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The psychologist, the psychoanalyst and the 'extraordinary child' in postwar British science fiction

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Laura Tisdall


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A sudden influx of portrayals of ‘extraordinary children’ emerged in British science fiction after the Second World War. Such children both violated and confirmed the new set of expectations about ordinary childhood that emerged from the findings of developmental psychologists around the same time. Previous work on extraordinary children in both science fiction and horror has tended to confine the phenomenon to an ‘evil child boom’ within the American filmmaking industry in the 1970s. This article suggests that a much earlier trend is visible in British postwar science fiction texts, analysing a cluster of novels that emerged in the 1950s: Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (1953), William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) and John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). It will be argued that the groups of extraordinary children in these novels both tap into newer child-centred assertions about the threats posed by abnormal childhood, underwritten by psychology and psychoanalysis, and represent a reaction to an older progressive tradition in which children were envisaged as the single hope for a utopian future. This article will ultimately assert that the sudden appearance of extraordinary children in science fiction reflects a profound shift in assessment criteria for healthy childhood in Britain from the 1950s onwards, an issue that had become vitally important in a fledgling social democracy.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tisdall L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Medical Humanities

Year: 2016

Volume: 42

Issue: 4

Pages: e4-e9

Print publication date: 01/12/2016

Online publication date: 24/11/2016

Acceptance date: 09/10/2016

Date deposited: 16/03/2020

ISSN (print): 1468-215X

ISSN (electronic): 1473-4265

Publisher: BMJ Group



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