It is interesting to actually look at the themes of the works we hold dear and see the patterns emerge. Is there something in common in the popular works of today that were apparent in the works of the past? Amy Billone has discovered some common themes several different books. And perhaps has given us something to ‘dream’ in our future readings.
First off, can you give me an outline of The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Dream-Child?
My book The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Dream-Child: Fantasy, Dystopia, Cyberculture (Routledge 2016) looks into what I see as the reappearance of the nineteenth-century dream-child both in the Harry Potter series and in other works that have reached unprecedented status in our world today. By “nineteenth-century dream-child” I mean, on the one hand, beloved characters from the Golden Age of Children’s Literature like Lewis Carroll’s Alice and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Both of these authors were passionately attached to the fictional characters they wrote about, linking them to real-life children—Alice to the stunning real-life little girl Alice Liddell whom Carroll photographed compulsively and Peter Pan to the 5 Llewelyn Davies brothers that Barrie fell in love with and eventually adopted. But both authors at the same time resist these real-life associations with their characters. I argue that Harry Potter functions as a combination of Carroll’s Alice and Barrie’s Peter Pan. He begins in Peter’s world, able to fly effortlessly and to enter a kind of Neverland where the worst problems of his life are left behind him. But like Alice he must also grow up (which Alice does symbolically) and like Alice he grows angrier and angrier as the books progress. Like both Peter and Alice, Harry dreams—Neverland is a land made up of children’s dreams and children only see Peter in their dreams until they grow up and forget what he looks like. Peter, too, is troubled by traumatic dreams in Barrie’s novel which Barrie attributes to the riddle of his existence. Alice, too, realizes at the end of her adventures in Wonderland that she has dreamed the entire story; in Through the Looking-Glass she is baffled the dream might not be hers at all but in fact the dream of the Red King.
I begin my book by looking at how Harry Potter responds to Gothic literature that was immensely popular at the turn between the 18th and the 19th century. I look at how dreams function prophetically in Gothic literature or are at least superhumanly driven. I’m particularly interested in the character of Catherine Earnshaw/Linton from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) which is a mid-19th century Gothic text. I argue that both Carroll and Barrie based Alice and Peter on the ghost-child/dream-child of Catherine.
After my first chapter on Harry Potter I move to a second chapter called “Sentenced to Neverland: Three Contemporary Resurrections of Carroll’s Alice and Barrie’s Peter Pan.” That chapter is divided into three sections: in the first I discuss Tim Burton’s vision of Alice (always potentially “not the right Alice”) in his Alice in Wonderland (2010); in the second section I talk about Michael Jackson as a man who was obsessed with Peter Pan and in the third section I talk about another grown-up Peter Pan, Ian Fleming’s James Bond, who is able to magically side-step the impact of mortality but who remains a “tragic boy.”
In the chapters that follow, I turn to the franchises that gathered momentum at the end of the Harry Potter series of novels in 2007. I first study Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, books that came to Meyer in a dream and that feature a protagonist with a rich and compelling dream life. Next I look at the fanfiction that destabilized Meyer’s own popularity, E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey series. I juxtapose James’s series with the book her characters are obsessed with, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). I argue that as is the case for Tess, sleep and dream-states lead only to nightmarish conclusions for Anastasia Steele. However, because Christian Grey also functions as a dream-child that haunts both her dreams and his (the starved neglected abused/tortured little boy who mutely watches his mother die) he is able to be forgiven no matter what harm as an adult he causes Ana.
Finally, in my fourth chapter, I carefully examine Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series (2008–10, films 2012–15). What interests me here is that Katniss’s relationship with Gale Hawthorne is presented to readers and viewers as natural and real whereas her relationship with Peeta Mellark is shown from the beginning to be an act she and Peeta must play in order to win prizes from sponsors. It is in effect what I call elsewhere in my book an “implanted dream.” Nightmares and insomnia plague both Katniss and Peeta throughout the books and the question I ultimately seek to answer is how an implanted dream can become justified and genuine in light of the inhumane tyrannical government that invented it. Here, too, I look back at Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) as Collins explains Hardy’s influence on her work and the way Katniss Everdeen takes her last name from that of Bathsheba Everdene, the lead character in Hardy’s novel. Throughout this chapter and all of the others, too, I examine reincarnations of Carroll’s Alice and Barrie’s Peter Pan as I struggle to find hope and optimism in a progressively darkening landscape in Children’s and Young Adult literature.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Truthfully the idea for this book came to me in childhood when I was cast in the part of Peter Pan in a play for an after-school theater program. I read Barrie’s novel at the time to help me learn about his character and as the play was improvisational I wanted to learn how to “become” Peter so that I would always know how to speak and act exactly as he would speak and act. What ended up puzzling me as a child was that I was not a boy but a girl—this meant I was unable to act fully as Peter would (though I looked like a boy at that age.) I became at that time baffled by the progression of time and by the necessity of growing up. I also believed in the real Peter Pan so I had to undergo disappointment when he never showed up at my window. Because I grew up before the Harry Potter age, when I read Rowling’s books in order to teach them to college and graduate students I was able to see in them the references to earlier characters like Peter and Alice that I had studied so deeply before. I suddenly seized upon the idea of dreaming as I saw it reappearing throughout Rowling’s books and then, intriguingly for me, throughout all of the works I study in my book: all of which have broken global records in popularity.
