Tag Archives: Escapism

Escapism, Childhood and World War Two in Canada in Joke Comics Issue 22

© Copyright 2017 Lisa Tower, Ryerson University

The Canadian Whites & Target Readers

When analyzing these comics, it is of importance to acknowledge who was actually reading them. In this case, Canadian children were the target audience. Children during World War II are often overlooked in the research of this time period; when conducting research and sifting through information, it is apparent that the search for testimonies of the Canadian childhood experience of this time period was unfruitful. To fill in the missing links of these lost narratives, the Canadian Whites comics will serve as a representative example of the childhood experience during World War II. This is evident from analyzing content of the Canadian Whites’ issue number 22, “Joke Comics” of October and November 1945, with a focus on “Fun Page by Young,” (Young 9); “Izzy Brite,” (Moyer 22-23); “Tangrams,” (Young 39); and “Young’s Whittle Craft,” (48-50).

The Comics

The “Joke Comics” sought to distract children form the harsh realities of the war by offering comic relief and activities within its pages. “Fun Page by Young” is an activity page within the issue that enlists the reader to participate in activities such as crafts or puzzles. Within this comic, there are four different activities such as a drawing exercise, a letter unscrambling activity, a puzzle involving mathematics, and a puzzle asking the reader to find girls’ names (Young 9). This specific activity page also features drawings of puppies, a woman’s face, and a clown. In the “Izzy Brite” comic, the reader is presented with a young boy and his grandfather, a distinct absence of a mother or father. “Izzy Brite” is one of the only comics within this issue that directly references the war. Izzy goes on to make a machine that pitches baseballs, with one baseball hitting his grandfather in the eye, all presumably in good fun (23).

A two panel spread of Izzy Brite by Hy Moyer. Izzy is talking to his grandfather about baseball players being "tired out old geezers."
Hy, Moyer. “Izzy Brite.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 22. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

The last selection from this comic being examined is “Young’s Whittle Craft” (Young 48-50). This craft asks its young readers to create a wooden dog, including the directions to cut out the dog with a saw. There is no mention of obtaining adult supervision. As well, it asks the children to whittle, sandpaper, and paint the wooden figure (49-50).

It is also interesting to note that within many of these comics and activity pages, there is no reference to a stable family life, nor one of nuclear origins. This is seen especially in “Young’s Whittle Craft,” as mentioned previously, the use of a saw is encouraged to complete the craft, yet no parental supervision is proposed. This is linked to events caused by the war. Many family members such as fathers, brothers, or uncles left their homes, disappearing from their young family members’ lives. The “Joke Comics,” rather than provide children with a predominantly masculinized image or dark tropes of life during the war, instead gives children comic relief in the forms of comics such as “Izzy Brite” and giving them time-consuming activities, such as “Fun Page by Young,” “Tangrams” and “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Very few historical narratives of this time period offer a glimpse into the daily lives of young children, nor the effects the war had on them within Canada during this time period. The Canadian Whites offers a glimpse into these lives, as the comics, under much critical analyses, portray a historical narrative all of its own: escaping the bitter realities of war-time life and its trials.

Childhood Psychology and War

The psychology of early childhood is extraordinary in regards to how, at a young age, individuals can employ a framework which guides their sense of worldview and experience, both to subconsciously protect and also give a sense of power over what they are experiencing (Sutherland 29). Sutherland points out in their article Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada that this mechanism is called a ‘script.’ These scripts are used in different circumstances, Sutherland mentions, be it situational or a personal objective. An example of this can be seen in how a family divides the chores and what roles each family member has. Scripts are therefore used to control memory and perception to help develop a process of understanding even the most traumatic circumstances, such as war. Sutherland interviewed many individuals who grew up during the war as young children. One Canadian woman they interviewed identified a memory of her father, who worked as a seaman during World War II, who had passed away, followed by her grandfather just a year later (22). This woman, as a young child, would have employed a specific script to cope with this trauma which was mentioned during the interview.

A materialized version of a script is seen within the “Joke Comics” analyzed here. The activity pages use puzzles, trivia, word searches, and fun images to promote an unbiased lens into a realm that children can become fixated or lost in, so as to employ a personal ‘script’ to cope with a sense of confusion to the challenges of the real world. These activities would be time consuming, considering the target age groups of these child readers. An example of this is seen with “Tangrams by Young,” (Young 39). The activity page states the following: “A piece of cardboard is the basis of this little party amusement. Any colour can be used, and to add more effect, any number of coloured cards are used” (39). The “Tangrams” page shows 4 ways the cardboard can be constructed, but allows a creative process of involving more shapes. Made with cheap materials, this project would have been available to any child, even during times of scarcity and ration, encouraging an art form that helps ignore the daily trials of war-era Canada.

