New World Classics: Receptions of Antiquity for Modern Children
5 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2010
Date Written: March 9, 2010
Students of classical reception are paying increased attention to the memorable first encounters with classical culture that occur in childhood. Accounts of the ancient world composed for (or regularly read by) children, in myth collections, historical novels, and history texts, represent one of the most widespread and influential manifestations of the classical tradition, with a lasting effect on the imaginative lives of adults. Work in this area is benefiting from interdisciplinary connections, especially with the growing field of children's literature studies. Both reception studies and children's literature studies are concerned with the construction of a past, whether cultural or personal, that is in itself inaccessible but in some sense still with us. Work to date on the classics for children (as represented in a pioneering conference at the University of Wales at Lampeter in the summer of 2009) has concentrated on British texts and contexts, but the American tradition, beginning with Nathaniel Hawthorne, includes notable examples of the classics configured for children, and a panel on this topic seems both timely and well suited to the APA.
This panel will consider versions of antiquity for older children from Hawthorne to the present day, with shared attention to themes of freedom and constraint as reflected both in the lives of young people and in the history of the US. Two historical papers will be complemented by two that explore current versions of classical myth for contemporary children and teenagers in different media, a fantasy novel and a video game. The panel will begin with introductory comments by one of the organizers. Each paper will last 20-25 minutes, with some questions after each paper, and there will be a general discussion, led by the organizers, among the panelists at the end. We will require audio-visual equipment suitable for powerpoint presentations and for showing clips of the video games discussed by panelist #4.
The first paper will address Nathaniel Hawthorne's pathbreaking A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls (1851). Panelist # 1 will show how Hawthorne's dramatic frame and narrative technique emphasize the status of classical myths as the proper possession of modern children, whose free adaptations of those myths are truer to their original spirit than more rigid scholarly versions.
Panelist # 2 will discuss historical fiction set in Roman Britain from the 1930's and 1940's, focusing on two examples, one primarily for boys, the other primarily for girls. These works figure Britain (and the provinces generally) as sites of greater freedom or renewed republican virtue by drawing on conceptions of America as a new frontier and site of utopian experiment.
The third paper will concern the popular Percy Jackson series by Richard Riordan, an especially timely topic because of the recent movie version of the first in the series and because Riordan himself is based in San Antonio. Panelists # 3, who are experts in American literature and film studies, will situate the series in relation to the film thriller, especially in its construction of the adolescent hero Percy Jackson as a populist opponent to a malign superpower, here identified with the ancient gods.
The fourth paper will provide a counterpoint to the previous three, turning away from narrative fiction aimed at a distinctly American audience to the newer and more international form of the video game. Panelist # 4 will discuss a recent example, the independent game Don't Look Back, in which the Orpheus myth provides the rules under which a player navigates the world of the game, setting the terms through which he or she experiences success, failure, or loss, and assesses the value of the past.
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