Maria Sachiko Cecire, Re-Enchanted: The Rise of Children’s Fantasy Literature in the Twentieth Century. Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press, 2019.
Reviewed by: Laura Dull (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Maria Sachiko Cecire’s Re-Enchanted: The Rise of Children’s Fantasy Literature in the Twentieth Century accomplishes a great deal of critical work in less than 300 pages, starting with poking a finger directly into the soft underbelly of medieval studies and the specter of its ties to white supremacist groups in the twenty-first century. In her conclusion, Cecire confesses her love for medievalist children’s fantasy (also reflected in her curriculum vitae) and her belief in its value despite its “shortcomings,” which seems a light charge for what she argues earlier in the book. Cecire argues that children’s medievalist fantasy, particularly that coming out of the Oxford School started by J. R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, successfully shaped children in a masculinist, white, Northern European vision of selfhood that used the medieval past to critique modernity and project an alternative present. Because they and their followers published children’s fantasy, their project flew under the critical radar of literary and cultural scholars until the overwhelming breakthrough popularity of such fantasy with adult audiences (as seen, for example, in the adult audiences for the Harry Potter books and movies and the adult fantasy Game of Thrones franchise). Cecire calls upon readers to acknowledge the dangers of the Oxford School’s project while recognizing the cultural power its members harnessed. She encourages us to embrace and explore new ways of expanding the scope of the tropes of children’s fantasy to become more inclusive in the ways it reaches into the past to find magic in a difficult contemporary world. Cecire’s work is thoroughly medievalist in analyzing the way children’s (and later adult) fantasy has been used to understand the past in response to the present with an eye to shaping the future.
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