7 March 2010

Geoffrey Trease (1909-98)

A large sign on the fascia of the wine shop Weavers on the corner of Lister Gate and Castle Gate, Nottingham, England, remembers the site of the family business of the writer Geoffrey Trease - who is described as an 'innovative children's author'.

Trease wrote his first novel, Bows Against the Barons, in 1934. This adapted the story of Robin Hood from a particularly left-wing perspective. The protagonist Dickon is a 16-year-old peasant from Oxton, Nottinghamshire, who meets Alan-a-Dale, which leads to his being introduced to Robin Hood's band, fights by the downtrodden peasants against their rich masters, and the death of Robin Hood and Dickon leaving to continue the struggle in Derbyshire in the end. The initial response to the all-too-obvious propaganda was generally lukewarm, although Trease achieved quite a success in the Soviet Union, where he spent five months in 1935. He later revised some of the wording - such as 'workers' and 'comrades' - in later editions.

Nevertheless, Bows Against the Barons is important in that it - along with Trease's later more politically subdued fiction - represents a move away from the traditional children's fiction of, for instance, G. A. Henty, with its emphasis on the importance of empire. In the fiction of the past, women had been in the background, whereas Trease placed them on a more equal footing, and his research into his subjects put the stress on realism. In a word, Trease contributed a great deal toward the democratization of modern children's historical fiction.


Snatch51 said...

Your article is very interesting, but what did you mean by 'democratisation'?

Wouldn't it be the case that Trease was ignored by any wider readership because democracy embraced the more widely accepted authors rather than him?

Dr Tony Shaw said...

This is just an expression to indicate that Trease was appealing to a wider range of young adults than the literature of the time, which was full of flag-waving middle-class males.