If we but tell these stories to our children... - Nationalism in Irish historical fiction for children
Herik, H.T. van den
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Books, once such a threat that leaders had them put to the pyre, are now one of the few media that are still free from age advice or parental advisory stickers. Yet what do authors from (former) conflict zones tell children about the past? How do they deal with the controversies? This thesis looks at the extent in which violent antagonistic discourse is (still) present in modern historical children’s books from a (former) conflict zone. The chosen former conflict zone is the Irish Republic. In political discourse and historiography, in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, attempts have been made to revise the historical framing into one less antagonistic. Two meaningful events of 1916, the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, have been employed by historians and politicians as a key to shared commemoration. With 1916 as the historical arena the authors of the three children’s novels discussed in this thesis theoretically had the possibility for telling the shared history, or show a different side of the stories. This comparative analysis shows how the three books differ in the degree in which they revise the grand narrative. The three stories show how the young protagonists can become an actor, bystander or outsider to the public history. Yet there is no one on one correlation between the narrative constructs and the extent of nationalist discourse or justification of violence. What we can conclude also is that none of texts manages to tell something that resembles a whole story, and they are by definition representing an ideology. 'No Peace for Amelia' has a message of peace that covers any conflict. 'The Guns of Easter' emphasises the situation where Irish fight Irish, indirectly connecting it to the Troubles. 'The Young Rebels', published in 2006, shows how antagonistic discourse supporting violence against the antagonistic Other is still present in modern novels. The connection between the antagonistic other and violence on the one hand, and the role of best friend, mother and father, as well as themes as the (romanticised) past, the enemy, victimhood and martyrdom on the other hand can prove useful starting points to analyse children's literature from any country on its contribution to war or peace.