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Imagination as a Coping Mechanism

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Knatchbull-Hugessen's "Charlie Among the Elves" is a fairy tale in which a little boy experiences the fun loving and carefree world of elves. He encounters the world through a dream and Knatchbull-Hugessen presents the tale in such a manner so that the reader can see how fantasy and imagination influence how we perceive the real world. Through the portrayal of the elves' lives, the way they live and entertain themselves, and from the ambiguous ending of the story, Knatchbull-Hugessen reveals that fantasy and real life are more alike than different because the magical world is simply Charlie's imagination coping with realties of life.

Classism in the elves' world mirrors that in the human's way of life and can be seen as Charlie seems to wish to lessen the strictness of his world by making it fun. Upon awakening in the new world, Charlie learns that "trees speak as well as other people [but] little oaks should be seen, and not heard" (Knatchbull-Hugessen 149-150). Despite the remarkable intelligence and beauty behind a talking tree, they are nothing more than an object; to be admired and to do as they are told. Such obedience is also expected in Charlie's world, where his "nursery-maid, Jane was given strict orders not to let the little Boy out of her sight [...] and she was generally took pains to obey her orders" (Knatchbull-Hugessen 148), just like the tree who immediately became silent and spoke no more when told by the elf.

Later on Knatchbull-Hugessen reveals another sense of established class, through the races that Charlie watches with the other "little beings" (Knatchbull-Hugessen 150). To his surprise there are no horse and riders. Instead Charlie saw "mice cantering along upon the back of each of which sat a very small frog; each frog had a cap of a different colour upon his head, and wore a proper jockey's dress" Knatchbull-Hugessen 151). Afterwards there were various other amusements that "seemed to please everybody very much, except the moles themselves, who appeared as if they had rather have been left in their holes" (Knatchbull-Hugessen 153). The fact that various sports were only performed by certain animals shows superiority complex among the elves and the inhabitants of their world. Not only do they take great joy in watching the sports but they condone the fact that the animals express dislike in being forced to fight one another and do silly things outside of their normal lives. Since there is an evident reflection of the human world's practices of class in the elves' world, we know that Charlie's mind is recreating his perception of the world as a fantasy. Charlie's imagination masks the real world with fun loving and carefree behavior in order to cope with structure of society enforced upon him in the real world.

Lack of awareness of the consequences of one's actions is also mirrored in the elves' world and once again Charlie's mind condones this real notion of respect through the elves behavior. When the elves imitated the nightingale, it "grew very angry, stopped singing, and began to make a little chattering noise [...] which nightingales always do when they are interrupted or suspect an enemy near. This was just what the Elves wanted, and they all went into fits of laughter" (Knatchbull-Hugessen 161). Thus, it is evident that the elves promote behavior that cause them joy but at the same time irritates others. Once again Knatchbull-Hugessen shows that there is entertainment at the expense of others. Such similar behavior can be seen in the real world through Charlie who "was an active Boy [who despite running] quite out of Jane's site, ran on for little boys with hoops run fast" (Knatchbull-Hugessen 148). Just like the elves, Charlie takes his fun too far when he decides to run after his hoop. He completely disregards not only the fact that he is making his maids job more difficult but also the potential consequences of getting hurt. Consequently, we see the magical world as simply an outlet for behavior that would otherwise be unacceptable in Charlie's world.

An acceptable pastime in Charlie's world is telling stories and this form of entertainment, is also imitated in the elves world. The Elf Chief requests the other elves tell "real, good, amusing little tales, such as mortal fathers tell when they take their little girls



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