Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Kingsley, Charles

(1819-1875) English clergyman, author, academic and Christian Socialist, remembered for his historical novels Westward Ho! (1855) and Hereward the Wake (1865) and, especially, for his Children's Fantasy The Water Babies (1862-1863 Macmillan's Magazine; 1863). The story is about a series of Transformations occurring to Tom, an orphan chimney-boy. The first is when he encounters the girl Ellie in a big mansion and realizes for the first time that he is dirty. This compels him to wash in a river: he drowns and is spiritually transformed into a water baby. The analogy with baptism and the cleansing power of water is self-evident. Not until he learns that he has been selfish and repents is he allowed to see other water babies. A further transformation takes place on an Island, where he learns about Good and Evil. He is finally joined by Ellie, who drowned in a rock pool, but in order to be with Ellie and share her purity he must go on a Quest to rescue his old bullying master, and this allows him at last to attain Heaven. Despite the strong moral overtones, this was written more for entertainment than instruction and was the first modern English children's fantasy novel which did not draw from Folklore roots (> Fairytales). It was because of this book's success that Macmillan published Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), urged on by recommendations from George MacDonald, a friend of Kingsley's and a fellow Christian reformer. The book has been filmed somewhat disappointingly as The Water Babies (1978), with a more saccharine ending.

The Water Babies was something of a one-off for CK. His only other children's fantasy was The Heroes (1856), a retelling of the Greek Legends of Perseus, the Argonauts and Theseus, done in a more direct and realistic fashion than the earlier renditions by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Water Babies itself was immensely influential – its mark can be seen on the works of such later children's writers as Mary Molesworth and E Nesbit, and even Joan Aiken – and ushered in the Golden Age of Children's Fantasy.

CK's brother, Henry Kingsley (1830-1876), the black sheep of the family, also turned to writing. He produced the children's fantasy The Boy in Grey (1871), modelled on Alice in Wonderland and essentially an Allegory about a boy's childhood search for the Boy in Grey, who represents Christ. Although the Quest takes the boy three days it has in our Reality taken 11 years (> Time in Faerie).

CK's daughter Mary (1852-1931), as Lucas Malet, wrote mostly social romances, though did produce one children's book, Little Peter (1887), and two romantic Ghost StoriesThe Gateless Barrier (1900) and The Tall Villa (1919 US) – in both of which Love proves powerful over death. [MA]

further reading: Canon Charles Kingsley: A Biography (1949) by Una Pope-Hennessy; The Beast and the Monk (1974) by Susan Chitty; The Novels of Charles Kingsley (1981) by Allan J Hartley.

Charles Kingsley


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.