Fantasy in Children’s Literature
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
– Albert Einstein
Fairy tales are the most powerful attraction for children. The early age is the age of learning, so the children should be taught how to survive in this world. But, the abstract knowledge is very hard to teach them. So, children want the interesting way to learn new thing. Therefore, their learning starts through the bedtime stories since their early age. Since the children are unknown about many worldly things, the best way to teach them is to tell them funny and hypothetic stories about supernatural characters. The dragon, ghost, witches and wizards, and many other animals and creatures are personified and presented in the stories which become interesting to the children. Those unnatural stories, however, always contain stunning moral lesson.
It seems like the children are born to listen and enjoy the fairy tales. It is hard to trace out the exact origin date of fairy tales because those tales have been transferred from generation to generation in an oral form ever since human beings have lived on this planet. Those fairy tales or folklores were the primary method for teaching children how to be good and moral in the society.
Later, when written literatures appeared, people started to categorize the literature into two parts; children’s literature, and adult literature. Children’s literature is primarily funny, entertaining, and pleasing whereas adult literature contains heavier and more in-depth themes, which resulted those literatures becoming difficult for the children to understand. The factual concepts are hard to memorize and stressful to learn. Peter Hunt, in his book, Children’s Literature, explains that children of the middle-class family had increasingly started reading children’s literature during the late Nineteenth Century. It was due to the printing becoming cheap and how more people could afford them. Hunt has also raised some broad themes and questions in the chapter, “Uses and Abuses, Themes and variations” in his book. Can children’s literature be realistic, and is it better if it is? What is behind the British tendency to fantasy, in contrast to Australian or American writing, and how does that involve landscapes and journeys? He concludes that whether it is a children’s book or adults’ book, it should be ideological.
Although we tend to think of fairy tales as being specifically for children, many of these tales have content that we do not consider to be right for young audiences. Themes of violence (e.g., Blue Beard), sex (e.g., Little Red Riding Hood), cannibalism (e.g., Snow White), and many more can be found in these stories. Despite this sentiment, fairy tales can be a beneficial tool for teaching children about the wickedness of the world. Fairy tales can provide children with a “safe space” from which to process these sometimes-distasteful truths. Additionally, the nature of fairy tales allows for making age-proper adaptations so that people of all ages can enjoy these classic tales.
Let us talk about why fairy tales are desirable for children. Fairy tales, in the children’s literature, boost a child’s imagination and cultural literacy. Fantasy is more than a regular imagination. Fantasy has some special relationship to the imagination. Indeed, it is often thought that fantasy possesses the very heights of imaginative expression. After all, what are Tolkien’s stories of Middle Earth, if not wildly imaginative? However, this is not an essential feature of the genre. For, like any genre, the paradigmatic works of fantasy inspire countless imitators, who borrow the uniquely imaginative elements of these works. Indeed, even a passing acquaintance with the genre reveals that Tolkien’s works spawned a large industry of unabashed imitations. But these derivative works still belong to the genre. Thus, imaginativeness, in any interesting sense, is not an essential feature of fantasy, though paradigmatic works of fantasy are credited with it, as are the paradigmatic and seminal works in any genre. Another common idea is that fantasy necessarily involves magic. Certainly, supernatural technology, as it were, is common to much fantasy—wizards casting spells, witches seeing the future through crystal balls, and so on. However, a moment of reflection readily shows that this is not really necessary, for it is easy to imagine a simple fantasy merely involving a war between knights and dragons, but entirely lacking wizards, spells, sorcery, or witches. Imaginative power encourages a child to be more creative and enthusiastic. We would not have all these advanced technologies if those fairy tales were not introduced in the past. The main characters in the fairy tales are not always good, but the children can learn good thing from those characters’ behavior. The fairy tales can also teach a child right from wrong. When dreadful things happen, you have decisions to make. If you make the right decision, everything might just turn ok. The child can judge what is right or wrong simply by observing a fight between good and evil, and love and loss. According to the Telegraph, Mrs. Goddard Smith Blythe said, “Fairy tales help to teach children an understanding of right and wrong, not through directing but through implication. The children, then, think to be the hero, not the villain, learn to hope for better.” Fairy tales can help children deal with emotions and conflicts within themselves. Child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim believed that fairy tales enable the children in dealing with anxieties, they are yet, unable to explain. In fairy tales, children are often main characters and they will win the fight. It makes the readers feel themselves as a fairy tales hero. The most popular reason is that the fairy tales are great fun. In this modern age of technology, fairy tales are changed, and they have appeared in the form of fantastic video games.
