This paper analyses the religious model roles of protagonists in children's literature in late seventeenth century England.
The authors of children's literature in the 1670s started to create children's deathbed stories in order to both provide religious education and amuse young readers. Such stories depicted protagonists with different aspects of piety according to their age. Children between 8 and 14 years old tended to be shown as models which overcame difficulties in achieving true belief in the Lord and in His salvation, not only through the repetition of their own prayers, but also with the support of their families and friends. In contrast to this, infants were rather simple models of pious and good behaviour in their early days of health. Even after getting sick and just before dying, they could put much reliance on God's mercy, simply repent their sins and find the right time to die.
We can recognise that such infant protagonists functioned as pious models to illustrate the following three points: the necessity and possibility of early piety to prepare for early death, the mightiness of God's mercy, and concrete religious behaviour including prayers, meditation, relations with family and friends, religious affection to others and learning. These points were more effectively suggested through infant protagonists than through older children.
Although some contemporary readers doubted the existence of such pious infants in children's literature, the authors wanted to believe that it was possible for small children to prepare for death because the salvation of dead infants was significant. The authors tried to combine their message of religious instruction and a true depiction of protagonists in order to attract young readers. Under such conditions, authors focused on children's realities through showing them as objects of both instruction and observation.