kid-lit comment: wicked stepmothers vs the merely ill-advised:
(mild spoilers alert)

Hattie’s aunt in Tom’s Midnight Garden is classic fairytale wicked – unstintingly cruel and cold toward Hattie, her orphan niece, who in her loneliness dreams up an Imaginary Friend* to play with, who happens to be – as Hattie sees it – a ghost from the future: Tom. Tom’s IRL = the present (well actually the 50s; TMG won the Carnegie Emdal in 1958): he too is living unhappily with his aunt and uncle, while his brother recovers from mumps or similar. But they aren’t evil at all: just a bit misguided. Uncle Alan in particular is a Rationalist who likes to discuss science and truth and theories of time, but is alarmed by and suspicious of any glint of the (Child’s) Imagination.**

Wrong-headed Rationalists of this (strawman?) type are all over mid-20th-century kid-lit, of course, and always as, well, Aunt Sallies: they are Just Wrong and generally get a Comeuppance (though sometimes it’s of the Learning&Hugs kind). The chief ancestor-figure is probably Eustace-when-still-awful, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, whose hilarious sketched trendy-progressive ogre-parents (the original Narnia Kids’ uncle and aunt) have sent him to the famous EXPERIMENT HOUSE – I want to know more, really, about what social movement (and real-actual educational establishment?) inspired Lewis here. The hostility towards post-war rationalism – technocratic managerialism, really – was very widespread (it turned into the revolt of the 60s, if you like), and from a professional perspective any author writing fiction for children is obv likely to be pro-dreams and making stuff up and that. By the end of the 60s, this enablingly ultrasceptical figure seems to vanish – I assume bcz its models in the real world retired defeated, by cultural history on the march. Fantasy of a wide variety of types exploded into the mainstream of fiction for all ages, and a much more complex dialectic of truth-vs-fiction was (presumably) needed.

*(Are there any other stories written from the POV of an Imaginary Friend who is – i mean from from the readers’ perspective – the most “non-imaginary” character?)

**The implication is that, as a couple, their childlessness is a source of misery to them – they actully really want Tom to like them and go out of their way, not very effectively, to make him welcome. There’s a low-key background story in TMG about “Theories of Competing Types of Wisdom”: tom’s aunt knows things about Uncle Alan’s temper and digestion which seem to fall otuside the ambit of his rationalism, and Hattie’s wicked aunt is explicitly contrasted with a young gardener (and even some cows) which can see Tom.