Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What Is Fantasy Fiction Able to Teach Adults?

Christine Botham answers:

Fantasy fiction isn’t necessarily the most popular genre of novels that adults tend to read. It seems as though people shy away from the idea of fantasy fiction because they automatically relate it to sci-fi or deem it as being more of a children's genre. However this is exactly why I wanted to focus on the question, "What is fantasy fiction able to teach us?" I believe fantasy is important for adults to read every once in a while because it teaches us how to be kids again. It teaches us to appreciate childhood and the innocence that comes along with it. It's important for adults to come back to their feelings of child-like innocence every once in a while to escape the pressures of adulthood. However along with this idea, reverting back to innocence also shows us how as children we make adult-like decisions, maybe unknowingly at the time.

C.S. Lewis is the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, which includes his novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe--a perfect example of how a fantasy story can bring a person back to childhood. The main characters in the story are four brothers and sisters who are still all children. The entrance to the magical land of Narnia is found by the youngest of the four, Lucy, while exploring the house her brothers and sisters are staying in. Naturally her brothers and sisters don't believe her about her magical world, but eventually they are all introduced to Narnia after playing a game of hide and go seek. Hide and go seek is one of the most traditional and original games that children play when they are younger and it is almost guaranteed that every child has played this game at least once while growing up, that is until you reach adulthood. Then it seems as though you only get to play such games if and when your children are growing up.

Obviously finding a magical land in a wardrobe isn't reality; however, as children we tend to let our imaginations go wild and in some cases create secret, magical places such as Narnia. Then it seems as though when we get older, we don't have time or our imaginations simply don't focus in the same mysterious ways as we did when we were children. As we get older it seems as though our fantasies change and become almost more realistic because we are so wrapped up in everyday life and responsibilities. This is another reason I feel as though fantasy is important. If our imaginations don't allow us to create these types of magical places when we're adults, we can at least read about them and imagine them as if we were children again.

Most of us as children tended to have at least one, if not multiple stuffed animals while growing up. For many children stuffed animals are like imaginary friends that they talk to, play with and take everywhere. While in Narnia the children are conversing and living amongst animals that talk, walk and live like humans, the faun, the beavers and even the powerful Aslan are all animals that live in the fantasy world of Narnia, but could also be a creation from a child's mind.

Aslan may be the most prominent character in the story, but like most people he has two extreme sides. The one the children initially see is the "good" side. The fact that the most powerful "good" guy is a lion seems almost childish and obviously is very magical and fantastic. However from a child's perspective a good lion could almost be seen as a big house cat. In the story the children hug, play, laugh and are comfortable being close to the lion and almost automatically feel a special closeness to him, the same way you might a pet. It is easy for a child to fall in love with a big, furry, cuddly and kind cat, whereas if Aslan had been an alligator, the children might not have been so comfortable. As adults we rarely get a chance to play with lions, let alone deem them as the hero.

When we are children, often times when playing make believe we imagine ourselves as Kings, Queens, Princes and Princess and living in castles. In Narnia that is the legacy of the children, to become the Kings and Queens and rule the land. "But the next day was more solemn. For then, in the Great Hall of Cair Paravel--Aslan solemnly crowned them and led them to the four thrones amid deafening shouts of, 'Long Live King Peter! Long Live Queen Susan! Long Live King Edmund! Long Live Queen Lucy!'" (Lewis, 193). As adults we are faced with the reality that most of us will not be royalty and so we don't even imagine it. But when reading about it in a fantasy novel, it allows us to picture these scenarios how we used to imagine them.

Whereas fantasy often times allows us to escape back into a childlike existence, it may also allow us to realize that as children we are faced with adversity and that it's not always free and easy. In some situations the novel reverts us back to innocence, but it can also bring on a greater appreciation for adulthood also. When the children enter Narnia they make the decisions to interact and trust the people that they do as well as take on the responsibilities of ruling a kingdom.

Upon Lucy's initial arrival into Narnia she is almost immediately introduced to a faun who calls himself Mr. Tumnus. Although the two characters had never met, they act as though they have been lifelong friends and find no fear or hesitancy in one another. "And so Lucy found herself walking through the wood arm in arm with this strange creature as if they had known one another all their lives" (Lewis, 116). This again goes to show the innocence found in children, but also that Lucy is making the conscious decision to trust a complete stranger which we normally don't do as adults because we are more aware of the risks. So where Lucy is acting as an innocent child it is also scary that she is so quickly able to trust this stranger, which as readers may allow us to greater appreciate adulthood and make more knowledgeable decisions.

Later in the story we are introduced to the Witch who is attempting to take over Narnia. When Lucy's brother Edmund meets the witch, she is originally very kind and loving towards him in attempts to get what she wants from him. Not much later in the story we witness how the witch is in fact evil and cruel, which is typical in a child's story. There always tends to be a "good" guy and a "bad" guy, and in many cases the "bad" guy is an evil witch or king. "It didn't look now as if the Witch intended to make him a King. All the things he had said to make himself believe that she was good and kind and that her side was really the right side sounded to him silly now" (Lewis, 162). This is also a classic tale that is common in children's stories but also shows how a child blinded by bribes is incapable of making the "adult-like" decisions that are necessary in certain situations.

The other side of Aslan can be left up to the readers' interpretation due to the fact that his power and beauty may also bring fear. At first the lion seems very overwhelming to the children and they do not know what to expect.

But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn't know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan's face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn't look at him and went all trembly. (Lewis, 169)

This shows that even though the children's initial feelings of discomfort towards Aslan are extremely prevalent, they make the decision to join his side and trust him.

It is nice to have fantasy fiction as a means of escape from the pressures of adulthood. When nostalgia sets in, it is easy for adults to want to revert back to their childlike innocence, which is where Lewis, along with many other fantasy writers, comes in. However, fantasy also teaches us that not all of our childhood is a "summer vacation." We are constantly being faced with adversity at every age but some may just be more important and stressful as we are older, while some just goes unnoticed as children.

Work Cited

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1951), in The Chronicles of Narnia. NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.

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