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A Seventh Son And His Phallic Mothers: Female Monstrosity And Empowerment In The Wardstone Chronicles

Critiques of dominant attitudes pertaining to gender and sex are not typically the domain of coming-of-age stories about young men for adolescent readers; however, examining the ways in which literature for young adults confronts those attitudes occasionally yields surprising insights into the ways that social constraints on identity and archetypal notions of normativity can be permuted to radical ends. For instance, Joseph Delaney’s young adult historical horror series, The Last Apprentice in the United States, and originally The Wardstone Chronicles in the United Kingdom, introduces its readers to the assistant to an eighteenth-century British “Spook”—a kind of ghostbuster who must fight against “the dark” to protect a fictionalized Lancashire from ghasts, boggarts, skelts, demons, and witches. The content of Delaney’s novels is always dark, and is occasionally disturbing. While this is not unusual in fiction written for adolescents, one thing that sets Delaney’s series apart from similar works by other writers—Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising, Garth Nix’s Sabriel , and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, to name a few—are the ways in which the novels confront misogyny and revise archetypes of femininity through an exploration of metaphysical themes and supernatural figures. What makes the application of feminist literary theory to Delaney’s work especially interesting is that the female figures in the novels bear out an uncanny comparative paradigm to post-Freudian feminist psychoanalytic interventions in gendering through identification.  

The implicit didactic messages in Delaney’s books encourage young readers to question dominant discourses about women’s inferiority through a sustained portrayal of female monstrosity. The corrective nature of this didactic purpose is perhaps best revealed by the attitudes toward women held by John Gregory, the elder Spook, which are often questioned and overturned in the adventures of his young apprentice, Tom Ward. For instance, in the first novel alone, the Spook warns Tom to “[n]ever trust a woman” shortly after Tom comes to live in Chippenden at Gregory’s house. A couple of chapters later, Gregory asks Tom if he likes girls, and when Tom replies that he does, Gregory warns, “In that case you could fall easy victim to their tricks” (Delaney, Revenge ).  A couple of chapters after that, Gregory, delivering a lecture on witchcraft, during which he notes that some women are not even aware they are witches, argues that a witch is “doubly dangerous” because she is a creature of the dark twice over—once for using magic and twice “because she’s also a woman” (Delaney, Revenge ). In each of these misogynist lessons, Delaney uses the titular spook to set up dominant attitudes about women so that Tom’s experiences in the novels might be viewed as a tacit response to those attitudes. As the series moves forward, Tom’s relationships with three women in particular trouble the simplicity of Gregory’s convictions about the monstrous nature of femininity.

Delaney’s narrative constructs three dynamic female characters from the first installment— Revenge of the Witch —to the final book in the first series— Fury of the Seventh Son. Delaney’s characterization of Mam (Tom’s mother and the most recent incarnation of the first Vengir witch, the Lamia goddess Zenobia), Grimalkin (the most powerful witch assassin on Pendle Hill), and Alice (the precocious young witch-in-training from the Deane clan who befriends Tom) works to encourage young readers to come to terms with deep-seated fears of difference that make the macabre an appropriate fixture in bildungsromans and to recuperate femininity from a longstanding legacy of gynophobia in horror-fiction. One might expect Delaney to accomplish this through the traditional trope of rendering those female characters as victims falsely accused by an androcentric establishment; the fact that the female monsters are truly supernatural, and even malevolent, seems to revise this trope by instead centering that androcentric establishment as the impetus for monstrosity and figuring supernatural malevolence as a viable and reasonable response to gender-based oppression. Mam, Grimalkin and Alice are not only monsters, they are also objects of identification and clear protagonists in the narrative arc of the series.

