Thursday, April 15, 2010

Children and stories

A dear friend of mine (who is homeschooling her two boys) posted the following quote on her facebook page not too terribly long ago.
It is through hearing stories about wicked stepmothers, lost children, good but misguided kings, wolves that suckle twin boys, youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world and eldest sons who waste their inheritance on riotous living and go into exile to live with the swine that children learn or mislearn both what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are. Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.—Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
It struck a chord with me, and harkened me back to some other posts I’ve made about children’s literature. I’ve been looking for a good topic so I could *finally* include one of my blog’s namesakes in a post! I’ve written about Pooh, but Harry Potter hasn’t fit in to any of my “literary” thoughts, until now.

There’s a lot of angst over Harry Potter, if you hadn't noticed. Witches! Magic! Evil things! Rule-breaking! And then you have the arguments in favor of the stories: Friendship! Self-sacrifice! Loyalty! Compassion! But Harry Potter is not the first, nor the last, to juxtapose good and evil. You see it even our earliest fairy tales:
The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. --Tolkien, On Fairy Stories
So really, maybe the point of having kids read Harry Potter, and Tolkien, and Lewis, and fairy tales, and parables, and… well, you get the idea…is to get them to THINK. To exercise that gray matter so they can learn something about the world in which they live. And what they’ll learn is that life isn’t always fair. Sometimes there are kids without parents. Sometimes there are difficult choices to be made. Sometimes people make the wrong choice and must live with that mistake. Sometimes there are wicked and scary things. And sometimes people find themselves in a moment of grace and peace and perfect Joy*. But if you don’t expose kids to these kinds of ideas when they’re young how then will they deal with life-changing, or scary, or even ordinary events as they grow older?

*Joy, in my sense, has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with [happiness and pleasure]; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is. --C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

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