Fairy Tale Fiction and the Implied Reader

The assumption that foreshadowing as a literary tool stirs the readers’ curiosity and guides them gradually in envisioning characters, settings, and foreseeing future events of the plot is to be proven in a further analysis of this paper considering in particular the fairy tale genre.

As a literary form mostly dedicated to children and young readers, fairy tales got to be regarded as a normative tool highly appropriate to educate and communicate moral principles. However, the adult readers were not neglected and in this concern Jack Zipes analyses the status of the implied reader noticing the way in which the writers directed the fairy tale discourse according to their age:

The Victorian fairy-tale writers always had two ideal audiences in mind when they composed their tales-young middle-class readers whose minds and morals they wanted to influence, and adult middle-class readers whose ideas they wanted to challenge and reform. It was through the fairy tale that a social discourse about conditions in England took form, and this discourse is not without interest for readers today.” (xi)

Hence, according to their intentions, the younger ones had to be influenced and directed on the right path of thinking, while the adults were to be shocked and let their minds changed after the impact with the text. For George MacDonald the reader that could get the most out of his work would be the one willing to approach the worlds depicted in a childlike manner thus enabling him the possibility to reach that unseen spiritual dimension. Still, when considering the ideal profile of the implied reader as portrayed by the writer and the status of a contemporary actual reader, some intriguing details of social nature make a difference. According to Sally Shuttleworth, a general tendency of the Victorians was to disregard children’s creativity and make-believe stories and even suspect such manifestations as being caused by unhealthy states of mind (20). Nominated as possessing an unstable capacity to acknowledge things or to perceive certain realities guided by rationality, children were not to be taken seriously, nor be they encouraged to engage in creative activities. The childhood period was better considered to expand till the age of thirty whilst “Victorian attempts to interpret and control the boundaries between the adult and child state were cast into sharp relief by the medical discourse of psychiatry” (Shuttleworth, The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature 20), hence, the tendency was to regard children as having something wild, in need to be educated and civilized. In the nineteenth century literature there was not much left of the angelic, idealized image of the child promoted by the Romanticists and the highly valued divine innocence of childhood. Adrienne E. Gavin noticed a more realistic image promoted reflecting the influence of contemporary times:

Childhood in Victorian texts for adults was no longer a state longed for, or inspirational, as it had been in Romantic writing or would become again in Edwardian texts; it was a vulnerable, often painful, powerless state, frequently lonely, with the child portrayed as a victim of adult power, emotional or physical brutality, social neglect, illness, and early death. Pathos-heavy portrayals of child deaths were frequent, with the dying child represented as etherealized and closer to God.” (9)

However, George Macdonald was under the influence of Romantics’ vision, therefore kindness and admiration emphasised his manner of developing children fictional characters, besides his indebtedness to a supreme state of childlike wonder. Related to this aspect, Deborah Thacker claims that the writer actually “defines and attempts to write for an implied reader who embodies the potential of the Romantic child” (43), thus explaining the narrator’s tone when addressing his readers. Despite the language register, Kimberly Reynolds mentions early phenomena of fictional crossover since “so many books for children during the 19th century had a large and unapologetic following among adults” (16) claiming for the popularity of those depicting boys’ adventurous journeys.

Addressing readers was not something new in the Victorian age, as writers started to put effort in trying to engage readers, helping them establish a close connection with the text. If considering MacDonald’s approach in this matter, The Princess and the Goblin portrays a narrator that expects answers and thus a sort of reaction from readers is revealed; he even gives them voice in order to provide explanations, for inviting them to be partners of such a narrative, while assuming their familiarity with the fairy tale genre:

‘But Mr. Author, why do you always write about princesses?’
‘Because every little girl is a princess.’
‘You will make them vain if you tell them that.’
‘Not if they understand what I mean.’
‘Then what do you mean?’” (9; ch.1)

There is a sense of oral discourse enhanced by the use of the generic you or collective readers assuming that they are actually listening, imagining, or projecting themselves as witnesses at the unpredictable and the unknown the characters are facing:

Perhaps my readers may be wondering what the goblins could be about, working all night long, seeing they never carried up the ore and sold it; but when I have informed them concerning what Curdie learned the very next night, they will be able to understand.” (48; ch 7)

New characters as the great-great-grandmother are not directly introduced, but by leaving time for a quick guess, the readers are implicitly warned that there is something special about her:

What do you think she saw?” (16; ch. 3) They seem to let themselves directed by the storyteller, as a friendly tour guide, giving them useful details or clues to follow the story line by means of foreshadowing.
According to the J. A. Cuddon, foreshadowing, as a literary device, is meant to provide brief indications in order to draw the reader’s attention, prepare him for something that may come next (285). It may also enhance the suspense and the mysterious atmosphere as it engages readers imaginatively by stirring their curiosity, or even intriguing them to make assumptions about the ending of the story. Last but not least, Gerard Genette in his study entitled Narrative Discourse: An Essay Method debates narrative devices that enable prediction and identifies “as prolepsis any narrative maneuver that consists of narrating or evoking in advance an event that will take place later” (40).

Such a revealing of events not following the chronological order of events does not actually occur in George MacDonald’s story since the guiding act of imagination is defining for the manner of storytelling, but a sense of anticipation is prevailed by the given clues. At first, MacDonald’s narrative discourse enhances the presence of the implied audience and a sense of spectatorship; a passive character that has his imagination guided when being given brief clues about some important aspects of the story. But later, MacDonald makes use of his didactical discourse, slightly moralising, and enables the activation of critical thinking by the use of metalepsis. Hence, the reader is asked to make use of previous knowledge, keep in mind some important details and hold his breath for what is coming next. Nevertheless, by making reference to Grimms’ fairy tales, the writer points out at his vision calling for the renewal of the genre, an idea highlighted by Jack Zipes in his book Victorian Fairy Tales: “MacDonald stressed the aesthetic reversal of traditional fairy-tale schemes and motifs and social transformation in all his fairy tales” (xii).

Through foreshadowing, the storyteller’s clues help to put the implied readers’ imagination and creativity at work. Details and important information are either provided on the spot or postponed. Therefore, this literary device can be also regarded as a way of enhancing an atmosphere of suspense making the story similar to a mystery novel, thus addressing both children and adults. Nevertheless, by the moment of the revealing of truth the readers might have had time to make suppositions and practise their imagination.

Cuddon, J A. “Foreshadowing.”  A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 5th ed., Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2013, www.academia.edu/7012145/A_Dictionary_of_ Literary_Terms_and_Literary_Theory. Accessed 20 June 2021.
Gavin, Adrienne E., editor. The Child in British Literature: Literary Constructions of Childhood, Medieval to Contemporary. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Genette, Gerard, Narrative Discourse: An Essay Method. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1980, www.archive.org/details/ narrativediscour0000gene. Accessed 20 June 2021.
Reynolds, Kimberley. Children’s Literature: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011.
Shuttleworth, S. The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840–1900. Oxford University Press, 2001, doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/ 9780199582563.001.0001. Accessed 21 March 2021.
Thacker, Deborah Cogan  and Jean Webb. Introducing Children’s Liter¬ature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
Zipes, J. Victorian Fairy Tales: The Revolt of the Fairies and Elves. New York and London: Routledge, 1987, www.archive.org/details/ victorianfairyta0000unse . Accessed 11 June 2021.


prof. Anca Smuleac

Școala Gimnazială Dr. Gheorghe Tite, Săpânța (Maramureş) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/anca.smuleac

Articole asemănătoare