In supporting these claims, feminist recuperations of psychoanalytic literary criticism are perhaps the chief mechanism by which the recuperative didacticism in the series might be charted. Second- and third-wave feminist revisions of Freudian structuralism and Lacanian post-structuralism posit a critique from within that theoretical corpus which nicely parallels the sort of work that Delaney undertakes in choosing to blend horror-fiction and British folklore to feminist ends. Additionally, both psychoanalysis and young adult literature are intensely concerned with developmental processes by which individuals—either analysands or characters—understand themselves and the people who are significant to them. Because Sigmund Freud, like Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva after him, begins with a consideration of how boys use processes of identification and differentiation to become men, the way that Tom negotiates the pressures of adolescence and understands himself through relationships to his family, friends, and mentors helps readers work through the theory to better understand the roles that gendered difference, attachment to others, and deep-seated human fears of the abnormal and paranormal work to produce, determine, define, and undermine a stable and coherent sense of self.

Because no simple glossing of varied revisions to Freud’s family romance is available, the best beginning here may be with an attempt to explain psychoanalytic theories about coming-into-consciousness and negotiating recursive stages of self-definition through sexual difference. Like most discussions of psychoanalysis by literary critics, this explanation will likely be reductive, and may raise more questions than it answers. In spite of that, some understanding of how Freud deploys maternity in his notions of the Oedipal is perhaps necessary in order to consider how Lacan’s phallogocentric perspective gives way to Kristeva’s feminist theory, which produces the lens through which Delaney might be productively read. Following Freud, Lacan translates that literal theory of motherhood into a semiotic analysis of the Mother (note the capital “M”) as a somatic and psychic symbol of the father’s bodily and cultural authority, which manifests as the transcendental signifier. Later, building onto that Lacanian model, comes Kristeva’s feminist rearticulation of the psychotherapeutic mechanics she uses in her own clinical practice and in her critical work. In an attempt to clarify the theoretical development, each theorist’s contribution is parsed as follows.  

Freud’s family romance, and the understanding of sexed difference and the gendered hierarchy that emerges from it, are well-covered terrain, and so to avoid repeating the lecture all literary and cultural studies scholars endure as part of their graduate survey of criticism, here is a grossly abbreviated explication of the Oedipal complex. For Freud, the ways in which boy children negotiate the earliest sorts of identification are tied to their relationships with their parents. First, the mother and son seem indistinguishable from the perspective of the male child. He has bodily needs, and she is immediately available and obligated to fulfill them. Until, of course, one day when the boy is hungry, lonely or hurt and finds his mother absent or unavailable. From this moment of motherloss, subjectivity develops. According to Freud, the father will inevitably be the reason the boy perceives for his mother’s absence or unavailability.

In Lacan’s revision of Freud, the Father, like all Lacanian constructions, becomes symbolic and need not be the literal paternal parent. After Lacan, Kristeva will further abstract from the nuclear familial model in Freud by replacing the Father with the Third Party, which is any person, place or thing that seems cognizant to the child and with which that child must compete for maternal affection. By which of those names critics call this object that diverts maternal attention is not nearly as important as the competition between the father, the Father or the Third Party, and the child. That competition—which Freud calls the Oedipal complex of the genital stage, Lacan calls the “fall into language,” and Kristeva calls the moment of enculturation—is the mechanism by which Freudians, Lacanians and even Kristevans understand how both personal identity and sexual difference are mutually and simultaneously determined through a process of personal trauma, social construction and familial constraint. The object of that competition between child and father might initially seem to be the mother, but in actuality it is the power over the mother, which commands her attention and presence, that both father and son wish to own. That power is seated not in the literal subject of the father, the Father or the Third Party, but in the male sex organ (as Freud’s concepts of penis envy and castration anxiety posit) or the transcendental signifier for which that organ stands in (as Lacan insists later). In Delaney’s fiction, Tom begins with a closeness to his mother that estranges him from his father and older brothers, and his apprenticeship to Gregory seems to posit the Spook as this father-figure with whom he will both compete and identify. If Delaney’s work followed that traditional trajectory, there would be little else to say about the latent radical potential of the plotline. However, the ways that Tom’s relationship with Gregory is disrupted by Tom’s continued attachment to Mam, his alliance with Grimalkin, and his close partnership with Alice, complicate the paradigms proposed by Freud and Lacan. The ideological contest between the monstrous feminine and the righteous masculine is literally written into Tom’s struggle for self-determination in the series.

