R.L. and he was doing all this stuff to

R.L. Stine’s Fear Street: The New Girl was a
sensational read for Young Adults in the 20th century. The reason
was its highly entertaining and exciting descriptions of teen life. It was read
by Young Adults throughout the world and is still read by Young teenagers. But
can such literature be a source of teen’s intellectual development or can we
allow such literature because it well-entertains them? Literature for the sake
of their entertainment at the cost of limiting the whole development process of
their critical thinking, at this age, when faculties of mind are at their
highest to be explored; can such literature accommodate to such sensitive demands
of human experience? This exploration is often referred to as Young Adults
exploring their identity, or maybe facing existentialist crisis, so can such
literature allow this exploration to be productive? This research paper has
been intended to explore R.L. Stine’s Fear
Street novels in the background of what has been stated above. These novels
which are a part of Children Literature and, after facing censorship, have
again maintained a good position in the libraries, do not deserve to be a part
of Children Literature. Morality bias is kept aside during this research and
the conclusions derived are purely on the basis of creating an outline for such
literature which is adequate for the development of Young Adult’s intellect.

Keywords: children
literature, R.L. Stine, Young Adults, archetypes, intellectual development,
eroticism

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Introduction

S: what about the best thing is the
suspense and the horror? What do you have about all these people that say it is
bad for the kids?

D. well, that their opinion, and we
have ours, like basically, if they have kids, they should train their kids to
believe what they want to believe, but they can’t tell other people’s kids,
what to believe and what to read, they have their opinions, and we kids have
ours.

S: do you ever get scared by reading
his books?

D: sometimes i do.

S: really, can you think of a book
that you got scared?

D: broken hearts

S: what made you get scared?

D: the notes she kept getting in her
locker, and they were saying you’re dead next and had a big heart and she
thought it was the guy that she was going with, and he was doing all this stuff
to her, and i am thinking oh my gosh, what if he kills her, and she was one of
my favorite characters in the book,

S: and so that made you scared
because could you identity with her, could you. or you just liked it because
she was just one of your favorite characters.

D: like i could really identity with
her, cause i was back in 5th grade, people use to play pranks on me all the
time, and everything, i had some notes like that around valentine’s day, and i
found out it was a boy in my classroom doing stuff like that.

An interview with a black 8th
grader studying in a school by a data collector (Smith 148)

The afore stated
excerpt is a very true portrayal of what kind of intellectual training the
Young Adults have and how instead of tracking their distracted, confused
approach, such literature has given them a way to express and relate to
fragmented feelings of a dissatisfied life. Such relation between the text and
the reader seem, evidently, to restrict their intellectual grooming and let
their raw, adolescent feelings to be expressed but not dealt with. And all
this, for the sake of entertainment.

The following research
paper intends to explore a specific aspect of children literature which has
been ignored by most of the critics of R.L.Stine. This study is in the context
of a particular novel series written by an American writer. R. L. Stine who is
famous for his short novels –written under various horror-oriented
sub-categories –wrote a series called Fear
Street whose first novel The New Girl1
came and conquered the mind of Young Adults and not only of them but also of
the young children of ages around eight to twelve. Now, the content of this
novel was explicit which is why the writer introduced a new series suitable for
children of this age (Tanner 3). But what kind of explicit content was there in
The New Girl and if it was not
suitable for these children then how was it suitable for adolescents? Anyhow,
it was published, read and critiqued and then again accepted as good children
literature. Various arguments were given in favour lately and these novels are
now available for reading and maintain a significant readership2
among Young Adults. Now, should such literature (which is not at all suitable
for children) be available for children in their schools and reading
institutions? R. L. Stine did face censorship from librarians and schools but
now in the 21st century the fascination is reviving and needs to be
addressed. Young Adults, who now have a whole jargon of such media resources
allowing them to be exposed to anything they cannot even think of, need a bit
of guidance in what they opt for reading. In the 20th century the
argument in approval of such literature was that at least children started
reading and now again in the 21st century we face the same issue
with children, they don’t read enough and so for the purpose of entertainment and
motivation such literature should be made available for them. This study would
be based on Northrop Frye’s theory of archetypes where he has defined
literature and made significant claims that what literature is actually about.
His views on education and theoretical frameworks presented for how to educate
children are vital to this research. Furthermore, based upon his views the
structure of this essay would be entirely upon the fact that how such
literature like that in The New Girl,
is inadequate for creating intellectuals which is the dire need of the present
era.

