Because dragons can be beaten...

Because dragons can be beaten...

Reading fantasy is considered childish and a waste of time, but it has many advantages.

Fantasy fiction never goes out of fashion.

I’m often asked, “Help! My child wants to read only fantasy! What do I do?” My response? “Welcome to the club.”

My daughter is obsessed with fantasy. And though I do wish she reads more of other genres, I’m not worried about her reading too much fantasy. Fantasy is often considered childish, a waste of time; and that children should “grow up” and move on to read “real” stories and non-fiction. I disagree.

Reading fantasy has many advantages. Kids (and many adults) love magic, excitement, suspense, humour, adventure and they possess tonnes of imagination and a sense of wonder about the world around them. Fantasy stories satisfy all these needs and more. They entertain the reader, but at the same time, there is a lot going on in the background. Be it J K Rowling’s Harry Potter, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus sequence, Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, Tui T Sutherland’s Wings of Fire, they are not simple stories of magic.

They have deeper concepts relevant to real life — the fight against evil, the complexities of human emotions, daily struggles, perseverance, loyalty and friendship and all the skills a child needs to navigate the world. Fantasy allows children to look at and experiment with hypothetical situations. It shows them different ways of looking at the world and opens up new possibilities, exposing the child’s mind to new ideas. It gives flight to the imagination — and what use is knowledge without imagination? That is probably why, when a woman asked Albert Einstein what her child should read if he wanted to become a scientist, he reportedly replied, “Fairy tales, and more fairy tales.”

Fantasy also allows the child to make sense of difficult situations. For the very reason that these stories are not real, it becomes easier to explore concepts that might be too scary and disturbing for children in real life. Unconsciously, they’re observing and making sense of things that will help them deal with real situations. We cannot pretend that life is all hunky dory. We cannot protect our children from the outside world forever. At some point, children come face to face with the problems of the world. If they have already been exposed to similar situations, or have read about characters overcoming problems in fantasy stories, then perhaps they’ll be able to handle the real situations better?

This is what author Neil Gaiman was talking about when he paraphrased G K Chesterton’s statement: Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

So, I don’t think you and I should worry. Children, once they’ve caught the reading bug, will go on to read other genres too. But, chances are they’ll keep going back to fantasy all their lives and that’s okay.

The author got a master’s degree in energy engineering and worked in the IT industry until her daughter dragged out the writer lurking inside her. She has written eight books for children and can be reached at www.shruthi-rao.com

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