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Christianity and Children’s Literature

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This talk will consider the complicated relationship between Christianity and children’s literature over the past century-and-a-half, with the objective to move beyond those mainstream English and American children’s writers most traditionally associated with Christianity—such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, and Madeleine L’Engle. This study does not seek to privilege or promote Christianity as a faith, but rather to intellectually and objectively consider its changing association with children’s literature and education over that time. The advent of Western compulsory/secular schooling in the mid-to-late 1800s coincided with the rapid expansion of a specific literature for children, and this same period witnessed the precipitous decline of the traditional Christian morality tale, a form which had provided many of the earliest examples of modern children’s literature. While these concurrent developments have caused many to assume that the subsequent Golden Age of children’s literature and its aftermath are resolutely secular in nature, this talk will highlight a more intricate reality, suggesting through historical, biographical, and critical sources that many of the most significant children’s texts of the last one-hundred-and-fifty years have maintained continually-productive relationships with Christian tradition, culture, and theology. While this talk will cover a wide range of subjects, it will in particular examine the influence of Christian doctrine on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871), the complex relationship between Carlo Collodi’s Le avventure di Pinocchio (1883) and the Roman Catholic Church, and the contemporary balance within American picture books between Christian morality and secular ethics.

Carl F. Miller is Assistant Professor of English at Palm Beach Atlantic University (USA), where he teaches courses on children’s literature, comparative literature, and critical theory. Miller’s recent work includes an examination of the existential dynamic of the snowman in international children’s media appearing in IRCL last December, and an analysis of Latin translation in children’s literature appearing in Bookbird in February. His talk for today stems from his current book project, a larger study of the influence of Christianity on children’s literature.

This talk is part of the Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Cambridge series.

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