Representations of Anglo-Saxon England in Children’s Literature
Kristi A. Bobo
Master of Arts, Department of English, Brigham Young University, December (2004)
This thesis surveys the children’s literary accounts of Anglo-Saxon history and literature that have been written since the mid-nineteenth century. Authors of different ages emphasize different aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture as societal need for and interpretation of the past change. In studying these changes, I show not only why children’s authors would choose to depict the Saxons in their writing, but why medievalists would want to study the resulting literature. My second chapter looks at children’s historical fiction and nonfiction, charting the trends which appear in the literature written between 1850 and the present day. I survey the changes made in authors’ representations of Anglo-Saxon England as children’s publication trends have changed. I show how these changes are closely related to the changes made in popular conceptions of the past. My third chapter discusses the way in which children’s retellings of Beowulf have placed the poem into a less culturally-dependent, more universal setting as they have separated the tale from its linguistic and cultural heritage.
Children’s authors have gradually removed the poem’s poetic and linguistic devices and other cultural elements from their retellings, instead favouring a more courtly medieval setting, or even a generic universal one. Children’s literature is an important indicator of the societal values contemporary with its publication. Authors and publishers often write the literature to reflect their own ideologies and agendas more openly in children’s literature than in other literature. As I show in this thesis, the attitudes toward Anglo-Saxon England which pervade children’s literature of any age make it a particularly useful tool to those scholars interested in the study of popular reception of the Middle Ages.