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Won’t Someone Think of the Children?! A Rallying Cry for Fantasy Kids’ Lit By Brandon Draga
If you’re reading this blog post, it’s more than likely because you have some sort of affinity for fantasy fiction. I feel confident in assuming that you’ve read some of the classics (Tolkien, LeGuin, Howard), and maybe you cut your teeth on what Sam Sykes and Justin Landon seem to have coined “formulative fiction” (Salvatore, Weis and Hickman, Brooks, Jordan). Right now, you’re likely neck-deep in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, or frothing for Rothfuss’ Kingkiller conclusion. Maybe you just finished McClellan’s potent Powder Mage books, or the latest in one of Sanderson’s eighty-three ongoing series (I heard he just finished seven novels and a book tour as I typed that).
If you’re a real cool kid, you’re reading some of the books featured on this blog, and if you’re cooler than that, you’ve read my books, too.
Sorry, I seem to have digressed. I have a bad habit of doing that.
The point is, you like reading fantasy, and right now you’re probably reading something that, like most fantasy, doesn’t shy away from things like violence, strong language, and maybe sex. As a genre, fantasy has a whole lot to offer to adult readers. Even the most saccharine, YA-friendly titles have swords and blood and other things that most parents these days would be reticent to show to someone under ten years old.
Here, of course, is the ironic bit. We’ve all had an experience not unlike the following:
Classmate/Co-worker/Relative: “Hey, what are you reading?”
You: “Oh, called it’s Phantom Blood Stone of Spears! it’s the new book by R.Q. Johnsonstone.”
C/C-W/R: “What’s it about?”
You: “Oh, um… well it’s a fantasy novel…”
C/C-W/R: “What, like elves and magic and stuff?”
You: “Well, I mean, yeah, there are elves and magic, but the elves are actually these quasi-nomadic…”
C/C-W/R: “Aren’t you kind of old to be reading that stuff?”
Yes, even in the age when Return of the King swept the Oscars, and Game of Thrones gets as much water cooler airtime as Sunday Night Football, people by and large love to peg actual fantasy books as “kids’ stuff”. This will probably never change, if we’re being honest. There will always be people who refuse to suspend their disbelief past the idea of hospital residents having a completely unrealistic number of workplace trysts. That said, I’m not here to lobby for fantasy being taken seriously; there are plenty who have come before me to try and do that, and as someone whose books have been compared to the above-mentioned “formulative fiction”, I’m hardly the best bannerman for the “Fantasy is for Grown-Ups” camp. I recommend you talk to Guy Gavriel Kay or Stephen Erikson for that.
First of all, I’m not one to tout that fantasy as a genre is as mindful or artistic as Kafka or Tolstoy. This isn’t to say that it can’t be, and there are plenty of examples to support the fact that fantasy books can hold their own against the driest, most esoteric literary fiction. Rather fantasy, by its very nature, should be about exploring the imagination to its furthest reaches. The problem, however, is that there is little evidence of people using the fantasy genre to explore arguably the most powerful imaginations out there.
Ironically, for a genre that’s so often referred to as “kids’ stuff” by its detractors, there’s an awfully immense dearth of fantasy stuff that’s made for kids.
Really think about this a minute: What was your first exposure to the fantasy genre? Maybe it was The Hobbit, or Redwall, or maybe even Chretomanci, which are great once you’ve reached the age where reading a book without pictures every other page no longer seems like an insurmountable task. But I want you to try and think back further, back to the heady years of Robert Munsch, not Robert Jordan. To Jan and Stan Berenstein, not Janny Wurts. To Dr. Seuss, not…. well, you get the idea.
I concede, I grew up with The Paper Bag Princess, and Where the Wild Things Are, but by and large, if you look at picture books, you’ll find that when it comes to the stuff that made us all fall in love with the fantasy genre, there’s some pretty slim pickin’s. So, while everyone else seems so preoccupied with asking “What can we do to make more adults take fantasy seriously?”, I feel like I’m the only one asking “Where are all the picture books with elves and dwarves and orcs and magic?” I remember first coming across Tolkienesque elves when I was maybe eight and having my mind blown. “Elves aren’t just Santa’s little helpers?!” Imagine if I had learned that in kindergarten, rather than the fact that Clifford was neither average in size or coat shade as far as dogs go. Or at the very least in conjunction with the latter, because plenty of kids love them some Clifford. Maybe if I’d been introduced to some of these ideas and tropes earlier on, I would have been a much more voracious reader in my later youth and early adolescence; maybe I would have actually finished The Hobbit when I wrote a book report on it in grade 7. Thanks to the original Legend of Zelda and the Conan saturday morning cartoon, I knew I loved fantasy from a very young age, but without many kids’ books available to stoke that interest, what was I to do? If not for a resourceful (and geeky) older brother and lots of video games, I may never have given the genre a second look by the time I hit high school.
We like to point out to detractors that fantasy can be used to creatively explore the human condition, but what about using it to explore things like basic moral quandaries, or even things as rudimentary as letters and numbers? For that matter, why not just use our favourite old tropes for the sake of entertaining the next generation? Between the hordes of really entertaining non-fantasy kids’ lit that’s been released in the last decade and the ever-present world of digital distractions, elves and magic have quite the competition.
You’d be amazed how receptive kids are to a lich in long underwear, though. Trust me.
About the author:
Brandon Draga was born in 1986, just outside Toronto, Ontario. His love of all things fantasy began at an early age with games like The Legend of Zelda, Heroquest, and Dungeons and Dragons. This affinity for the arcane and archaic led to his studying history in university from 2005 to 2011. In late 2012, he began writing a D&D campaign setting that would lay the groundwork for the world of the Four Kingdoms. Brandon still lives just outside Toronto, and when he is not writing enjoys skateboarding, playing guitar, and playing tabletop games.
About the book:
What would you do if you awoke one morning to find a great White Dragon had taken roost in your backyard, scaly little kobolds had begun eating all the food in your kitchen, and a powerful old Lich had decided to wash his robes in your laundry room? What would you do if it didn’t look like they planned on leaving?
In Dragon in the Doghouse, a young boy finds out when he awakens one morning to find his house overrun by all sorts of wild fantasy creatures. Filled with silly situations, fun illustrations, and enough monsters to write a manual, Dragon in the Doghouse is an adventure that both kids and parents will love.
More books by Brandon Draga and Realmwalker Publishing Group: