The Child and the Book: Children’s Literature and Play

The Child and the Book: Children’s Literature and Play.

International conference at University of Wroclaw, Poland, 19-21 May, 2016.

NaChiLit participants:

Nina Goga: «The danger of play. Representations of play and toys in selected contemporary versions of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio (1883)»

Abstract

Carlo Collodi’s story about a piece of wood, which turns into a real boy, has inspired and challenged artists and researchers ever since it was first published in 1883. Many of them have been preoccupied with Pinocchio’s mischievous nature and his unwillingness to obey social rules. His unruly or disobedient character seems to attract and fascinate generations of young readers, at the same time he troubles those who consider his attitude unsuitable for children who would like to become real, and educated, human beings. Collodi’s story seems to be ambiguous about the role of play and toy in a child’s life. Instead of understanding Pinocchio as unruly, one may understand him as playful and curious. Pinocchio himself struggles to understand and cope with his own identity—is he a puppet (burattino) or is he supposed to become a real boy (un ragazzino perbene)?

In my paper, I will examine a crucial passage in the story about this particular identity struggle. More specifically, I will do a close reading of the chapters where Pinocchio runs away to the Land of Toys (chap. 30). In particular, I will study the representations and meaning of play and toys (including the figure of Pinocchio) in three contemporary versions of Pinocchio: one with illustrations by Roberto Innocenti, one with illustrations by Robert Ingpen and the other an app with illustrations by Lucia Conversi and music by Daniele Zoncheddu. My main research questions will be:

  • How are toys and children’s play represented in the selected versions of Collodi’s Pinocchio?
  • What understanding or interpretation of play and toy is displayed through the various illustrations in the three versions?

 

Primary sources

Collodi, C. (1883/1988). Le avventure di Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino. Milano: Mursia (illustrated by E. Mazzanti).

Collodi, C. (2005). Pinocchio. Milano: La Margherita Edizioni (illustrated by Roberto Innocenti)

Collodi, C. (2014). The Adventures of Pinocchio. Surrey: Templar Publishing (illustrated by Robert Ingpen).

Elastico (2013). Pinocchio (for the Ipad). Milano: Elastico srl (illustrated by Lucia Conversi, music by Daniele Zoncheddu).

 

Lykke Guanio-Uluru: «Real War in a Game World: A Comparative Reading of Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008)»

Abstract

‘Are people on the television real?’

‘´Course!’

‘Why are we treating them as a game, then?’

(Prachett 1992/2013)

 

Terry Prachett’s Only You Can Save Mankind and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games both hinge on the premise that a situation experienced by some characters in the diegesis as an actual war is perceived by other characters as a game. Both narratives thematize screen mediated violence and the perception of violence as “play”, exploring the “fictionalization” that occurs to our perceptions of people encountered “on screen”.

In Only You Can Save Mankind, 12 year old Johnny becomes immersed in a gaming experience where the “aliens” he seeks to destroy turn out to be sentient beings seeking an escape from the game world in which they are placed to fight human gamers. Caught in what he comes to think of as a real war, Johnny starts defending the game’s aliens from other gamers, attempting to escort the aliens, who have surrendered, across The Border and out of the game world to safety. The situation is paralleled by a context of global war – the Gulf War – the televised footage of which blends with Johnny’s gaming experiences. The 1992 narrative remains strikingly current as Syrian war refugees are pushing against Europe’s borders in a quest for safety, while unmanned drones can be programmed to execute acts of war, making modern warfare in some respects airily alike computer gaming.

In The Hunger Games, protagonist Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her little sister’s place as a contestant in the annual Hunger Games, to which children of the fictional country Panem’s 12 deprived Districts are elected as tributes, fighting to the death in an artificially controlled “game world” or arena as entertainment for the well-fed populace of the Capitol. The contest is televised, functioning as a reality TV show feeding on the display of real hunger, brutality and suffering.

The paper draws on Johan Huzinga’s term “the magic circle” from Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1955), which has been adopted by digital media theorists like Edward Castronova, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, exploring what happens to the concept of play when the “game” is designed for those outside of, rather than inside, the “magic circle”.

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