In the post-modernist
perspective this research paper proposes to drill the following hypothetical
questions in the various sections of the research paper, accordingly:

1.    
What makes truly good children literature
for the purpose of entertainment?

2.    
Has the standpoint of introducing
literature for children entertainment been justly addressed through novels like
Fear Street: The New Girl by R.L.
Stine?

3.    
Is the deficiency of literary
intellectuals in the Post-modernist era because of the availability of such
literature?

4.    
If such literature is not adequate for
the children entertainment purpose, then what is?

 

 

Literature
Review

When extreme criticism
began against R.L. Stine, the first objection was that his stories were useless
and had no moral perspective (Traw 8, Tanner 6).

          Further they were criticised for promoting the aspect of
fear in Young Adults through the portrayal of gory images, bloodshed, suspense
and horror (Traw 7; Tanner 5).

In the Fear Street novels the shock-factor was
heavily criticised and looked down upon as this made Young Adults become too
much excited about the fiction they read and started considering it a part of
their lives in reality (Marcovitz 78, Dickinson 118).

His novels were subjected
to censorship because they had implications of pornography and arousing
heterosexual feelings in Young Adults when actually they need to be dealt with
extreme wisdom (Dickson 119; Rearick 81; Tanner 5).

Not only this, there
had been a feminist study of the Fear
Street novels, which is quite convincing as it argues successfully that the
females portrayed in his novels are the typical females of that era, no attempt
at setting a guideline for Young female Adults had been proposed in these
novels. Instead the patriarchal perspective had been supported and promoted
(Lair 12).

In response to such
criticism, Stine’s books were claimed to be only for children entertainment.
The most ardent supporter of this defence was R. L. Stine himself (Marcovitz 57;71).

His novels escaped many
of the criticism with this argument that at least Young Adults started reading
and getting hooked up to books. This was the major defence of the novels
(Marcovitz 84; Perry 455; Tanner 11; Sprecken 3; Proctor 583).

It was also claimed
that R.L. Stine’s novels Fear Street were
full of such aspects of teen life of that time with which children were able to
relate and connect while they read it. This promoted the expression of their
suppressed desires in form of literary entertainment (Dickson 120; Smith 32).

In the discourse of
literary entertainment for Young Adults, Fear
Street novels do outweigh others and this had been associated with the
modernist perspective of giving every individual the right to study whatever he
or she desires. Giving Children the right to choose to read a book of their
choice has been viewed as the first step towards their love for reading quality
literature. (Smith 115)

Till now, the Fear Street novels had been discussed in
the background of promoting fear among Young Adults and the sexuality portrayed
in these novels. Keeping in mind that this study does not attempt to judge
these novels on moralistic grounds, my argument is that should such literature
be made available to Young Adults when there are better alternatives available
and is the arousal of delicate sexual feelings in the vulnerable Young minds a
correct approach towards making them intellectually competent?

 

Methodology

Fear
Street novels have been interpreted in various ways by various
critics, but the basis of all the criticism had been to measure how much such
literature had been able to teach Young Adults? For this purpose I have
proposed to apply Frye3’s
critical theory of Archetypal Criticism upon this text in order to first
evaluate that to what extent this literature, is actually literature. If it
concords, then why it has been criticised, but if it does not then why it has
been praised and approved to be a part of the vast canon of children
literature.