The Effects of War on the Family

Service in the military took men from all walks of life away from their families; some were gone since the beginning of the war in 1939 and did not return until its completion (Sutherland 64). Due to the nature of child psychology, it was difficult for these young children to make much sense of the concepts of the external world. Even if they did understand, it would be hard for them to process these patterns of thought. Because of this structure, the family’s home was the centre of balance and sometimes the compass for which they found physical and mental consistency (64). Many times, the removal of the head of the family had devastating effects on the lives of those in the household (Durflinger 169). In many instances, once the war was complete, young children would have barely known or recognized their fathers, or perhaps not even had known them at all (228). This sense of stress and anxiety of both the environment of life during the war, but also the removal of many fathers, father figures, brothers, uncles and cousins would sufficiently cause a decrease in the income of a household and high spirits.

In relation to the physical environment of the home during World War II, Canada, although far removed from the conflict, was often fearful of enemy retaliation on home soil. An example of this is seen in Verdun, Quebec that Durflinger ruminates on: an earthquake had “rumbled through the Montreal area on September 5, 1944” (Durflinger 103); incidentally, a mother and her children were discovered in a residential neighbourhood “kneeling on the curbstone praying… at the same time, [they] were shrieking that enemy planes were bombing the city,” (103). Incidents like this were evident every now and then during this time; the stress, fear and anxiety of a troubling time period of housing shortages, food rationing and stamps, and family members suddenly removed from everyday life caused a heightened level of disdain for daily living. This feeling impacted children the most; due to their lack of complete awareness of the outside world, young children looked for forms of distraction that would lighten their spirits and offer a distraction from everyday life. Externally, as children continued on their daily lives, “gradually acquired some sense of the larger circumstances of the world which they lived,” (66). Despite this, these ideologies and experiences of war in Canada only informed what the background of life was on a daily basis.

The End of the Nuclear Family

“Izzy Brite,” upon analysis, begs to ask the question of where Izzy’s immediately family is. Only his grandfather is portrayed in this comic, although this is in reference to the specific issue of the “Joke Comics” issue 22. It appears that Izzy is living with his grandfather (or vice versa), as he speaks to his grandfather, who looks as if he is reading a baseball newspaper (Moyer 22). Izzy has enough time and a lack of supervision to create a device that throws a baseball at the hitter; his grandfather loves the idea and goes so far as to give Izzy a nickel for his hard work (22). The end of the comic shows both Izzy and his grandfather with a black eye due to the baseball machine (23). This comic is fascinating in the sense that it seeks to portray, albeit an obviously exaggerated, family dynamic or activity during the war. It is also fascinating due to the fact that it is one out of only a handful of comics that will directly mention the war and even allude to its effects. This is evident when Izzy says to his grandfather in the first panel, “Oh gramp! Is it true, that because of th’ war- A lot of big league baseball players are tired out old geezers” (22)? The font on ‘tired out’ is bold and emphasized.

This minimal reference can be alluded to the effects that PTSD had on its military overseas that was brought back home; Izzy is trying to make sense of why the baseball players do not want to play anymore. This would have resonated with many children. These young children would have asked why their family members who had served in the military were ‘acting’ differently, or why things were not the same as they used to be. It is interesting to also notice the war ended September 1945 (Hall). The Canadian Whites’ “Joke Comics” issue 22 was therefore printed after World War II was finished. These activity pages would provide children with an outlet to escape from the reality of having a stranger come home, having their family member home but acting differently, or having no one return home at all.

The lack of a nuclear, stable family structure or normal daily life can be linked to a lessened amount of parental supervision. In this aspect, “Young’s Whittle Craft” is an interesting product of its time. Young’s detailed instructions for how to make a “whittled dog” (Young 48) should have some warning of parental supervision implemented, considering the young target readership of these comics. However, there is a lack of warning of the dangers with the use of a coping saw, sandpaper or knife. This is seen on page 48, where the instructions ask to “saw out the rough model with a coping saw.”

A one page spread of Young's Whittle Craft; this page has instructions on how to whittle a dog figure.
Young, Robert. “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 48. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

This craft, compared to activity pages and comics “Fun Page by Young,” “Izzy Brite,” or “Tangrams by Young,” seem to target an older set of readers; however, this would not stop younger children from attempting this. It would be fascinating to analyze data that acknowledges the age groups of those who attempted this activity and who had helped them complete it, if there were any data sets involving this information in existence. But due to the lack of its existence and considering the target readership, many young children would have conducted this project on their own, a lack of supervision would have been apparent.

