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Narrative energy in children's literature

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It is often said of stories which are told in extraordinary ways that they are, for example, “most fascinating”, “intriguing”, “absorbing”, “gripping”, “captivating” “compelling”, and so on. One of the reasons why some stories are described in these superlative terms is that they contain and release a fair amount of what could be called “narrative energy”.

The purpose of this paper is to relate aspects of energy in theory of physics to aspects in literary theory that concern the effects of the story on the reader by investigating narrative texts for children, adolescents and adults. Although narrative energy will differ in texts for different age groups, it is also obvious that narrative energy will function differently in, for example, war stories, love stories, detective stories and stories about the environment. Although several other relevant texts will be considered, the three main texts that this seminar will focus on will be from the same genre—stories about possible effects of stories: for small children—Mia’s Mom by Marita van der Vyver and Piet Grobler, for adolescents – Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and for adults – The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt.

Betsie van der Westhuizen is an associate professor in the School of Languages at the North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa. Her research, teaching and publications include studies on comparatism, transdisciplinarity, multilingualism, creativity in language education, humour and ideology in literature and films for children, adolescents and adults. She is the convenor of the Biennial Conference on South African Children’s literature.

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

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