This thesis suggests that by reading certain innovative and even metafictional works of fantasy young adult readers may gain access to a flexible yet safe narrative space in which to confront the psychosocial crises attendant on coming of age and thereby begin the process of shaping adult identity. In exploring this possible link between reading and identity formation, particular aspects of young adult fantasy are read against what has been established as the discursive field of young adulthood and young adult literature including the work of developmental psychologists, literary critics and evolutionary philosophers in an attempt to insert the author‟s individual critical perceptions into „a network of relations between storytellers, the participants whose experiences they recount, and the larger environment embedding those experiences, including the setting provided by the opportunity of storytelling itself‟ (David Herman, 2003a:184).
Since this is a large and contentious area of exploration, the study does not so much attempt to arrive at a definitive conclusion as to offer a series of loosely interlocking explorations of adolescent fantasy in relation to four key themes or what evolutionary psychologists such as Kate Distin (2005) refer to as meme constellations. Thus the first chapter of this thesis focuses on how characteristically postmodern techniques can allow works of young adult fantasy to complicate awareness of issues of time, space and causality; the second considers the way in which prevalent memes involving witches and witchcraft can be imaginatively re-visioned to highlight issues of gender; the third considers fantastic representations of ethnicity and how fiction can contribute to the postcolonial recovery of subordinated cultural memes; and the final chapter focuses on retellings of Arthurian myth and how metafictional techniques may be used to encourage a divided and thus more aware mode of reading by foregrounding the constructed nature of story itself.
By suggesting ways in which fiction can promote complex interactions between young readers and adult authors, this study also hopes to show that Jacqueline Rose‟s ( 1994:1) argument that children‟s literature is fundamentally flawed, having been corrupted by „the impossible relation between adult and child‟ needs to be revisited in the light of new theoretical constructions of both the dynamics of power and the experience of reading itself.