The Reality of the War and its Effects

Although children did not have a large understanding of the goings-on of the ‘real world,’ as Sutherland has noted, they did realize events that made the war real to them. An example of this can be seen in a report that Gwyn compiled of experiences that young children had during the war: “The events that made the war real for me was when [I] was 7; a friend’s brother drowned in the S.S. Caribou passenger ferry to Canada [which] was sunk by a U-Boat in the Cabot Strait…” (Gwyn). This incident created a real-life awareness that would have been hard to process for a young child. Children through time have been “used as visual metaphors and icons in major wars…” (Glassford). Due to their innocence and the vulnerability which they possess, children are attributed to the empathy of the disastrous effects which the war had on the average Canadian citizen. Gwyn writes in regards to the young children left on the home front were “too young… to have fought, but not yet old enough to have forgotten,” (Gwyn). Many of these children reading the “Joke Comics,” although creating scripts to help them acknowledge what their realities were, also could understand the effects the war had. This caused a sense of fear and anxiety, as well as a need to escape the bitter existence of life on the Canadian home front.


The “Joke Comics,” specifically issue 22, seeks to recognize the effects the war had, while also capitalizing on WECA. The creation of these light-hearted comics and time-consuming activity pages established a form of creativity and an outlet for children to become lost in, allowing the escapist mentality aforementioned to flourish. The obvious climate of fear, stress and anxiety during the war created a cocktail of emotions for young children to work through. By engaging with the “Joke Comics,” these children are able to divulge in an activity or get lost in a ‘funny’ comic that provides them with humour-centric relief, instead of using strong imagery and tropes of the war. “Izzy Brite,” “Tangrams,” Young’s Whittle Craft and “Fun Page by Young” all seek to provide a form of mental relief. In this aspect, this mode of escapism not only encouraged its readers to ignore the troubling effects the war had, but to also encourage learning, humour, and creativity; the comics, in this regard, would have had success in doing so.


Works Cited

  • Durflinger, Serge M. Fighting from Home: The Second World War in Verdun, Quebec. UBC Press, 2006.
  • Glassford, Sarah. “Practical Patriotism: How the Canadian Junior Red Cross and its Child Members Met the Challenge of the Second World War.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, vol. 7, no. 2, Spring 2014, http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/545838. Accessed February 18, 2017.
  • Gwyn, Sandra. “Too Young to Fight: Memories of Our Youth During World War II.” The Globe and Mai, November 6, 1999, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/384377549?pq-origsite=summon. Accessed March 22, 2017.
  • Hall, Michelle. “By the Numbers: End of World War Two.” CNN Library, September 2, 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/world/btn-end-of-wwii/. Accessed March 22, 2017.
  • Hy, Moyer. “Izzy Brite.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 22-23. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Kocmarek, Ivan. “Truth, Justice, and The Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, March 2016, pp. 145-65. Project Muse, https://doi.org/10.1353/crc.2016.0008. Accessed February 18, 2017.
  • Sutherland, Neil. Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada from the Great War to the Age of Television. University of Toronto Press, 1997.
  • Young, Robert. “Fun Page by Young.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 9. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Young, Robert. “Tangrams.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 39. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
  • Young, Robert. “Young’s Whittle Craft.” Joke Comics, no. 22, October and November 1945, pp. 48-50. Canadian Whites Comic Book Collection, 1941-1946. RULA Archives and Special Collections, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia – Escapism and Appropriation

©2014, Katherine Galang

P rince Caspian: The Return to Narnia is a children’s fantasy novel written by Clive Staples Lewis (more commonly known as C.S. Lewis) and illustrated by Pauline Baynes. It takes place in 1941, during the Second World War. The first edition was published in London, England by Geoffrey Bles in 1951. The Ryerson Children’s Literature Archive’s copy, however, is the sixth edition, published by the same company in 1966. The critical approach I will be taking for this exhibit focuses on the theme of escapism in Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Specifically, I shall address how Lewis uses fantasy literature to appropriate the Second World War for child readers, who would have both experienced the war and dealt with the aftereffects.

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia 1951 book cover


Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia is a fictional novel written by C. S. Lewis. It is the sequel to the book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. A year has passed since the Pevensie siblings have returned to England after having ruled Narnia as Kings and Queens respectively. In Narnia, however, over a thousand years have passed since the children’s departure. A foreign people called the Telmarines have since invaded and have driven the Narnians into the wilderness; reducing them to nothing more than memories and myths.