This should not be assumed
that Frye’s theory of Archetypal Criticism has been taken as the final word.
However, the base of the forthcoming criticism, is his way of connecting
literature in a unity and search of a system when criticizing any literature. I
will also drill upon the assumption that is there any reality in the fact that
the post-modernist children literature is in the need of such philosophical
underlying debate in its texts? Moreover, Frye’s claim that there are
archetypes and certain myths in the modernist literature which form that unity,
will be commented upon. The formalist view which he holds will also be
discussed in relation to the text, and the individualism promoted in all these
novels will be discouraged, using Frye’s notion of a democratic approach towards
literature.

The entire Archetypal
Critical Theory discussed here is my personal yet limited understanding of the
theory after reading the third essay Archetypal
Criticism: Theory of Myths from his book Anatomy of Criticism. The reason of this limitation is that this
study has to be kept limited to the Children Literature genre and Frye’s theory
is a plethora of such terms and terminologies which are beyond this study.

 

I

The first and foremost important thing a
reader and critic of children literature should keep in mind is that, as Grenby
states in Children’s Literature, “…a
book written for children should be treated no differently than a book for
adults. Both can make equally artistic statements.” (8)

Nina Bawden wrote that
“A children’s book should be judged for the pleasure it gives, for its style
and quality not according to how well it serves factions and interests and
ideologies.” (Grenby 61). Here we have an authoritative definition of children
literature which is highly disturbed by R.L. Stine’s own view when he wrote Fear Street novels for children,

There
are social issues aired, to be sure—in both Blind Date and The New Girl, the
theme of mental illness is explored by Stine. And yet, in all the books Stine
is careful never to tread too heavily into difficult social terrain, believing
that the stories should be regarded as entertainment for his readers. He says,
“I don’t put in anything that would be too close to their lives. I wouldn’t do
child abuse, or AIDS, or suicide, or anything that could really touch someone’s
life like that,” he says. “The books are supposed to be just entertainment,
that’s all they are . . . I believe that kids as well as adults are entitled to
books of no socially redeeming value” (Marcovitz 57)

This agreed, Stine
probably didn’t intend to play with their intricate feelings, but within the
text he had very sophisticatedly aroused heterogeneous sexual feelings in both
boys and girls in a slow poisoning manner. “He struggled to breathe. She
pressed harder, uttering a soft sigh. It was the most exciting kiss, more
exciting in any dream he had ever had.” (Stine 77) The reason I call such
arousal of feelings slow-poisoning is that: there is never fulfillment either
in the story or in real life. After reading such descriptions one may claim
that they are just kissing, or the writer shows no erotic content but actually,
the way this content is displayed is highly erotic apart from what adults refer
to as erotic4.
This is something Young Adults are experiencing for the first time and without
any real, physical expression but only in the imagination, which can never
satisfy the sexual desires aroused later and will probably lead to other
complications. Such portrayals of a very ordinary desire to kiss, especially with
the opposite sex, no more keeps the portrayal ordinary and hence makes it
extraordinary for the Young Adult.

Observe the following
excerpts, where Stine never goes beyond kissing, but gives the reader
especially a new comer a platform to feel and have unfulfilled desires leading
to –nothing but dissatisfaction when physically he cannot experience what he
reads. On the very initial pages of the short novel, such descriptions start to
hover around and then there is a list of such enticing and exciting romantic
images.

She
started to kiss his face, his cheek, his forehead, his other cheek, soft
kisses, so soft he couldn’t feel them. (Stine 14)

He
really didn’t want her to answer. What he wanted was for her to kiss him again
like that. And again. And again. (Stine 78)

He
couldn’t believe this was happening. She was alone with him. In his bedroom. He
desperately wanted another kiss like the one in the car. (Stine 91)

Their
faces were inches apart, she moved forward to fill in the inches. She kissed
him. A long kiss. A sweet kiss. (Stine 168)

If one is a good
reader, he will read with the punctuation marks used by the writer. The short
sentences, the sudden burst of feelings and the use of really short and
impulsive sentences add to –not what
the writer writes –but how the writer
has written.

