturally, as a white English boy, and that adult folklore can pass as nursery entertainment after proper editing. It will be one of the focal points of this paper to look at the nature of this editing process. Finally, Lang’s view of oral culture and how it relates to (civilised) childhood and Victorian children’s literature is, in my opinion, not just of antiquarian interest. The model is still with us today, although we profess different ideas about oral culture, childhood and children’s literature.
Publisher Pied Piper
Host/Issue Expectations and experiences : children, childhood and children's literature
ISBN 978-0-9552106-2-4
Pages 111-121
Language eng (iso)
Subject(s) Humanities/Social Sciences
Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION
Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION
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