Where have all the hopeful fantasies gone? The fascinating folklore authority Maria Tatar, in today’s New York Times op-ed “No More Adventures in Wonderland, ” draws a clear and troubling contrast between the beloved fantasies of J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll with more recent ones such as those by Neil Gaiman, Susannah Collins, and Philip Pullman. “Children today get an unprecedented dose of adult reality in their books, sometimes without the redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic of an earlier time,” she writes.
Perhaps those of you who have precocious fantasy lovers in your home or in your classroom share my concern that children need not rush over to the dark side that modern writers are exploring so adeptly. Even the Harry Potter books, Rowlings admits, are “largely about death.” Where, then, can we gently nudge young ones to satisfy their cravings for imaginative fiction infused with a sense of wonder and optimism?
Fortunate are the children who find their way to the fabulous world of Peter Pan, to Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or to Edith Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle!
Another new — and old — possibility: The Flint Heart, which I recently reviewed for the New York Journal of Books . Rarely do children today encounter fantasies crackling with good-natured humor and even wisdom. The acclaimed author Katherine Paterson and her husband John have rewritten a century-old novel by Eden Phillpotts and wrought a fine fantasy that will make for a spirited family or class read-aloud.
Hope lives on, my friends. These days, it’s just harder to unearth. Which recently published fantasies have you shared with your children?
Great Read-aloud Fantasies:
- Loitering in Neverland: the strangeness of Peter Pan (guardian.co.uk)