He
stared at the back of her head, at her golden hair which fell in long tangles
over the gray shawl. He wanted to kiss her again. He wanted to wrap his arms
around her. He wanted to feel her hands on the back of his neck again. He
reached out and put a hand on her…(Stine 79)

A highly feminist perspective of a
girl’s beauty for a Young Adult, no wonder Stine is referred to “the writer who
got boys to read books, a literary accomplishment that, as any school librarian
will tell you, ranks up there with scaling…” (Perry 455)

II

This brings me to the
second part of my argument where I would like to discuss has such literature,
which is observed previously, accommodated the purpose of Children entertainment?
We have seen from the perspective of Grenby that what Good literature is, now
let me quote a more authoritative view i.e. of Frye where he says that “the
total body of imaginative hypothesis in a society and its tradition” is
literature. (Frye 127)

On the surface truly Fear Street novels are a true hypothesis
of that society and those traditions in which Stine was living. But is this
right, to portray what is happening without any intention, implicit or explicit
attempt to voice against if it is not right? To go with the flow, is that what
the writer is supposed to do in any kind of literature either that of Young
Adult’s, Adult’s or any other?

Even if one argues that
all this humbug is generated for the purpose of entertainment of children, then
what about easy-to-read versions of Shakespeare, or the marvelous Children
friendly poems of William Blake Tiger, are
they not entertaining enough. Behind all this, I have observed that the
writer’s reason was not even entertainment, “he would make it more fun to read
and, therefore, enhance its sales” (Marcovitz 30).  The real purpose was Marxist; Stine wanted to
strengthen his personal economy. Charles Dickens, writer of The Christmas Carol, also wrote
posthumously. He was also subjected to the idea of writing so much in order to
earn, but he didn’t forget to do his duty as a writer.

No excuse is, either
that of entertainment or of letting Young Adults have a medium of expression, a
valid excuse to let such literature prevail which has nothing to do
practically. Even if we refer to its writing in the “art for art’s sake”
category, still such literature is insufficient to adjust there. Because,

Concerning
Stine’s purpose for writing, Jones reminds us that “he is not writing
books where the characters grow nor does he have any pretensions toward
art”. This, of course, ruffles the feathers of many of Stine’s critics who
worship art as the Sun in the writing solar system. While many Newbery award
winners land on Mercury or Venus, there’s R.L. Stine’s pulsar somewhere beyond
Pluto (Proctor 583).

III

Excerpts from the text
quoted above can be discussed in the light of politics of language as well but
since my argument is focused on a different research problem, I would leave it
aside and try to explore that what kind of Young Adult minds are being shaped through
Fear Street literature. It has been
observed that currently we have such children who are intellectually
incompetent and have more ideas of technology, materialism and anything else
but with a good intellectual perspective. The reason for such kind of mind set
is obvious, they become what they read. For them such books are available in
the libraries, a highly intellectual place and because they are present there
then probably they have something profound in them but because they are not
stream lined or more specifically, told that what deserves to be read and what
not, they believe that whatever they opt to read is justified and good
literature. We as adults need to tell them, not to impose upon them that “Epictetus,
Kant, and Sartre were also right to insist that we always have choices to
make…the most fundamental of these choices is whether to try to live an ethical
life” (Singer 4). Now an ethical life has nothing to do with culture, religion
or ethnicity. It has entirely to do with letting the Young Adult see for
himself what is the best he can opt for when given various choices. If he or
she opts for something unethical in our Adult sense, then we need to share and
reason that why a certain thing is unethical in our sense of ethics. Then let
them experience whatever literature they want to read and after this
experiment, ask them if what they deemed to be ethical was suitable for their
natural instincts or what they were being told before was more appropriate to
be ethical. This is a very mature approach, but only this would allow Young
Adults to climb the first step towards the science of intellect and only then
we might be able to have the intellectual boom which is gravely lacking in the
post-modernist confused era.

