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dystopian fiction

The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature

Daniel Hahn

dystopian fiction 

In children’s literature, serving to articulate society’s greatest fears for young readers and offer them a glimpse of imagined futuristic possibilities. A subgenre of science fiction or speculative fiction, it depicts a narrative environment in which society has all but broken down and extreme forms of governmental, societal, or environmental disorder have taken over. The genre grew in popularity from the early 1950s when fear of the Cold War was increasingly represented in novels such as Andre Norton’s Star Man’s Son: 2250 AD (1952) and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962). Post-apocalyptic visions of the future remained popular well into the 1980s, for example Gudrun Pausewang’s Die Letzen Kinder von Schewenborn (1983; translated as The Last Children, 1988) and Louise Lawrence’s Children of the Dust (1985). While picture books such as David Wiesner’s Tuesday (1991), Shaun Tan’s The Viewer (1997) or Margaret Wild’s Woolvs in the Sitee (2006) are successful, even playful examples of it, the genre is most popular, unsurprisingly, in the teenage and young adult fiction market. Educational theorists attribute this to teenagers’ growing ability to think about abstract ideas such as government, power, and freedom (see also Piaget, Jean). Dystopian fiction can, therefore, communicate with young readers about current issues and their fears for their environment, and allow them a space to reflect upon their society and its future. Having waned in popularity in the 1990s (with Lois Lowry’s The Giver a very significant exception), dystopian fiction made a significant comeback in the new millennium, reflecting concerns such as consumerism, global warming, plastic surgery, conflict, the speed of technological change, reality television, and popular titles included M. T. Anderson’s Feed (2002), Jan Mark’s Useful Idiots (2003), Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies (2005), Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (2001–8), Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (2008–10), and Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy (2008–10), among many others. The massive success of the Collins in particular further increased mass appetites for the genre, and it was followed by several other blockbuster series, including James Dashner’s The Maze Runner (from 2009) and Veronica Roth’s Divergent (from 2011), the first book in each series being made into films in 2014.