Is Fantasy Only for Kids? No Way!

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure where this idea that fantasy is only for kids came from. I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy since middle school. I started with Madeline L’Engle and Andre Norton, progressed to Heinlein, Asimov, and Herbert. I read C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy as a teen, and unbeliever, and had no idea they were allegorical (I found Perelandra to be boring, and That Hideous Strength incomprehensible – they were better when I reread them ten years later as a believer).

Anyway, I never would have thought any of those were “for children,” not even Lord of the Rings which I devoured in high school. Yes, it has dwarves and hobbits and some funny bits, but the devotion to fantastical histories, the density of the prose and the sheer expanse of the tale was unlike any kids’ books I was familiar with.

From there it was Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Watership Down, Patricia McKillip, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Katherine Kurtz, Stephen Donaldson, and more recently, Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb.

With the exception of Watership Down, I would never have considered any of these writers or books as being for children. Thus it never even entered my mind when I began writing fantasies of my own, that they should be written for children. As I detail in my article Why I Write Fantasy (see the tab above), my intent in part was to analogize the angelic conflict all Christians have been entered in at the moment of new birth after believing in Christ. And I didn’t wish to do it in a simplistic manner. It was also, particularly with Legends of the Guardian King, to trace the trajectory of a man’s spiritual life from unbelief to salvation and on through the various stages of spiritual growth.

Clearly the issues on my radar would be issues faced by an adult, not a child. The spiritual precepts would include those wrestled with by adults, not children.

It was not until I entered the field of Christian Fantasy, that I discovered — to my great dismay — the assumption that all fantasy is for children or young adults and should therefore be “clean” and free of sex or “gruesome” or “extreme” violence. I had well-meaning acquaintances tell me how they had given or recommended my books to the eleven-year-old boy next door, or their nine-year-old nephew.

It’s possible an eleven-year-old could follow the main line of the action, but much of the meat of the story I would think would go right over his head. Not that that’s a bad thing. I read my own share of books just that way – following the action, or certain story lines while the bulk of what was going on remained out of my grasp… (Lord of the Rings comes to mind in that regard – my perception of it as a 40+ year old was far different than when I was 16). It’s just… middle school kids were never my primary audience, and here I was facing a mindset that assumed they were not just my primary audience but my only audience!

And since I was writing for kids… how dare I insert into my book the heresy of having my – adult, male, spiritually disillusioned and until-then-celibate – hero commit a sexual sin! I received irate letters from grandmothers who bought the novel for their grandsons, forced to tear the offending two pages from the book before they could pass it on.

Outraged reviews turned up from mothers on Amazon and Christian Book dot com who, having read the book to make sure it was suitable for their young sons, had discovered it wasn’t. How dare I try to trick them like that and put such a thing in a Christian fantasy!

I remain bemused. I know in time past the entire field of speculative fiction was regarded as juvenile and struggled to gain legitimacy as acceptable reading material for American adults. The reason, supposedly was because none of it was “real.”

This objection has been nullified for science fiction for the most part as more and more of what went for science fiction in the old days has become science fact in ours.

So that leaves fantasy, the last bastion of the “make believe” and the “not real” and only children believe in such … well… fantasies.

As if many romances today are not “fantasy”; or many detective and spy novels! And what about Stephen King and Dean Koontz? Most of what they write about is “not real,” but somehow their books are not seen as “only for children.” In fact they are not seen as being for children at all. (Particularly King’s).

So why does fantasy still have the bad rap of being kidstuff?

The only answer I can think of is that it really does provide an excellent vehicle for portraying truths of the Christian life related to the angelic conflict. And since part of the intent of the opposition force in that conflict is to hide the fact that it exists… well then…. The one genre that people should pay the least attention to is the one that can actually reveal the most about what is really going on… and historically has.

Which makes the whole kidstuff thing almost… acceptable.  Almost.

For a more detailed treatise on all the ways fantasy does what it does, see my aforementioned article in the tabs above: “Why I Write Fantasy.” And if you want to know more about the angelic conflict, check out the tab called “The Angelic Conflict.”

4 thoughts on “Is Fantasy Only for Kids? No Way!

  1. insidethewriter

    Karen, thank you for saying the very things I have been thinking for most of my life. Well, maybe not just thinking. I do tend to voice my opinions on a regular basis. I have also been a fantasy/science fiction fan since I was a kid and as I grew up, I had to be a closet reader of those genres. People thought I was nuts. Weird. Sinful, even. When I retired from my career and opened a Christian bookstore, I grew quite frustrated at the lack of fantasy books to bring into my inventory. Of course, I had already been jaded by the “cheesy” Christian fiction that was the only kind available for so many years. I was determined to find those writers who could produce quality writing and stories that made you think. Especially fantasy writers. Thanks for being one of those, Karen! Now my store is closed, but I kept all the good books for myself. And I hope to join the ranks of the published authors in the not too distance future. As always, you encourage me, and I am thankful that God has brought you into my blog world.

    1. karenhancock

      Thanks for the kind words, Wendy, and for sharing your own background. It’s cool to find a kindred spirit! Cool that you opened that Christian bookstore, too. There’s been a veritable storm surge of Christian fantasy these days, at least in comparison with the past. Marcher Lord Press has been big in providing a place that will steadily and exclusively bring out Christian Spec Fiction and as I think I mentioned recently, Bethany House is bringing out quite a few fantasy pieces as well.

      Now, if only I can make some steady progress on my own fantasy… sf… whatever it is. (I think it’s both)

  2. Karen S

    @insidethewriter “I kept all the good books for myself …” I’m just a bit jealous and also curious about who those authors were.

    Karen, have you ever noticed how prophetic “That Hideous Strength” is? Even though it was written at a time when science was all the vogue and the supernatural was in doubt, Lewis creates a mixture of science and occult in the NICE organization. Just what we see today in the secular world. I actually didn’t like the book the first time around, in my twenties, although I loved the tone of all of Lewis’ works fiction and nonfiction. Only later I started to see the uncanny accuracy with which he paints our times.

  3. priscilla

    Karen, I chuckled. I have been a Voracious, cap V, reader of fantasy since I was 12 and even more so now. (I am 58). We did not have TV till I was 10 so I read all of Baums series never knowing one was a movie (seriously!) and any Science Fiction, Norse and Greek Mythology, Arthurian Legends etc. et. anything and everything fantasy. I am grateful my deeply Christian parents never questioned or stopped what I read. (I actually liked the bible firstly because it read like wonderful fantasy.) At 16 in 1971 I discovered CS Lewis by “accident“. Then it was Tolkien etc. etc. As I found Christ to be real! and alive! I realized how much He wood me to Him through subtle threads in all I craved to read. Your Legends of the Guardian King is a delight because of those same threads. The writing plumbs the real depth of individuals struggling with sin, love & hate, deception, idols, sickness and death. Gee, same as real life ( but much more fun) . It was a pleasure to give your books to my 17 yr.old college bound (Jewish!) son who devoured them. (his only comment was a “not too subtle agenda to equate the demonic tribes to that of Islam”)…. Otherwise, we were totally involved, moved and thoroughly entertained. I have not wept over a book in years. Good grief, I actually wept (and cheered).
    Francis Schaeffer wrote – “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.” Many Christians, wary of creating graven images, have steered clear of artistic creativity. But the Bible offers a robust affirmation of the arts. The human impulse to create reflects our being created in the image of a creator God. Art and the Bible has been a foundational work for generations of Christians in the arts.“
    Write on Karen. And try not to listen to those Grandmas.


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