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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Radical uncertainty" : interrogating magic in children's literature Reiss, Bryony


Witches and magic are ever-popular and enchanting, whether on screen, in children’s literature or in the cultural imagination. They offer empowerment, escapism, wonder and excitement. However, the figure of the witch is also a marker of waves of oppression, persecution and violence against women and other marginalised groups throughout history. In this thesis, I explore whether depictions of fictional witches in children’s literature can reconcile these discordant understandings, and how they might do so. I illustrate the disconnect between fictional representations of magic and witches and real witch hunts and marginalisation. I discuss what place magical writing has in representing marginalisation and oppression and outline definitions of a variety of types of liminal magical writing. These definitions, with a focus on Tzvetan Todorov’s the fantastic and magical realism as defined by Wendy B. Faris, are applied to a reading of Natalie Babbitt’s classic novel, Tuck Everlasting. The conclusion reflects on how the “radical uncertainty” (Gooderham), found in these types of magical writing, may be a useful tool in exploring othering and marginalisation and representations of witches in children’s literature. I seek out a mode in which the realities of violence and othering can be rendered without denying a magic that leaves space for empowerment, epistemological pluralism, wonder and hope.

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