An Exploration of Nature and Human Development in Young Adult Historical Fantasy

Change log
Chen, Jou-An 

Traditional historical writing focuses on the cause and effect of human action, assuming that it is the historian’s responsibility to recount the ebbs and flows of human progress. In the process of laying hold of the past as a narrative of human action, historical writing has developed the tendency to marginalise nature and undermine its power to influence the historical narrative. My investigation explores the fantastic in historical fantasy as a means of resisting historical writing’s anthropocentrism. Historical fantasy uses fantastical elements to create counterfactual and alternative historical realities that have the potential to resist and undermine history’s anthropocentric norm. My thesis examines four contemporary young adult historical fantasy trilogies that reimagine key turning points in history such as industrialisation, the American frontier, European imperialism, and World War I. They share the theme of retrieving and subverting anthropocentric discourses in the history of human development and thereby creating space for nature's presence and agency. My study finds that the fantastic is an effective means of subverting historical writing’s anthropocentrism. But it also uncovers ambiguities and contradictions in historical fantasy's ecological revisionism, pointing to the idea that despite the fantastic’s capacity for subversion, historical representations of nature cannot be separated from considerations of human identity and survival.

Whitley, David
nature, history, young adult fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, historical fantasy, children's literature, speculative fiction, ecocriticism
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge