I’ve run across several articles that argue that fantasy fiction does not have the same merit as the classics and therefore children should be discouraged from reading them. They use examples such as the Hunger Games and the Twilight Series, comparing their worth against what they consider to be the true classics, like Jane Austen.
Their reasoning? Since fantasies are generally set in a parallel world and not the real world children will not be able to see the similarities in their own lives and therefore not be able to learn anything from reading them. In their minds children need guidance and reading 19th century authors like Austen and George Eliot will give it to them.
The books that are going to do children the most good are the ones they are willing and hungry to read. If a kid won’t read a book, any book, for whatever reason, perhaps the vocabulary is too antiquated, or they can’t identify with the characters or their problems; they won’t learn anything. Even if they do struggle through a classic, and kudos to those who choose to, there is no promise that they will find any more solutions or guidance than they would have found reading any other book.
I’ve read my fair share of both 19th century classics, fantasy novels, and contemporary literature. The books that influence me most are the ones where I can identify and find resonance with the story or the characters.
Let’s face it, today’s youth aren’t being raised in polite society. The days of cotillion, formal dinners, and chaperoned activities are essentially gone. The problems that today’s children face have changed as well. Sure, there will always be the quest for popularity and the unending uncertainty of who likes who; but now there are lots of other, more sinister problems that our kids face. The books that they prefer reading reflect this change.
This is where fantasy fiction can triumph. By setting a story in a parallel world, the author is free to explore their character’s problems in a different and new way. They are not limited by the confines of reality or society and therefore have more liberty to reach into the depths of a problem in a way that’s not feasible in standard literature. Readers are then free to make parallels to their personal situations in the way that suits them best.
Will our children have to deal with sparkly vampires? No, but they might have to figure out how to handle a relationship with someone who is considered different.
Will our children be forced to fight to the death in gladiatorial combat? We hope not, but they might be being forced into doing something that they know is wrong and need the courage to speak out.
Will our children have to go to space to fight an intergalactic war? Probably not, but they might have to fight against a bully and need to know that there are ways of winning.
Saying that today’s children cannot learn anything from reading fantasy books is absurd and narrow minded. If you ask me, they can learn just as much, or even more from fantasy because there are more possibilities for abstract connections between characters and problems that would be hard to find in literal fiction. The nature of fantasy is to allow readers to question reality and view their own world in a new light.
Here’s one of the articles that sparked this post:
Let’s discuss! Do you agree or disagree that children should be reading more of the classics for guidance? What is your opinion on fantasy/speculative/contemporary novels?
Talk about it in the comments!