The preceding tedious explanation of structural, post-structural, and feminist terms about the development of subjectivity leads to an extended consideration of Lacan’s “transcendental signifier”—the phallus—and its precarious relationship to maternity in psychoanalytic criticism and reprisals thereof. As Kaja Silverman explains in her book The Subject of Semiotics :

By making the phallus the central cultural signifier, and by universalizing the Oedipal experience (in short by making it synonymous with culture), Freud and Lacan effectively eliminate the category of the ideological. Culture is seen as the product of the incest taboo and is therefore necessarily patriarchal. It becomes quite simply impossible for the subject to transcend the Oedipal limitations. (219-20)

In order to reframe this categorically ideological consideration of gendered development, this interpretation makes use of a theoretical movement often called French feminism. This theoretical model, replete with Luce Irigaray’s notion of vulvic signification as equally transcendental and Helene Cixous’ insistence that there can (and must) be a uniquely female mode of signifying and therefore a parallel alternative to phallogocentrism, is perhaps most apt in application to Delaney’s work because of theorist Julia Kristeva’s reclamation of the psychoanalytic notion of the phallic mother.

Now, for Lacan, the phallic mother is a structural impossibility; a subject can either possess transcendental authority imbued by temporary possession of the phallus, or a subject can be the font of unity and a ground for competing for that signifier, but never, ever both. For Freud, however, the phallic mother is monstrous—the primal source of castration anxiety and the trauma of subjectivity that disrupts human wholeness. Because the infant's competition for authority is inevitable in the Freudian structure, phobias of castration are a normalized part of the process of developing a differentiated identity, and the fear that the child might succeed in wresting the phallus from his competitor only to have it seized, in turn, by the mother is terrifying—hence, Freud’s infamous concerns about castration anxiety in boys and penis envy in girls. The phallic mother, a fearsome specter that threatens the subject with abandonment, castration and consumption, cannot be possessed, controlled, or penetrated; it is a female body existing outside Lacan’s law of the father. For Freud, this is clearly terrifying; for Kristeva, whose work on narcissism seeks to find psychically sound avenues for self-possession in women, it is an unexplored path to unraveling the patriarchy at the core of the structuralist endeavor, and of unseating the father and his symbolic phallus to make room for empowerment and identity without evaluating sexual difference. Delaney makes use of both sentiments about powerful, and indeed magical, women. Mam, Grimalkin and Alice are all terrifying figures. They have the power to see the future; they use blood magic that helps them derive power from the suffering of others, and each of them will in turn be a potent threat against the androcentric law and order of the Spook, the father, and the church.

So what does this all have to do with feminist reclamations of female monstrosity in children’s and young adult literature? First, a brief return to the premise of this article’s opening paragraph: literature for young readers has become increasingly dark with works by Cooper, Gaiman, and Nix as just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Critical attention to thematic explorations of monstrosity—in historical fiction as well as horror, fantasy, and sci-fi—is a natural and expected response to that trend. One question that has emerged from this debate is:  how might feminine power and misogynist renderings of maternal monsters be understood as part of a larger cultural project? For many critics, exploring ideological windows and mirrors provided by the long-standing tradition of horror-fiction for young readers is the best response to this contemporary trend. But the roots of that trend go back pretty far. For instance, the name Grimm might well be synonymous with phallic maternity—Snow White’s power-grabbing murderous stepmother and the unapologetically genocidal fairy of “The Thorn Rose” make excellent examples. The evil queen and the black fairy share an aptitude for magic, a willingness to claim authority from men in ways that violate patriarchal norms and a manifest interest in the literal consumption of children—either the hearts of Snow White and Rose Red or the spirit of the newborn princess. These apparitions were literally created to frighten fifteenth-century Eastern-European children into appropriate behavior and to serve as cautionary tales passed from older women to younger ones before the Brothers Grimm anthologized and popularized them. Given these roots for fantasy fiction as a genre, it is unsurprising if that sort of content remains a cogent thread running through literature derived from folklore adopted for the reading pleasure of young people; however, the ways that Delaney makes use of this thread by reweaving the narrative are noteworthy. Rather than portraying goddesses, witches and the devil’s own daughter as phallic mothers who wrest authority away from men, Delaney conceives of a system of magical power that is derived from either de-gendered or wholly dehumanized sources, which operate rather a lot like Kristeva’s notion of the chora—a conceptualization of the womb as both a place and an object, a kind of pre-symbolic signifier of life-giving power for which Lacan’s transcendental signifier becomes a flaccid replacement.

