Diana Wynne Jones Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Classic adventure is seldom hampered by social morality. In a treasure hunt the seeker is, by prescriptive right, the hero: the holder—dragon or man—is in the wrong. Since [Robert Louis Stevenson's] Treasure Island this has been one of the strongest conventions of the adventure story. The ethics of aggression have been in the past accorded a similar ambiguity; a certain concept of honour, differing in its nature from country to country or from period to period, has been considered reason enough for one antagonist to be accounted hero and another, villain. Today political and social sensitiveness is making its mark on children's stories, not only in the kind of adventure … with a topical, contemporary setting, but also in fantasy and space adventure. The change is particularly interesting in regard to Cart and Cwidder, for here the old chivalric idea of honour and a modern liberal attitude are interwoven. The villains—as so often in adventure stories nowadays—are those who curtail freedom (everybody's bogy, in fact). They are the corrupt, totalitarian earls of the South, in an unnamed country, engaged in a protracted Cold War with the North, where people can be themselves…. This slow-moving, allusive, enigmatic tale has a chivalric atmosphere, conveyed in details of costume, in slightly archaic idiom, in the rustic settings and medieval-type settlements and in the moral attitudes of Clennen and of Moril; the modern concern for liberty has been given almost an Arthurian gloss. (pp. 2708-09)

Margery Fisher, "The Noble Ends of Adventure," in her Growing Point, Vol. 14, No. 4, October, 1975, pp. 2708-11.∗