How much of a role being: a mother; an academic; and/or a poet, help you with writing this book? Or was it a combination of all three roles?
Even though my work on the book on one level began long before I was a mother, in my own childhood, I have been amazed to have boy children and to watch them learn how to interact with the world. I want the best possible future for them and that has led me to think about the dream-child of the future—the child that could live in a world we are all happy with and proud of. The book is a scholarly book so it benefited from all of the conferences I have been able to attend and at which I have been able to present, articles I have published before and the Barnes and Noble Classics edition of Peter Pan that I wrote the Introduction and Notes for in 2005. It also benefited greatly from the undergraduate and graduate classes I have taught regularly on Children’s and Young Adult Literature. At the same time, it has ended up inspiring a long series of Midnight Haiku that I have been sharing on Twitter and now on Instagram with the hopes of condensing these down into a series of polished volumes. The Midnight Haiku were inspired by the word “midnight” in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games books and the way midnight is the time the worst tortures begin in Catching Fire. The word comes to stand in for both utter hopelessness and also the possibility of new beginnings: the time before a new Dawn. In other words, as with most of my life, the various different parts all played important roles in the shaping of this book.
How long did it take you to write this book? Was there any unique sources you used for research?
I wrote my first article that appears in the book—about the first 5 books in the Harry Potter series—in 2004 so in this sense the book took 12 years to write. But at that time I was working on another scholarly book, Little Songs: Women, Silence, and the Nineteenth-Century Sonnet (The Ohio State University Press, 2007). So I was only able to devote time to researching this new book exclusively after 2007, which was ironically the year my second son was born. This was also the year the last Harry Potter novel came out. I found myself continually needing to change gears with the book. For a while Harry Potter was going to be the end of the book and everything I knew about the long 19th century was going to precede that. But suddenly Harry Potter became dated (though I know it is very alive today). My students wanted to end the semester with Twilight; then they wanted that off the syllabus and they became obsessed with The Hunger Games. I felt I was constantly trying to bring the book up to date. Harry Potter might have started as the last chapter but he ended up as the first chapter. And the additional material on Tim Burton’s Alice, Michael Jackson, James Bond, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey and even The Hunger Games was all at one point new to me as well. It has been a very exciting process.
Has there been any reaction to the book so far? If so, any memorable comments you care to share?
The book is just in the process of coming out now. For this reason the positive reactions I have heard about the book have happened along the way as I wrote it. I am excited to hear responses and to engage in conversations once people have had a chance to read the book as a whole. Right now the book can be purchased on Kindle:
In America, the Kindle copy right now costs $43.41. The list price for the hard copy is $140 as it is initially being sold to a library market. For this reason I would be very grateful if people around the world could ask their libraries to order a copy. I would love to make the book as easy as possible for people to be able to read.
Do you have any public speaking engagements planned for this book?
So far, I have been invited to give a lecture and a class visit at another university this fall, and I am looking forward to that. Other public speaking engagements will develop as time goes on. I am planning to present conference papers and publish articles on the sections of the book I needed to delete to meet the correct word count (on television shows and on a number of other popular series that make interesting uses of dreams in them).
Do you see any role for Facebook and Twitter in relation to The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Dream-Child? Perhaps for any feedback from readers?
Facebook has been the most reliable way for me to get in touch with scholars in the field of children’s literature and with other friends and colleagues around the world. I look forward to using Facebook more in this way in the future.
Are you working on anything new right now? If so, are there details you care to share?
At the moment in my scholarly work I am working on a series of articles that were originally going to be in my book but that did not in the end fit into it. I am also discovering new works to write about and tracing my interests through them, imagining a book-length project that will evolve from these interests.
Poetically, I am excited about my Midnight Haiku project. I have been sharing these almost daily on Twitter for the past year and a half and now on Instagram as well. My plan is to have a PDF put together by the end of this summer by a great designer I know. The PDF would be the first publishable volume of carefully edited poems.
I would like to offer the PDF for free to anyone who joins my email list (you can click Follow Me on my website http://www.amybillone.com and provide your email address to be signed up to receive it). I will later put this out in hardcopy and eBook form and hope to continue the series with a more polished books of Midnight Haiku. My goal over the past year and a half has been to write as many as I can, fully aware of how rough some (most?) might be, in order to have enough there to chisel into good book material.
In our last interview you asked me about my current poetry and I said I was still looking for a form to put my poems into. That form turned out to be the haiku, though because of my intense background in sonnets (the subject of both my dissertation and my first academic book) my haiku are meant to read like short sonnets in many ways. I enjoy the breathlessness and the compactness of the form.