 There is little question about whether or not the motif of the supernatural female character as phallic mother is historically grounded or sustained across literary movements. The more pressing and interesting question might be about how it has been adapted in a post-culture wars context to question the patriarchal structures that its predecessors reified and reflected. This question has received some really insightful answers. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series alone has provided grounds for considering fantastic articulations of burgeoning female subjectivity in genre novels (as Giselle Anatol’s edited collection demonstrates aptly), but there are other rich and varied conversations about identity and empowerment happening right now in the criticism of young adult literature. For instance, Janet Brennan Croft examined Hermione Granger and Tiffany Aching (of Harry Potter and Discworld fame, respectively) in order to consider how witchcraft becomes a venue for female empowerment in Rowling and Pratchett’s novels. Additionally, Michelle Pagni Stewart gave a compelling analysis of how Joseph Bruchac adapts Abenaki traditions and horror narratives to produce a compelling portrayal of fear as a discursive, decolonial tool. Both of those critics show that some of the most powerful ideological critiques of structures of oppression are clearly to be found in genre literature for young readers. They also both argue that this sort of radical characterization produced specifically for adolescents becomes crucial to the ideological work of dismantling the structures of oppression they analyze.

Now, it is natural to wonder: what do these critical trends in analyzing genre, and the transmutations thereof, have to do with Delaney’s series? It may be possible that Delaney’s subtext succeeds in reimagining phallic motherhood for feminist ends. Firstly, the transcendental objects of power in this series’ conception of magic are always corporeal but never phallic. There is no authority to be wrung by stealing the power of men as embodied in their masculinity. Witches, mages and sorcerers get power not from castration, but from one of three sources: 1) The secondary reception of other beings’ life forces through the use of familiar magic—familiars are sometimes animals, like the water-witch Morwena’s carrion fowl in book four, The Wrath of the Bloodeye, but sometimes they are arcane figures like the demonic Bane of the second book in the series, The Curse of the Bane ; 2) From blood magic, obtained by the forcible taking of human or mammalian victims’ blood, like Mother Malkin’s draining of the bodies of newborn children in the first book, Revenge of the Witch, or 3) from the harvesting of victims’ thumb bones, as the witches of the evil Pendle clans do in almost every novel. This last example is perhaps the most intriguing. The removal of the prehensile digit—the very heritable trait that puts primates at the top of terrestrial food chains—gives most of the witches in the book their complete authority over the natural order. Here is a somatic signifier—like Freud’s phallus and Kristeva’s chora—that is unisexual. The thumb bones of both men and women are used, but the amount of magical power they provide is determined not by the sex of the victim but by the victim’s inherent power. Hence, the thumbs of particularly powerful witches and other supernatural creatures or of seventh sons of seventh sons, like both the Spook and Tom Ward, are among the most coveted of magical artifacts. The relocation of cultural and magical authority from sex organs to hands is, in and of itself, a subject for psychoanalytic interpretation, but the fact that the fear of bodily amputation remains the same makes comparisons between bone witchcraft and phallic maternity plausible.

