it isn't the monsters that are the fantasy - it's the happy-ever-after. And as a society, we're bloody poor at that.
I still don't want to rob them of the hope for a 'happier'- ever-after, if not entirely happy, all things being relative. Without hope, we are hopeless.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
How did Pratchett put it? Children need to hear stories about monsters because it teaches them that monsters can be defeated.
Very similar to G.K. Chesterton’s brilliant defence of the fairy tale:
All this kind of talk is based on that complete forgetting of what a child is like which has been the firm foundation of so many educational schemes. If you keep bogies and goblins away from children they would make them up for themselves. One small child in the dark can invent more hells than Swedenborg. One small child can imagine monsters too big and black to get into any picture, and give them names too unearthly and cacophonous to have occurred in the cries of any lunatic. The child, to begin with, commonly likes horrors, and he continues to indulge in them even when he does not like them. There is just as much difficulty in saying exactly where pure pain begins in his case, as there is in ours when we walk of our own free will into the torture-chamber of a great tragedy. The fear does not come from fairy tales; the fear comes from the universe of the soul.
[…] Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. [Emphasis added - not in original]
BTW, Chesterton was an early and major influence on Gaiman – which surprised me but shouldn’t have, considering he laid into Sandman a perfectly bizarre but right tribute in the form of an anthropomorhic personification of an idyllic dream-place.
It would be good sometimes if popular YA, or children's fiction, for that matter, could transcend the perennial triumph of good over evil and explore some other facets of human existence, like identity, confidence, autonomy, freedom, compassion, empathy, grief, humanism, philosophy, entitlement... Is that too much to ask?
Not at all. Which is why David Levithan, Alyssa Brugman, Malorie Blackman, John Green, Lois Lowry, Sharon Creech, Diana Wynne Jones, Margo Lanagan, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkich, Lili Wilkinson, Jaclyn Moriarty, Katherine Paterson, David Hill, Rebecca Stead, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Megan Whalen Turner, Charles de Lint (shout out to Craig and David Hood who love him too - I'm such a de Lint fan!), John Howe, Maureen Johnson, Maureen McCarthy, E L Konigsberg, Adam Rex and so many others are so well-known - not to mention the ways in which Karen Healey's Guardian of the Dead addresses some of these issues as well. And that's just people I've read this year! These authors write about loss, identity, popularity, personhood, compassion, gender identity, sexual identity, race, confidence, freedom, unhappiness, honesty, corruption, power, authoritarianism, complexity, nature and nurture, ethical dilemmas, sincerity, upbringing, classism, beauty, understanding, difference, estrangement, love, friendship, kindness, insincerity, and so much more. Katherine Paterson's enduringly popular Bridge to Terabithia is as fine writing about grief as you will ever find. Lois Lowry's deservedly famous The Giver is an incredible dystopia, but her less well-known Taking Care of Terrific is a gorgeous piece about class, relationships, upbringing and the rather fun Anastasia Krupnik series is allll about identity and confidence. Charles de Lint's The Blue Girl is about the marginalised among us, sexual violence, the transforming power of friendship, women's agency and confidence. Sharon Creech's books are all beautifully written, finely-crafted novels about discovering yourself and your humanity. Alyssa Brugman's wonderful novel Finding Grace is about compassion, empathy, and the range of human experience; her Walking Naked is about identity. Fleur Beale's I Am Not Esther deals with religion, authority, freedom and humanity. The Guardian of the Dead is about confidence, friendship, power, coming of age. The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex, looks incredibly seriously at colonialism, post-colonialism, authoritarianism, loss, and solitude. I could go on and on and on.
Meanwhile, although the popular series of our days are indeed fantasy novels with their share of black and white violence - The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight - to construct them as if that is their sole content is to truly lose a great deal of their value. The Hunger Games' dystopia asks questions about society, classism, propaganda and the media, reality TV and authoritarianism. The Harry Potter series dwells at length on identity, compassion, nature vs nurture, the corruption of authority, prejudice, honesty, bravery, whether it's OK to take another's life for "the greater good". All right, I struggle to defend Twilight, but it's also something of a stretch to describe it as good vs evil - it's a romance, really.
Personally, I feel like it would be great if adult novels could transcend emotional detachment, divorce, and fond memories of vagina in exchange for writing something genuine and real ... but my hopes will inevitably be dashed!
Also I should say how much I'm enjoying the discussion about the uses of the monstrous in children's literature. I highly recommend, for anyone interested in a psychological discussion of this stuff, Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment, which is an academic discussion of the place of the fairytale in adolescent development. I also have my own favourite quote about this kind of material:
People who've never read fairy tales, the professor said, have a harder time coping in life ... They don't have access to all the lessons that ... give you moral and humane structures for your life. That teach you how to prevail, and trust. And ... love.
- Jilly Coppercorn, The Onion Girl (by Charles de Lint)
Note: I had this post typed up and hit post and it went away. I hope this doesn't end up being a double-post.
Not at all.
Need to learn not to ask such questions on here, as one does tend to come out looking a bit thick.
I could go on and on and on.
Please do. The girls reading list for the next 5 - 7 years is being laid out before us without having to leave the couch.
Seems most here with young adults or younger persons in general are fortunate to be raising avid readers. Not necessarily the norm. Particularly with the new technology that is so 'engaging' for impressionable minds.
