In October 2012, the Department of English at the University of Ottawa will host a symposium on “Children’s Literature and Imaginative Geography: Past, Present, and Future.”
For Tolkien, the Realm of Faerie defined an imaginative place. That sense of place not only defined fairy tales for him; it made the magic of fairy tales possible. It was at the beginning, at the root of fairy tales. Story begins in a place. An imaginative place is also the backdrop of a children’s novel, poem, or play; it IS the world of Story. Whether realistic, fantastic, historical, gothic, or nonsensical, a work of fiction has its own geography. The giant sequoia on a prehistoric island opens Kenneth Oppel’s Darkwing, and defines the soon to be destroyed safety of its colony of chiropters, Oppel’s imagined prehistoric bats. The North shapes the adventures and redemption of protagonist Burl Crow in Tim Wynne-Jones’s The Maestro. P.E.I. inspires and nurtures Anne of Green Gables; her own imagination grows out of her love of the Island. Fantastic geographies, whether in the past or present, can be small or epic in scope: Lilliput or Middle-earth, the Hundred Acre Wood or Narnia, the house of the Other Mother in Coraline or the dark multitudinous worlds of the Inkheart trilogy to name a few.
Cyberspace cannot be mapped like a place on Earth, but it plays a role in present day imaginative geography. It is a place of websites, blogs, e-mails, and tweets, and enables the downloading of books, as well as the creation of interactive fictional worlds. Computers, cell phones, e-readers, and tablets connect us to imaginary places. Cyberspace has also helped make our world into a global village, where it is not so strange to read children’s literature from around the world, whether about the Australian Outback, Nazi Germany, India, or the thick woods of early Canada. The imaginative geography of children’s literature is the focus of this conference. Where has it been? Where is it now? Where is it going?
Among the keynote speakers are Kenneth Oppel, Alan Cumyn, and Margot Hillel.