Second, Delaney has demonstrated an adeptness at creating liminal female figures who seem to occupy a space between Freud’s and Kristeva’s responses to the phallic mother as either the height of culturally produced fear of gendered difference or the shift to gynocracy and male domination through systemic violence and women’s repudiation of feminine identity traits. For example, Tom’s Mam is a character that portrays of Kristeva’s radical notion of phallic motherhood. She is the zenith of maternal plenty—in fact, for the first three books of the series, she meets the needs not just of her seven sons and husband, but of the farm and county in which she lives. She does this by acting as what Tom’s master calls a “benevolent witch.” She insures a bountiful harvest, heals sickness, serves as a midwife, and is generally a font of domestic magics that make life easier and more pleasant for everyone she encounters. Then, in book four, Tom discovers that his mother was, for millennia, a malevolent witch, and not even fully human, as she is the original Lamia of Greek folklore and the avenging goddess of the Vengir. In her “feral” state she is a serpent-bodied, dragon-fly-winged, lioness-headed eater of human flesh whose particular fancy was to slaughter and devour the children of her enemies. Hard on the heels of this discovery is Mam’s further revelation that she will sacrifice herself to prevent another monstrous woman—the demonic Ordeen—from manifesting in the world and enslaving humanity in The Clash of the Demons, the fifth book of the series. During her final transformation from her human-semblance as a “domestic” lamia (the very taxonomy of lamia witches replicates heteropatriarchal binaries) she becomes not a monster but an angel. Her insectile wings become white-feathered appendages and her leonine features are now more noble than fierce. As she succeeds in thwarting the plans of the dark by giving her life to protect her son first and humanity second, Delaney figures her as a heroic martyr and a terrible monster.

Her death does undercut some of the feminist heroic potential of the characterization; if she has to die in this grand show of remorse, how is that a feminist reclamation of phallic motherhood rather than the same-old-same-old punishment of the wicked woman as she gets her just deserts? If monstrosity really were a path to empowerment and equality, wouldn’t she be able to live on in peace and harmony with other creatures? These are valid points, and would undermine the analysis suggested here, if Mam were the only phallic mother who appears in the series, but she is not, and the others have much less decisively cathartic ends.

Before analyzing those other phallic mothers, a short note about narrative form in the novels: almost all of the texts are told in first-person with Tom narrating. The two exceptions are books nine— Grimalkin, The Witch Assassin —and twelve— I Am Alice —which as can be intuited from the titles are narrated by Grimalkin and Alice themselves. This alone is a radical choice on Delaney’s part. Even as Lacan points out that language is inherently a male prerogative, so too does the focus on direct discourse between Tom and the reader suggest that his experiences (a decidedly male perspective) are the mediating structure by which good and evil—or as Delaney expresses the dichotomy, the light and the dark—are revealed and presented by the author in the other twelve books in the series. Choosing to strategically undermine this singular narrative focus by granting Grimalkin and Alice figurative authority as mediators of their own parts of the series’ story arc is, in and of itself, a reassertion of the authority of women over that narrative, particularly since parts of books nine and twelve work to subvert the assumption of male virtue’s plenty and female virtue’s paucity that Tom’s master attempts (and often fails) to teach his apprentice. Additionally, female narrators problematize the assumption of female power as monstrous in some important ways.

