British vs. American Children’s Stories

During our discussion of Uprooted at our last meeting, we touched on the topic of native folklore and fairytales as building blocks for fantasy literature.  As promised, I’m including a link to The Atlantic’s recent article on Why The British Tell Better Children’s Stories.  The author, Collen Gillard’s, central thesis is that:

The small island of Great Britain is an undisputed powerhouse of children’s bestsellers: The Wind in the Willows,Alice in Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, James and the Giant Peach, Harry Potter, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Significantly, all are fantasies. Meanwhile, the United States, also a major player in the field of children’s classics, deals much less in magic. Stories like Little House in the Big Woods, The Call of the Wild, Charlotte’s Web, The Yearling, Little Women, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are more notable for their realistic portraits of day-to-day life in the towns and farmlands on the growing frontier. If British children gathered in the glow of the kitchen hearth to hear stories about magic swords and talking bears, American children sat at their mother’s knee listening to tales larded with moral messages about a world where life was hard, obedience emphasized, and Christian morality valued. Each style has its virtues, but the British approach undoubtedly yields the kinds of stories that appeal to the furthest reaches of children’s imagination.

Gillard attributes this difference, in part, to the fact that the British have remained in touch with a unified and local pagan folklore, while the shared folklore of Americans, such as it is, is primarily focused on pragmatic Puritan/capitalist concerns of self-improvement and self-reliance.

What do you think of this thesis?  Did you have a preference for British or American stories in your childhood (or now)?

  • Lorena

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