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Author discusses “golden worlds”

Catherine Owers | Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Author Daniel McInerny gave a talk titled “Children’s Literature and the Golden World” at the first installment of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture’s Fall 2013 Catholic Literature Series on Tuesday.

McInerny, CEO of Trojan Tub Entertainment and author of the “Kingdom of Patria” series, said children’s literature takes place in a different world.
“Children’s literature is about adventure into a ‘golden world,’ in which innocence is fought for and achieved,” McInerny said.

McInerny said the idea of a “golden world” derives from the biblical idea of a Paradise, and an idealized or fantasy world is featured in many children’s books such as “The Secret Garden,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Bridge to Terabithia.”

“Children’s literature has an essential connection to a Catholic understanding of moral formation,” he said. “Even if many, if not most of the practitioners aren’t Catholic at all, the very genre is a dream of Eden.”

McInerny said the “golden worlds” featured in books are not necessarily perfect images of Eden, for they can be filled with conflict, danger and evil.  
“I still call them ‘golden worlds’ because it is in those worlds that characters undertake the work of restoring innocence,” he said.

McInerny said this idea of innocence is not about sheltering children from evil.

“I mean innocence as … the opposite of being sheltered, of adventuring out into the world of death and finding one’s virtuous way through it,” he said.

A common objection to the idea of “golden worlds” is that it only applies to “fantasy” literature, in which the narrator takes the reader into a secondary universe, he said.

“The ‘golden world’ as I described it is also found in the revolutionary Boston of ‘Johnny Tremain,’ or the Connecticut colony of Elizabeth George Speare’s ‘The Witch of Blackbird Pond,'” he said. “These are historical places, but the adventures that the child protagonists undertake in those stories also can be described as ‘golden worlds.’ It doesn’t have to be a fantasy secondary world.”

McInerny said the genre of children’s literature as it is known today did not emerge until the 19th century, and it flourished as a result of Romanticism and its reverence towards childhood.

“This treasuring of childhood gave an increasingly secular culture a way of connecting to purity and innocence, to wonder and to other worlds,” McInerny said. “It encouraged it to favor the imagination, as opposed to reason and scientific mode.

“I would argue that the Romantic sense of childhood, and the children’s literature that flowed from it, was one way of trying to re-create the ‘golden world’ of the terrestrial paradise.”

Though children’s literature is largely secular in inspiration, McInerny said, its deepest inclinations of yearning for a terrestrial paradise can be uniquely appreciated by the Catholic literary mind.

“The Catholic can deeply appreciate much of what good children’s literature is trying to do, even while it resists making idols out of childhood innocence and the child’s imagination.”

Junior Frances Kelsey said she has been following the Center for Ethics and Culture’s Catholic Literature Series since her freshman year and came to McInerny’s talk becuase of her previous positive experiences.

“I thought it was really interesting [McInerny’s idea] that a ‘golden world’ could be found in books that are not strictly fantasy,” she said.

The Catholic Literature Series continues with Professor John O’Callaghan’s lecture titled “Harry Potter and King’s Cross,” on Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. in 155 DeBartolo Hall.