Fantasy is a literary, not an oral creation. It is an original story written by a specific author (or authors) and shaped by the writer’s artistic vision. It is “more complex than folktales” and “original, fresh, and bold.”
In contrast, traditional literature was first transmitted orally. In The Joy of Children’s Literature, author Denise Johnson says it is “the canon of tales, stories, and poems of a people that have been passed down by word of mouth through many generations” (118).
She adds that folk stories only became “folk literature” when they were written down.
The genre of literary folktale comes close to traditional literature. “[C]ontemporary writers intentionally use folklore elements in stories or expand upon well-known traditional tales to create full-length novels ... Sometimes these stories are confused with traditional tales because they are so similar” (Johnson 151).
Some of these similarities may include talking animals, which appear in so-called “low” fantasy but also in traditional fables. Themes of magic and heroism appear in both fantasy and traditional literature.
In our reading, Johnson summarizes challenges brought against childrens’ science fiction and fantasy. “The Harry Potter series ranked first on the list of most frequently challenged books from 2000 to 2009” (155).
I think one reason for the frequent challenges against children’s science fiction and fantasy is that it is often used to explore -- and even question -- philosophical or moral issues.
Earlier this semester, I read an abstract by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, of “How the Mind of a Censor Works: The Psychology of Censorship” by Dr. Sara Fine. In its abstract, the federation says that people who have “authoritarian” personalities have equally strong desires to both exert and submit to power. These people feel threatened by any information that goes against their beliefs.
And in my reading this week, Johnson cites promotional book-jacket copy for Lois Lowry’s The Giver: “In the telling it questions every value we have taken for granted and reexamines our most deeply held beliefs” (Johnson 154). A parents’ group highlighted this statement as a reason for a challenge against the book.
Johnson also relates a parent’s comment as reported in the Kansas City Star, that “Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative.”
But in his Dec. 5, 2005 interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, author Neil Gaiman points out that children know when they are being patronized, when they are being told something “for their own good” that the teller doesn’t really believe.
And in a video conversation recorded by Wadsworth Cengage Learning, author Kate DiCamillo says that adults have a hard time with “darkness.” Adults don’t want children to handle what they themselves cannot face. DeCamillio adds that underestimating children is a foolish thing to do, and “They’ll follow you anywhere if they’re enjoying the story.”
- “Children’s Fantasy Lit in the Modern World.” Talk of the Nation. Interview by Neal Conan with Neil Gaiman, Christopher Paolini and Tamora Pierce. National Public Radio. 5 Dec. 2005. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.
- DiCamillo, Kate. Video Conversation with Kate DiCamillo. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.
- Fine, Sarah. “How the Mind of a Censor Works: The Psychology of Censorship.” School Library Journal. 42.1 (January 1996): 23-27. IRAYLS-International Research Abstracts: Youth Library Services. Last revision: 18 March, 1998. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.
- Johnson, Denise. The Joy of Children’s Literature. 2nd ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2012. Print.
Composed for Cuesta College’s ECE 234, Children’s Literature