William Rayner’s young adult novel Stag Boy (1972) is often discussed in surveys of children’s literature as a classic title, but it has received little probing critical attention. This article argues that the novel uses its narrative of a boy’s psychic association with a giant stag as an allegory for the transition from boyhood into manhood. In a detailed close reading of the novel, and following the model of the love chase of medieval romance, it is shown how the author borrows key elements from folklore (the shaming ritual of the stag hunt), myth (Herne the Hunter), and quest romances (the motif of the joust) to develop a highly symbolic tale of mental growth and triumph over limitations. This makes Stag Boy a key text in the literary tradition that uses the theme of animal metamorphosis as a trope for addressing the conflicts of male adolescence.
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