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Reading: Journeys through the Unheimlich and the Unhomely


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Academic Article

Journeys through the Unheimlich and the Unhomely


Annette Russell

About Annette

Annette Russell graduated from King’s College, London in 1990 with a BA Hons in German and Philosophy. She currently lives in Berlin, managing a busy chiropractic practice. Prior to that, she worked as library co-ordinator of the Quentin Blake Europe School, a bilingual German/English primary school, and has taught English in various elementary and secondary schools in Berlin. In 2015, Annette completed her MA in Children’s Literature from the University of Roehampton by Distance Learning and was awarded the Hancock Prize. Her dissertation, ““Who’s that Girl?”: Fracturing postmodern female selfhood in adolescent fiction” reflects her deep interest in adolescent identities, which has since begun to expand from the postmodern to the posthuman. She hopes to pursue this abiding interest in PhD studies in 2017.


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With World War II breaking out, David, twelve-year-old hero of John Connolly’s Book of Lost Things (2006), is failing to come to terms with his mother’s death and his father’s swift remarriage. Lured into the world of his whispering books, he journeys deep into the unheimlich, as familiar and beloved fairy tales turn macabre and reveal the hidden. In Robert Westall’s Gulf(1993), twelve-year-old Andy journeys telepathically into the consciousness of Latif, a boy caught in the midst of the Gulf War. Transmitting back the brutal realities of war, Andy’s journeys disrupt his domestic life; the external world pierces the anodyne fabric created by sanitised newscasts, turning home unhomely for him and his family.

Following Joseph Campbell’s assertion that every story relates the hero’s journey, this paper analyses the psychological journey of David through the lens of Freud’s theory of the unheimlich, in which the deeply familiar turns incongruous or uncanny, as that which is hidden or repressed comes to light. It then proceeds to examine Andy’s journey, employing Homi Bhabha’s extension of Freud’s unheimlich in his concept of the “unhomely”, which Bhabha defines not as the state of being homeless, but as the sense of dislocation that arises when the boundaries between outside world and domestic home crumble. This paper aims to support Roberta Seelinger Trites’ claim that the unheimlich is a crucially motivating factor in children’s literature by examining the unheimlich in the journey motif.

How to Cite: Russell, A. (2017). Journeys through the Unheimlich and the Unhomely. Roundtable, 1(1), 3. DOI:
Published on 24 May 2017.
Peer Reviewed


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