One way is through providing absent exposition that contextualizes their monstrosity within a patriarchal system. For instance, Delaney asks readers to suture their experience of the narrative to Grimalkin’s perspective by giving her a compelling backstory with which to sympathize. She was not born a monster but rather became one. She was a stereotypical victim of a patriarchal system. Abused as a girl and tricked in adolescence by the devil himself into bearing his child, the young Grimalkin first chooses to abjure life as a powerful witch when her newborn son is placed in her arms. Even as she prepares to leave the Pendle district and raise the boy away from the malevolent witches who hurt her as a girl, the Fiend shows up and murders the child before her eyes. Her decision to become a witch assassin is based on a desire for vengeance. Thereafter, when Grimalkin considers herself as maternal, she takes on phallic proportions. At the beginning of the eighth chapter of book nine, she speaks directly to the reader:

I have become the mother of death. She trots at my heels, hanging on to my skirt, giggling with glee, leaving wet footprints of red blood on the green grass. Can you hear her laughter? Listen for it in the cries of the carrion crows who will feast on the flesh of my victims. [. . . .] The prospect of combat excites me and I am more than ready to kill. [. . . .] My blades are ready in their scabbards, so are my scissors. Once I have slain my enemies I will take their thumb bones; thus I will increase my store of magic even further. (Delaney, The Witch Assassin )

This passage has several interesting features from a psychoanalytic perspective. The extended metaphor about being the mother of death is fairly obviously working to invoke Freud’s particular terror of women with power, but the more subtle significatory elements are interesting too. For instance, the personified death is a laughing girl-child. This is the opposite of same-sex parent competition with the child; instead, the daughter is delighted by her mother’s power and completeness. There may be undertones of penis envy in the phallic symbolism of Grimalkin’s knives, which are literal tools for penetrating an enemy, but it is worth noting that she keeps those blades scabbarded between her breasts and that second, the most terrifying weapons she uses are her scissors, two blades that clip together as Irigaray’s doubled lips do. It is with the scissors that she takes thumbs from her enemies, and those scissors are also the sigil she carves into trees in her territory and into the flesh of people she tortures. Grimalkin here uses castration anxiety as a weapon and the scissors are the means by which she signifies her mastery of that anxiety. That ability to wield female monstrosity as a weapon against patriarchy is grounded in the culture in which most witches in the county are educated, which necessarily produces phallic motherhood.

In Tales of Love, Kristeva explains that “[t]he archaic inscription of the father seems to me a way of modifying the fantasy of a phallic mother, playing at the phallus game all by herself, alone and complete” (44). For Kristeva, monstrosity becomes a singular opportunity to circumvent the “Law of the Father.” Later feminist psychoanalytic critics seem to concede this point, even as they express concerns about the new structural paradigm the realization of phallic authority in women might produce. Jane Gallop even goes so far as to suggest that a phallic female subjectivity might even reverse rather than delimit patriarchy, when she writes, “The whole [subject] is the pre-Oedipal mother, apparently omnipotent and omniscient, until the discovery of her castration [during the Oedipal phase . . . .] So the woman (the phallic mother) is to the man what the man is to the castrated woman” (22). Hence, phallic mothers would only be able to find access to symbolic authority by oppressing male subjects. Gallop’s point is perhaps most readily manifest in Delaney’s rendering of the Pendle witches, who use their dark magic to control an entire district of the county and enslave men to their wills. The strongest witches in Pendle—in each of three matrilineal clans, the Deanes, the Mouldheels, and the Malkins (by whom Grimalkin is initially trained)—regularly use men as breeding stock and domestic servants. They even occasionally consume or expose their male children, as Mother Malkin does, to build their own stores of magic and to reserve resources for the rearing of female children exclusively. When girl children come of age for training in the Pendle clans, they are tested cruelly and assigned as apprentices to adult witches, and from that moment forward are ensconced in a matriarchal social system in which they can gain status only by demonstrating their monstrosity and willingness to subjugate others.