Prince Caspian X, the titular character, is the rightful heir to the throne. His uncle, King Miraz, took sovereignty by assassinating Caspian’s father, Caspian IX, and kept Caspian X alive until his heir was born. Sensing the danger, Caspian flees the palace into the woods, where he calls for help through Susan’s magical horn. This summons the Pevensie children to Narnia. Together the former Kings, Queens, Narnians, Aslan himself, and all their allies fight to regain the throne and restore balance in Narnia.


A Brief History of the Second World War:

The Second World War was fought between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied powers (Britain, The Soviet Union, and the United States). This war was a continuation of the First World War, and occurred, in part, due to the heavy demands placed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles (Wright).

Adolf Hitler, who rose to power before the beginning of the Second World War, had a dream of the unification of Germany and the survival of the Aryan race whom he saw as superior. To ensure the survival of the Aryans, Hitler felt that certain actions were necessary. The primary objective was to occupy and populate Soviet territory. Hitler did this because he believed that more land would ensure the survival of the German population. This objective was called the Lebensraum (Lyons 47).

Second, for the Aryan race to survive, all other inferior “bloods” must be eliminated. These included the handicapped, homosexuals, political opponents, and, predominantly, the Jews (Lyons 47). Hitler’s anti-Semitic sentiments were an ideology that preexisted within European society since the First World War. As minorities, the Jews were blamed for the defeat of Germany. In the Holocaust, millions of Jews perished under the ideology that they were inferior and degenerate people.


British Children in the Second World War:

Prior to the Second World War, an evacuation program was set up in Britain that was planned as early as 1938 and put into motion in 1939. Those of first priority during the evacuation process where children ages 1-15, according to Carlson Jackson who studied the British Evacuation Program. Of that group, those ages 5-15 were classified as Category A, the easiest to evacuate, and accounted for about 20 percent of all evacuated children. These children were evacuated in mass groups through their schools. It is particularly important to note that those children are the ones who would have the greatest recollection of the ordeal, and the Pevensie children fall under this category. By doing this, Lewis allowed his readers to connect to his characters and face the same hardships as they did.


An Appropriation of the Second World War:

In chapter four of the novel, readers are introduced to Prince Caspian X and his evil uncle Miraz. Central to the book’s plot is Miraz’s hate of “Old Narnia”. Old Narnia is a reference to the time when Narnia was solely inhabited by talking beasts and mythical creatures. In the novel, the mere mention of anything relating to Old Narnia is dismissed by Miraz as “nonsense” and “for babies”. As Doctor Cornelius explains to Caspian:

Cornelius Caspian

All you have heard about old Narnia is true. It is not the land of Men. It is the country of Aslan, the country of the Waking Trees and Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts…It is you Telmarines who silenced the beasts…and are trying to cover up even the memory of them. The King does not allow them to be spoken of. (Lewis 49)

By eliminating those who posses knowledge of these people (such as the Old Nurse), Miraz makes these creatures nothing more than myth. Therefore, Miraz become an appropriation of Hitler and the Narnians an appropriation of the Jews. In this way, the mass death and destruction of a race is toned down for children who may not fully understand the situation, but should know of it in some form.


Caspian and the Child Evacuee: 

Caspian’s initial meeting with Nikabrik, Trufflehunter, and Trumpkin parallels the situation of British evacuees. Caspian, who was forced to flee for his life, crosses paths with three different individuals. Each represent the three different types of reception that British Children received from their host families. Trufflehunter, the badger, welcomes Caspian with open arms and represents the families who were kind and welcoming to the children they took in. Nikabrik is hostile towards Caspian and represents the families who felt the burden of having another mouth to feed. This interaction represents the children who experienced terrible conditions during their evacuations. Trumpkin, on the other hand, is somewhat indifferent towards Caspian. He represents those who took in children out of duty, but did nothing more than what was required of them. Lewis, aware of how children were greeted by their host families, understood that each situation was unique, but that each situation a child faced during their evacuation generally fell into one of these three categories.

Nikabrik, Trumpkin, and Trufflehunter saving Prince Caspian

By adding in these three characters and their ongoing conflict with accepting Caspian, Lewis identifies the hardships of fitting into another family and finding one’s place after being uprooted.  Lewis again appropriates the war and gives his child readers identifiable and relatable situations.


