Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Border Zones: Travel, Fantasy and Representation

Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad and the Liminality of Gender and Belief

Ludmilla Miteva (St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria)



The present study aims at investigating two problematic issues, gender and belief, both of which on the border zone of literary representation in teenage literature. The formative years of childhood (the pre-teens and the teens) see the coming-into-being of the child identity. In this process of formation contemporary society plays a major role. The twentieth century (as it is common in history) is characterized by constantly changing views with nothing final and everything in endless transformation. We re-assess our ideas about racial or ethnical differences, our own female or male adult identities, our views on belief, or religion bringing all these problems to the surface and incorporating them into our communication with our own children. We even seem to re-evaluate the nature of family relations, fighting both to keep what we consider valuable while bringing alterations at the same time.

Race, ethnicity but also class, religion and certainly gender are among the numerous identity markers. It is important to note that the term 'gender’ does not exclusively emphasize on femininity. Contemporary cultural research puts an almost equal stress on masculinity as well. The roles of women (and men for that matter) have undergone considerable changes through the twentieth century. The greater part of the data on the character of the changes is studied mostly with regard to media presentations (television series, films, magazines and advertising). In spite of this, the general tendency and the validity of the observations can hardly be denied applicability to literature, children’s literature as well.

Feminist criticism has long been concerned with the effect of gender issues on young people in the process of shaping their own identities. For years stereotypisation has been the subject of a great deal of feminist critique of sexist representations in children’s books, where women seem to be described as housewives and mothers only capable of washing the dishes and caring for the children. It can hardly be denied that children’s books have greatly improved in this respect in the last ten years or so, yet there still remains a tendency for stereotype presentations of male and female characters (Mills, S. Feminist Stylistics. Routledge: London and New York 1995: 166).

For the accomplishment of stereotypisation in children’s books both language and pictures are used. The present paper, though, is centered on language rather than the visual presentations. Language, on the other hand, is not just a form of information transfer. It is also a form of social networking and social bonding, a site for the negotiation and enforcement of power relations or a set of mutually exclusive choices in a closed system. Within this complex system of language humour is the perfect arena where difficulties and tensions about relations between women and men can be displayed. This is what I aim at illustrating through/in Terry Pratchett’s children’s trilogy The Bromeliad (1989-1990).

The Bromeliad is still a book in the tradition of the heroic quest with a central male character with his group of male friends who have a lot of adventures and finally come victorious home. The number of the female characters is drastically less than the number of the male ones and the more central to the story female characters are still very much traditional. From a feminist perspective, there is yet enough to be happy about - none of these three female characters is too traditional, too submissive or passive. Another positive feature is the representation of masculinity - none of that heroic group is too confident or without his problems and doubts, and the two 'power’ figures are admirably powerless with regard to the central female characters.

It is disputable whether all of the humour episodes are male-oriented, yet quite a few of them are. Very few of those which are, are actually male-oriented in the traditional way. I would argue that humour is not directed against the female characters for the male/boy audience to laugh. The humorous nature of the episodes points at men themselves and its function is to secure a way for the male characters/readers to cope with the new emerging lifestyle. There is serious restlessness within the male characters to hang on to the traditionally masculine attributes of assertiveness and independence and yet to learn how to place greater value on love, family and personal relationships.

The second issue discussed in the paper is the dichotomy religion/belief. Religion and/or belief often cross the minds of children, especially at the age of their physical and psychological maturation. Strange as it may seem at first, these serious topics are not always treated seriously. This is, however, not a shortcoming as Pratchett’s trilogy illustrates magnificently. Religion as we usually perceive it is a minor element in the three books while belief is one of the major discussions. Fantasy proves to be fruitful ground for such an issue. Pratchett’s humorous approach is also looked into as a safety mechanism for presenting and discussing border zone forms of liminality.

"Matters such as starting work (or staying at school), striking out new relationships with parents and with the adult world, coming to terms with the opposite sex, and above all discovering what kind of person you really are, that are of the utmost interest to adolescents but that are not often dealt with in adult fiction, or at least not dealt with in ways that seem helpful- (J. R. Townsend. Written for Children. Garnet Miller: London. 1965: 145). The phenomenon of humour dissolved into Pratchett’s books steps in here. The result is a positive view of adolescence, not as a difficult and rather miserable stage but as a happy beginning full of boundless energy, enjoyment, freedom and just a pinch of responsibility.

Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-11