Neither Mam nor Grimalkin are fully interpolated into those ideological systems. In fact, both Mam and Grimalkin fail to fit into a paradigm like the one proposed by Croft in her analysis of Rowling’s and Pratchett’s witches, who are being trained to use their magic in two different models as an extension of either gendered difference or gender equality. Croft notes that in Discworld, women are taught to use magic in women-only enclaves, which are more than just a bit reminiscent of the Pendle clans’ methods, but in the Potter universe co-education for young wizards and witches belies any notion that women’s power must come from oppressing men. This, for Croft, may be one way of accounting for the difference in Hermione’s ability to accept her femininity, while Tiffany struggles to come to terms with it. In focusing upon educational methods, Croft argues that “Tied up with the depiction of education are broader social issues of gender inequality and access to power; in keeping with this, some fantasy novels depict societies where education in women’s magic and men’s magic is entirely separate and reflects deeper social divisions” (129). The fact that Mam’s magic originates from a conflict with the Greek goddess Hera and is transmitted generationally to her daughters exclusively, until Tom’s birth, might seem to suggest that Mam succeeds in shifting that paradigm right before she makes atonement for her malevolence. Grimalkin’s narrative reveals that her training is more varied than most of the women in Pendle clan because, in addition to studying their particular brand of bone magic, she also learns from the male-oriented shamanic tradition of Irish sorcerers. This would seem to make exceptions of the two phallic mothers analyzed thus far, while still presenting a norm that makes women’s segregated magical education into a ground that only produces monsters of the Freudian variety.

However, Alice Deane becomes a prominent figure from the very beginning of the series and her own training, by her mother Bony Lizzie, is unaugmented by male mentorship. Tom tries to encourage Gregory to teach her the ways of the light, and the Spook repeatedly and vehemently refuses. Alice is significant to this reading in spite of the fact that she is not a mother, because she becomes Tom’s love interest and the heroic figure at the center of the final installment in the series The Fury of the Seventh Son, where readers are told at the end of I Am Alice she will be required to sacrifice herself even more completely than Mam, by allowing herself to be tortured without protest in a ritual that could finally and irrevocably end the devil’s influence on earth.

Because Freud notes that heterosexual desire in men for women outside the familial structure is a measure of the successful transference of incestuous desire for the mother to a socially acceptable outside party, so Freudians might be more satisfied by simply saying that Alice—as the most powerful witch of her generation and as a liminal figure between the dark and the light—is clearly a stand-in for Mam that Tom takes as he progresses toward normative masculine maturity, making her a symbolic, if not literal, phallic mother. To satisfy Kristevans, it might be noted that the willingness to surrender all personal power, and even life itself, to protect Tom and the rest of the world, casts Alice as a heroic phallic mother. Fortunately, the very fact of Alice’s survival at the end of the first series demonstrates Delaney’s eschewal of that troubled choice. The further fact that Alice is able to literally succeed her father, the Fiend, and to resist pressures to capitulate to the law of the father as manifest by the ultimate authority Tom wields as the county’s new spook after Gregory’s death further complicates conclusions like those that Gallop comes to. Alice does not simply overturn and reassert an unequal gendered hierarchy, but rather the sustained tension between Tom’s power and her own propels the next series— The Starblade Chronicles —which Delaney is currently writing and which features the first female spook-in-training, Jenny.

Now, whether or not that reparative reading of phallic maternity, as understood through analysis of Delaney’s characterization of Jenny, is possible will, of course, depend upon the choices the author makes in shaping rest of the volumes in this second series. What is clear is that in the first series, Delaney has produced an epic narrative that works to show that women might make a definitive move from female monsters to feminine power without the structures of oppression that Kristeva’s detractors worried her reclamation of the phallic mother might bring. Even more than providing a fictive case study about which psychoanalytic critics can argue, Delaney might, for the young adult readers to whom his series is most clearly addressed, begin to do the ideological work Silverman notes that Freud and Lacan avoid by persuading people dealing with their own issues of identity formation that gendered difference need not be a locus of oppression and mistrust, but the site of self-constitution and feminine empowerment.  

Author’s Bio: Sandra Cox is the author of An Ethics of Reading (2015) as well assorted articles on literature, popular culture, gender and cultural identity in journals like Studies in American Indian Literatures, Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, Southwestern American Literature, and Red Feather. She teaches Women’s and Gender Studies and American Literature at Pittsburg State University in Southeast Kansas. 

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