Girls, Mothers and Others: Female Representation in the Adolescent Fantasy of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, and Terry Pratchett

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Gwen Athene Tarbox

Second Advisor

Dr. Jil Larson

Third Advisor

Dr. Casey McKittrick

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Lance Weldy


Fantasy, Tiffany Aching, mothers, Harry Potter, Golden Compass, girls


At the turn of the nineteenth century, E. Nesbit's Psammead trilogy ushered in a new era of children's fantasy and featured girl characters who were highly independent for their time. The writers who followed Nesbit, including J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Susan Cooper, further shaped children's fantasy, and within these texts girls generally performed as adventurous tomboys as they began separating themselves from their mothers who were figured as symbols of home and safety. Adult female role models in these early texts, therefore, were limited to traditional nurturers and wicked femme fatales, and these depictions have endured in contemporary fantasy for children.

This project engages with current debates surrounding the depiction of women and the nuclear family in the work of J. K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, and Terry Pratchett. Although other critics have discussed gender in regards to the female protagonists, this study examines the employment of adult female "types" in children's fantasy fiction. The lack of strong and varied adult female characters may work towards limiting the kind of growth girl characters can logically experience in these works. Contemporary fantasy texts for adolescents indicate that the British conservative ideal for girls, and also the American ideal since these texts have been popular in North America as well, is that girls will grow up to be kind, self-sacrificing and maternal, and if they choose any other path, they may be labeled "monstrous."


Though this dissertation is available electronically only on the WMU campus, a print copy can be found in Waldo library at call number PN 9999.2.L343 and can be requested through Interlibrary Loan.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Campus Only

Restricted to Campus until


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