 

IV

Bringing my research to a close with my final
exploration of that kind of literature which might be the correct alternative
of Fear Street literature, I would
like to make a few assumptions on the basis of Frye’s theory of archetypes.
Frye claims that:

The basic sense of the
original—that life has no plot or shape, but fiction does—is not lost. The idea
that life is transformed by art and displaced in a cultural direction is vital,
as this helps to demonstrate how literature is a function of desire, which is
what Frye calls “the energy that leads human society to develop its own form”.
Later in the Anatomy he says “the anagogic view of criticism thus leads to the
conception of literature as existing in its own universe, no longer a
commentary on life or reality, but containing life and reality in a system of
verbal relationships”. This sense of literature containing, and not merely
describing reality, is central to Frye’s ideas. (Dubois 7)

Such literature is needed to be taught
to children; fiction and fantasy should definitely be there but should be in a
manner to streamline the vacant thoughts of Young Adults instead of giving them
the perfect platform to have their wild or instinctive desires expressed and
then leaving them on their own to consider what to do next. They never asked to
be physically or emotionally aroused like this and when later they actually
need to make an ethical decision then they are told that how negative impact
this can have and what they should have been like. Therefore literature
encompasses their whole life and if we are able to provide them with the
productive, profound and meaningful literature which entertains them well, then
definitely there can be a way out of this post-modernist frustration,
fragmentation and chaos, in which our Young Adults are living and are being
taught how to survive instead of how to live.  

 

Discussion

The hypothetical
questions proposed to be study; starting from the fact that the Fear Street novels by R.L. Stine were
not adequate to be a part of Young Adult literature due to its indecent and
vulgar portrayal of teen life; seems to be well explored in the light of
Northrop Frye’s theory of Archetypes where every literature is interconnected
and has to be such that it helps the child relate to the grand narratives in
the texts. R.L. Stine’s literature, for instance in Fear Street: The New Girl does not help in identifying any grand
narrative. Rather it detracts a Young Adult’s teen fancy, putting his mind in a
direction which deprives him of both intellectual and wise growth.

Conclusion

Developing intellect in
the Young Adult minds is the dire need of the day and to put them to explore
their sexual desires is not a very liberal or wise decision. If these minds are
not streamlined today then the coming future generations will definitely suffer
and the Post-modernist fragmentation in our Youth seen today will definitely
never help in getting rid of the Dark Ages we are going into again.

Biological development
is primary in the mind of many adolescents. This is the beginning of puberty,
and the physical changes that are occurring in their bodies and the body images
that they present to others are foremost in their minds… Research has shown
that puberty is beginning earlier with many early adolescents facing sexual
decisions before they are emotionally prepared to make stances (Smith 25)

We might blame technology and unlimited
access to everything for de-tracking Young Adults, but actually it has been our
deficiency in letting them explore the intellectual side of the world. Because
this is all words, literature and theoretical, we deem it useless in the
practical world but actually these are the bases required to be built in
Children Literature in order to construct more thought-oriented Young minds.

1
The plot of the novel centres around a boy who falls in love with a dead girl
whom he sees around. He gets to know that she lives on Fear Street. He is scared but still goes to see her. There he
founds that she has long been dead and the boy is left to think over it. He was
basically being visited be her spirit.

2
According to Hale Marcovitz in his book Who
Wrote That? R. L. Stine, at the height of the popularity of the Goosebumps
and Fear Street series, Stine’s books were shipped to bookstores at a rate of
1.25 million copies a month. By 2000, Stine’s books had sold some 300 million
copies. (61)

 

3
The major reason for applying Frye’s theory has been his personal interest in
constructing a system suitable and adequate for teaching children the grand
side of literature as is evident from Nicholson’s introduction to Frye in the
new century: “He thought—and he wrote—about curriculum concerns at all levels.
He edited and advocated readers suitable to grade school and lower level
university. Frye explicitly preferred teaching undergraduates and using the
undergraduate library (rather than the research library).” (6)

4
Something which actually displays the involvement of male or female sexual
organs