I feel it important to discuss on these questions: why are children and fantasy linked at all? Why does the marvelous, the wonderful, the fantastic seem to be the natural territory of childhood? Why do children spontaneously choose the unreal over the real?
Cognitive science suggests that children love fantasy because they are so single-mindedly devoted to finding the truth, and because their lives are protected in order to allow them to do so. Human childhood is the longest protected childhood among all living beings.
Among many of the literary genres, fantasy is the one, and the prominent. Though it contains amazing adventurous contents, it does not happen in the real-world setting. This imaginative story takes place in the different world, quite different from the one we are living on. Fantasy energizes our imaginative power, and we all love to read fantasy literature. For the occasional readers, fantasy and the science fiction seem confusing. But the habitual readers can easily differentiate them. Once Isaac Asimov was asked to point out the differences between science fiction and fantasy. He replied that science fiction, given its grounding in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding, is not. Fantasy is older than science fiction.
Fantasy contains supernatural characters. Magics and witchcrafts play vital role in fantasy. Even the animals, birds, and other creatures act like human beings in the story. Fantasy, in itself, also has a lot of varieties: modern folktales, animal fantasy, toy fantasy, magical fantasy, alternative world fantasy, quest or heroic fantasy, mystery and supernatural fantasy, and hybrid science fiction.
Modern folktales are the traditional stories revised into a fast-moving plot and resolutions, and have some magical powers. Hans Chris Anderson’s The Nightingale, and The Ugly Duckling are the examples. Animal fantasy contains animal characters, portraying dual characteristics, acting, and behaving like humans as well as retaining the animal characteristics as well. Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web are the best examples of this kind. Modern picture books are the toy fantasy, where toys are animated, and they act, talk, and can react like human beings. Roald Dahl’s Charlie and Chocolate Factory falls under magical fantasy. Alice Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a fine example of alternative world fantasy, which sets up in the imaginative place outside this universe. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, and The White Mountains, by John Christopher, are the science fiction.
Fantasy is popular among many people because it opens the possibilities of all kinds. Thomas Hardy says, “a story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling,” and that a writer must have “something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman.” Myth and culture have become the important part of the society, and the literature developed on it. With the inventions of modern technologies, people have developed their imaginative power as well. So, in the present society, we can see a hybrid type of fantasy, semi-grounded in the real world; that means partially realistic and partially hypothetical.
Thus, in Ursula Le Guin’s word, “The touchstone to plausibility in imaginative fiction is probably coherence. Realistic fiction can be, perhaps must be, incoherent in imitation of our perceptions of reality. Fantasy, which creates a world, must be strictly coherent to its own terms, or it loses all plausibility. The rules that govern how things work in the imagined world cannot be changed during the story. This is probably one of the reasons why fantasy is so acceptable to children, and even when frightening may give the reader reassurance: it has rules. It asserts a universe that, in some way, makes sense.”
Fantasy helps children to grow in a creative way. By being able to exaggerate personalities and themes in fantasy literature, the genre allows children to learn and explore the hardships of right and wrong within the safe parameters of an imaginary world. It does not sugar-coat despair or pain, but projects a hopefulness that good always conquers evil, and children relate to this moral structure when dealing with issues in their own lives