Narnia and Escapism:

Escapism is defined as looking for enjoyable things to divert or distract one from thinking about their realities (“Escapism”). In the 1940’s, many children felt lost and out of place. Lewis therefore used fantasy realism as an appropriate way of taking real situations and making them easier to understand, by making it appealing and less devastating for children.

In this novel, Caspian represents the children who were recently evacuated while the Pevensie children represent those already evacuated. For the Pevensie children, their return to Narnia represents the urge to retreat to a place of comfort, familiarity, and refuge. Narnia is a place where they have agency. In the real world, a child has no control over anything. They have no control over the war, where they are sent, who they will stay with, or those who they will live with. However, Narnia is a place where the child rules. It is the child that  has the power, not only to make decisions that affect their surroundings, but that affect them directly. 

At various points in the novel, Lewis mentions how Narnia changes people by giving and promoting agency. When Edmund  was battling Trumpkin, he gradually began to regain his swordsmanship and skill. Lewis wrote, “But the air of Narnia had been working upon him ever since they arrived on the island, and all his old battles came back to him, and his arms and fingers remembered their old skill. He was King Edmund once more” (Lewis 94). It is the land itself that changes Edmund and restores his former skill. The longer he stays, the more he becomes who he once was and wants to be. He changes from a child to a King.

Trumpkin losing his duel against Edmund

Edmund’s case is not the only one where Narnia promotes the childrens’ agencies. Peter becomes more like High King Peter when he challenges Miraz to single combat (155-56). His eloquently dictated letter shows that he wields his pen like a sword and is as powerful as any adult in this land, though he is merely a child.

In each of these instances, Lewis places the children in situations that allow them to enforce their own strength and power. The Pevensie children who have already grown up and became capable adults in this magical land, gain the ability to grasp that same agency upon their return. It is one’s agency that allows the children to escape their unhappy reality.

Above all, Narnia allows the children to understand the stakes of war. The war that they are fighting in Narnia is a reflection of the war being fought in the real world. As former Kings and Queens, the children realize that if they lose, the Narnians will not survive. This parallels the situation in Europe, for if the British and the Allies lose, the Jewish people will be eradicated.  However, while the Pevensies can do nothing about the situation in Europe, they have active roles in Narnia where they have the power to save the Narnians.


Lewis and Stories:

As Donald E. Glover states, stories are powerful because they are able to blur the lines between reality and fantasy (78-79). If anything can be said about Lewis, it is that he held a special place in his heart for his child readers. Hundreds of letters written in his own hand were sent to children in reply to their enthusiasm. For the Chronicles of Narnia series, which would be one of Lewis’ biggest successes especially with children, his reading provides a way for children to recall war time and evacuation, and make sense of it all. John Bremer states in his brief biography of Lewis, “The frightening incidents in the book are not so frightening that children cannot enjoy them…” (54). Lewis’ Prince Caspian provides a reading that both appropriates war and evacuation.  It creates a fantastical realm where children feel powerful and can deal with any situation they are put in.

For Lewis’ initial 1951 readers, Prince Caspian brings up painful emotions and memories. However, through  fantasy literature, Lewis creates a self identifiable and motivating story that helps children sort through feelings of helplessness and displacement. This particular copy of Prince Caspian was publish in 1966, twenty-one years after the end of the second world war. Why would Lewis’ Narnia series, and more specifically, Prince Caspian, remain such a popular book that it kept being reprinted? By this time, child evacuees would be in their twenties and thirties. These are adults who once read the book in the aftermath of the war, to escape their reality, and to make sense of why it happened and how to move forward. Perhaps, the continued success of this book is in its ability to continually appropriate the war for children. Parents, who experienced the war, might teach their children about what it was like to be evacuated by giving their children Prince Caspian. Through this, they share from generation to generation the hope and the strength that escaping to another realm gives.

As Ford states, good stories can make one think twice about a concrete idea (13).  The war was a bleak time; for children, feelings of abandonment and helplessness were common. Lewis gave his readers a place to explain why bad things happen, an escape to deal with those bad things, and hope that even the most helpless people can make big differences.

 Link to CLA Omeka site

Works Cited:

“Escapism.” Compact Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus.  3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia: A complete Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. Print.

Glover, Donald E. “The Chronicles of Narnia, 1950-1956: An Introduction .” C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006. Print.

Jackson, Carlton. Who Will take our Children?: The British Evacuation Program of World War II. Rev. Ed. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2008. Print.

Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes. 1st ed. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1951. Print.

Lyons, Michael J. “The Road to War.” World War II A Short History. 5th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.

Wright, Edmund. “World War II.” A Dictionary of World History. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Open WorldCat. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.