Tag Archives: Children’s Lit

Early Career Seminar

ECS Hosted by the ICS and this week featuring me:

History, Identity and Independence: Children’s Time-travel to Roman Britain

British writing has often pondered the question of which areas of history have had the most impact on modern national identity and over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries a dialogue about the influences of the Romans and the Celts developed which then spilled over into modern fiction. By looking at some examples of the way that “natives” and Romans are compared and contrasted in children’s literature this paper hopes to open up ideas about the way that specific qualities and ideals are both associated with specific peoples and are also brought together as exemplars for the modern Briton. I am particularly interested in how authors negotiate and marry the issues of “conquest vs. independence” with a desire to inherit both the Roman influenced intellectual developments of democracy and philosophy and the ideals of creativity and pastoral innocence allegedly embodied in the Celts. By looking at examples that focus on modern children travelling through time this paper aims to investigate how authors have called their reader’s attention to similarities and differences between ancient and contemporary societies and the way that the cultures are evoked within the novels. In this way I hope to demonstrate that Roman Britain was not only a key part of our conception of the major parts of British history but also a useful tool for discussing ideas about Empire and ‘multi-culturalism’.

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SFF 4(?)

Aaaargh sorry for the exceptionally long delay.

Still on Day 2 but post lunch
Session 13: Divine Updates – Myths of the Classical World in Popular Literature.
This panel was all by academics from the University of Zurich, I’m not sure I quite caught a unifying theme to the papers but each of them offered me a whole load of food for thought.

The first was by Meret Fehlmann on the re-imagining of classical myth (and religion) in the novels of Robert Graves and Elizabeth Hand.
I haven’t read anything by Hand and I haven’t read the novels by Graves that Fehlmann discussed (though perhaps unsurprisingly I have read his Greek Myths & I, Claudius) but I am quite conscious of the fact that his interpretation of pre-historic Goddess worship has been influential so I was interested to see how she traced his ideas and reactions to them. Fehlmann demonstrated 2 points: firstly how Graves developed his ideas about the cult of the mother Goddess from his version of the Golden Fleece into his book 7 Days in New Crete to suggest a kind of utopian re-balancing of society and secondly how Hand re-wrote those ideas about the cult and ultimately rejected their usefulness.
Graves’ ideas about both the importance of women in cultic scenarios and the notion of the necessity of destruction in society have their basis in a number of late nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropological enquiries, including those of Jane Ellen Harrison. The ideas are played out across swathes of pagan and feminist literature but were fairly quickly rejected by scholars and then ultimately by those groups too. It is interesting to see the literary positions that demonstrate the trends but unsatisfying to consider how much more there could be done on tracing lines of influence… My brain was so buzzing with the possibility of showing how JEH influenced 70’s lesbian pagan feminism I was quite distracted.

Next up.. a Paper on the Watchmen graphic novel/comic from Scott Brand

This paper served as a gazetteer of almost every classical allusion the speaker could find. Naturally there was an interesting discussion on the impact of using Juvenal (quis custodiet..) as the central theme of the novel (albeit mediated through American politics) and some focus on the Promethean elements of the characters. However, to my taste the paper as a whole was a little light on analysis (although it is only fair to note that this was not his normal research topic) but instead offered up some interesting possibilities for further analysis as well as illustrating how classical material can serve as ornamental short-hand and foreshadowing. I would particularly like to see someone with greater skill than I pick apart the interplay between the Greek, Roman and Egyptian identities and images of the character of Ozymandias.

The 3rd paper of the panel entitled “Where’s the glory in repeating what others have done? Mediating the Ancient and the Modern in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series” was from Petra Schrackmann.

This rather fascinating paper took great care to show how the novels actively re-write ancient mythology in order to make it more relevant to modern children. Schrackmann especially argued that by juxtaposing the modern and the mythological Riordan was able to critique both and that he used the books to create a modern mythos that especially highlights issues with the education system as well as providing a pathway to the growth of personal identity. It is clear that the series shares some of its central themes with many other books for its target age-range, specifically the notion of the power of knowledge and learning to negotiate independence through issues of agency but the speaker nicely highlighted why the often fatalistic Greek myths could still be used fruitfully.

