Frances Hardinge delivered the Philippa Pearce Lecture to a packed auditorium on April 18th at Homerton College, University of Cambridge.
Are books too scary? Can we iron out the monsters? Should we face the monsters alone?
Some of the questions which Frances eloquently suggested to the audience, why do we think children should not be given answers, but left with the monster lurking, when we just want them to be safe and not to think about scary things?
Frances’s novels, which include The Lie Tree, The Cuckoo Song and A Skinful of Shadows are full of shadows and half glimpsed faces, things which in the dark are scary. Adults tend to come in and put on the light and explain that there is nothing to be scared of, but when the light goes out, Frances explained that the scary monster is back. Frances recalled how she had first read The Shadow Cage by Philippa Pearce and it had struck a deep chord.
Children’s fiction has a wealth of unseen things, some are cowed and shrouded, faceless and use of nonsense words and vague descriptions, for example the Jabberwocky the work of Lewis Carroll. In Victorian children’s books, Frances explained that monsters would be used to impose sanctions, e.g. the monster will get you. Stormtroopers of fear and imagination, the use of cautionary tales.
In today’s world of books for children there is a wealth of material which brings in darkness and scariness, the fear and the imagination of children and young people, for example, Harry Potter and the dementors. We can try to iron out the monsters, we can offer daytime explanations but there remains some uncanny gravitas which no electric light bulb can help!
Frances also pointed out that all children’s authors are adult but maybe it is the inner-self that is still part of the childhood.
A thought-provoking lecture and Frances Hardinge gave an excellent informative journey through the materials on the dark side.