I asked my daughter what she would recommend as YA fiction, and without hesitation she named Un Lun Dun by China Miéville.
After some thought she also named the The Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins.
And for the older than my daughter age group, I see the very, very new Charles De Lint YA novel The Painted Boy has a google books preview
Tui: Excellent post. I've read the HP series to my children and tend to agree on its merits, though the polarisation of good and evil is a bit stock - IMHO.
Mind you, my favourite book as a teen was The Diary of Anne Frank. It still is a favourite book. More accurate depiction of good and bad in that, and some reassurance. Perhaps not the reassurance that monsters can be slain, but the triumph, or at least the resilience of the good.
I hope this thread never ends!
I got my hands on GOTD yesterday and started to read it in the mall. Just my cup of tea. But naughty, I'm reading the first Percy Jackson at the moment (as well as The Finkler Question) and I should finish that/them first. I'm impressed by the PJ book and genuinely enjoying it. Loved the line about most teachers being monsters.
I also read Carrie's War recently. Great characters ... worked on different levels. Strange ending. Would it appeal to boys?
I'll be having quite a lot to do with 12 year-olds next year, more boys than girls, so all these suggestions are wonderful.
Had some time to kill in St Lukes (metaphorically speaking) and Whitcoulls was having a 25% off sale. A helpful staff member and I hunted for ten minutes for Healey's Guardian of the Dead, which they apparently had two of, but they must have been hiding, cause we had to give up.
I did get Philip Pullman's Four Tales, which I jumped the rest of my pile to start, and am enjoying. Also Neil Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants. Nice little hard cover. Have to read them soon, so I can then wrap them up for Christmas presents. Is that allowed?
Albany Borders had a stack of GOTD.
By all means read first!
Have to read them soon, so I can then wrap them up for Christmas presents. Is that allowed?
It's called 'checking all the pages are there'
That's right. And can't have them knowing stuff I don't. Hmm, might already be too late for that.
I’ll be having quite a lot to do with 12 year-olds next year, more boys than girls, so all these suggestions are wonderful.
Cecelia. The Curious Incident of the Dog by Mark Haddon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Incident_of_the_Dog_in_the_Night-time
remains a favourite of my 12 yo son. Otherwise Jaws; there's no in-between with him.
Kage Baker's "Company" series is just brilliant.
and I've only recently heard that, sadly Kage Baker died January 31, 2010. So Not Less Than Gods (which I'm just about to start) is probably, the last 'Company" book.
Can a TV series be far away?
Sally your son (and others) might enjoy Cory Doctorow's YA novel For the win which is also available as a free Creative Commons book online
and possibly Paul Melko's debut Singularity's Ring ...
...I had to write to Tor Books about some of the glaring typos and spellcheck pass-overs, which don't help reinforce a young mind's grasp of language.
though, I'd keep him away from Poppy Z. Brite for a while yet...
O berloody hell- Kage Baker's death slid right under my radar. I am sorry to learn this-
Glad your lad enjoyed Curious Incident. It's one of my favourites but the only youngster I've discussed it with didn't get it.
BTW, I'm part way through GOTD. The teenage girl in me is lapping it up while the teacherly part of me admires the transition from realism to fantasy.
O berloody hell- Kage Baker's death slid right under my radar. I am sorry to learn this-
You're not the only one, but not much of a surprise. Baker kept her uterine cancer diagnosis private until very close to the end, and IIRC she was able to work until a few weeks before she died surrounded by her family. That's how a writer as talented as she is (can't think of her in the past tense when her wonderful books are still with me) should go.
Writers live in their works, however deplorable or seedy or ineffectual some may deem them. And Kage Baker will live on for a long time through the Company books: I only wish there were going to be more of them...
Jolissa, I have just read your Metro article twice. What's wrong with the NZ novel? It was meant to be provocative, said the editor. I'm provoked. (But in a good way.)
Not QUITE sure what you MEAN.
Cecelia - any link?
I've tried to find one but the site is pretty well closed for anything but advertising...
Lucky enough to get GotD out of the library yesterday, and am almost through book one already - wanting to read before turning on my computer is a strong vote of confidence. Thought I noticed homage to Mahy (Changeover and Catalogue of the Universe) and Pamela Dean's Tam Lin (??) but it's not derivative at all, and I love Ellie (and Kevin and Mark and Iris with her shoe weapons). Hope to finish it later today
Islander, I tried to reply yesterday - didn't get through.
Metro isn't online so you would have to get hold of the mag. Worth reading because it also has an interesting interview with Matt McCarten.
Anyway, Jolissa is writing about the current NZ novel: too sensational, not emotionally engaging enough, protagonists who are victims, boring??? Not quite sure what she means but very interesting. I have misplaced my copy but when I do my clean up today I might find it and could send you a scan. (Can scan in image format only though.)
Got GotD yesterday. Still reading about the 'New Zealand wars', as described by Maurice Shadbolt, but looking forward to it next.
Jolisa's article sounds interesting, and provocative. Will seek it out.
I'd appreciate a scanned copy Cecelia (and this machine is happy with image format/s.)
Metro isnt sold in South Westland.
Islander: if you email me your postal address, I'd be more than happy to mail my copy down to you.