Parents of voracious readers have, no doubt, at some point found their children lost in the pages of a thick fantasy book. It can be thrilling to see our kids (perhaps even those who have been labeled "reluctant readers") so consumed with a story that nothing else seems to matter. Afternoons are oddly quiet, flashlights appear under the sheets at night, words like Quidditch, Ents, and Tumnus begin infiltrating their vocabulary, and there's the ever constant plea, "Hold on -- I'm almost done with the chapter!" Huzzah! They're reading! And yet...there's an annoying little voice in the back of our minds wondering if all of that time spent in a world that isn't "real" is healthy.
J.R.R. Tolkien once insisted in his essay "On Fairy Stories" that Fantasy is a "human right." Why might he feel so strongly?
The advantages of reading Fantasy come from the way it cultivates imagination and encourages readers to think outside the box. It allows us to escape to a Secondary World and then to explore human values within that world. In their book CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, BRIEFLY, BYU's own Michael Tunnell and James Jacobs write that “good fantasy actually tells the truth about life. It clarifies the human condition and captures the essence of our deepest emotions, dreams, hopes, and fears. If fantasy does not do these things, it fails” (121). They also quote famed psychologist Bruno Bettelheim’s support of Fantasy in his statement that “fairy stories are not only safe for children, but also necessary…children may vicariously vent the frustrations of being a child controlled by an adult world, for they subconsciously identify with the heroes of the stories, who are often the youngest, smallest, least powerful characters” (109). I would venture to guess that all of us (adults included), at times feel powerless and manipulated by situations that are out of our control. Reading Fantasy just might help us to find our own strength within us. And possibly the greatest advantage of the genre is its ability to captivate and provide adventure and pure enjoyment. These sentiments are echoed by renowned Fantasy author Lloyd Alexander who stated that “realism walks where fantasy dances” (105).
So let those kids keep reading! Talk to them about why they love these stories so much, and ask which characters they relate to or admire. Then maybe take a long overdue dance through Fantasy along with them. Need a recommendation? Check out our Children's Department Fantasy booklist!
Tunnell, Michael O. and James S. Jacobs. Children’s Literature, Briefly. Columbus: Pearson Education, 2008. Print.