This paper was followed rather well thematically by the final paper of the panel by Aleta-Amiree Von Holzen on Anne Ursu’s Cronus Chronicles. I have to confess that not only have I not read these ‘middle grade’ stories, I hadn’t even heard of them before the paper. Nonetheless the speaker competently outlined the key plot points before explaining some of the ways that the author took some of the same basic premises of the Percy Jackson series but created a different feeling in order to offer thoughts on the nature and purpose of power. The paper suggested that Ursu’s modernising of the myths sometimes inserts a slightly comic tone into the stories but the disregard of humanity shown by the Gods has a lot in common with the  ancient tragedies. Von Holzen also drew out the importance of the Promethean myth to the Chronicles’ consideration of free-will and the role of the Gods in a modern world – a classical connection that (as well as being discussed indirectly in a later paper) surely ought to be brought out more in modern writing.

In summary, despite (or perhaps because of) the fairly diverse directions of these modern mythological re-tellings/re-purposing it was clear that writers have been very conscious of the difficulties of using such a different cultural medium as ancient myth in their own work but also that they can use that to their advantage.

Right, better stop there before this gets any longer.
Monday morning next (Nick Lowe’s plenary will I think act a as kind of conclusion to the whole conference)

CA 2013 – Highlights

I want to open this blog with some belated thoughts about key ideas and interesting facts that I took away from the Classical Association Conference this year.

  • Rejecting the Classics – I really liked the concept of this panel. It is well worth acknowledging that the places where we don’t use classics or aim to subvert them can tell scholars a lot about our preconceptions of what they represent. Where we draw boundaries between disciplines and topics is in itself significant as is whether we have a concept of doing the Classics the right way.
  • Ovid meets Titian – I didn’t really follow the cultural olympiad last year but I now need to go out and take more of a look at how contemporary poets have addressed Metamorphoses using Titian as a visual clue. The idea of a specific and explicit interaction between ancient, intermediate and modern interests me (it reminds me of how so many people only access texts through translation).
  • Roueché & Digital Classics – A big hit at the conference and a key area of growth. It was really good to listen to someone inspirational on the topic of collaboration and getting involved. There are so many fascinating projects that help make classics more accessible and allow us to interpret information in new ways – it makes me even more determined to learn some more technical skills.
  • Tony Keen –  I was enthused by Keen’s discussion of Nesbit’s Amulet and its depiction of Roman Britain. Its going to help my paper later this year. I was particularly interested in the role of Nesbit in the development of children’s lit and the difference between active involvement in the past and passive reception of it.
  • Lisa Maurice – This paper also had some really interesting points to make for my upcoming paper, notably on the temporal distribution of books relating to Roman Britain and the possible connection of the topics in the National Curriculum to eras commonly travelled to in time-travel literature.
  • Other Children’s Lit – There was a notable focus on Caroline Lawrence’s work (I think its got to the point where I really have to go and read some) but there were also a few insightful thoughts about how educational aims are represented and the ways tales from Homer were tailored for post-war Germany.
  • Goff on the WEA – it is always good to see projects that look at grassroots interest in the Classics. This was both unexpected and interesting.
  • Heather Ellis – Easily the most exciting paper of the conference for me. Dr Ellis was examining the way that the British Academy talked about and utilised Classical material, imagery and learning in their development of a scientific community. This has clear links to my thesis – the way that social groups and men-of-learning constructed identity by using the Classics even where such cross-over was a stretch of the imagination fits with the way antiquarians in Cornwall made use of multiple types of evidence and helps explain why they were so keen on Classical texts.

And because its just one of those things, I am sad I missed: Sommerstein on Translation, the papers about the Ure Museum, Robin Osborne’s address and the panel on Digital Classics.