Wonderland. Oz. Neverland. Narnia. Hogwarts. These fantastical realms have become almost synonymous with the terms “children’s literature” and “young adult fiction.” And yet, these places speak to a distinct tradition in fantasy specific to a select group of stories: the discovery of an intermediate portal, capable of granting children passage from the “real” to a parallel universe. For each of the places listed above, we thus have an equally famous entry mechanism: Alice’s rabbit hole, Dorothy’s tornado, Peter Pan’s fairy dust, Lucy’s wardrobe, and the Hogwarts Express.
The Portal in Children’s Literature provides an introduction to books that have borrowed this tradition, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Along the way, we will study distinctions between fantasy, allegory, folklore, fables, and science fiction. Lectures and readings will cover traditions in children’s lit, from oral storytelling and reading children to bed at night to sex education and reading as therapy. We will also watch films that adapt the portal for the screen, including MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, Motown Productions’ The Wiz, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Across these texts and films, The Portal in Children’s Literature embarks on investigating the uses of the portal as a plot device, its intended effect on the child’s imagination, and how it has evolved alongside different historical and political thresholds.