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Fantasy Children's Literature

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Christy Dasher

on 17 June 2013

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Transcript of Fantasy Children's Literature

By Cindy Morgan
Christy Dasher

Fantasy Children's Literature
Helpful or Harmful?

According to John Algeo (1986),
Fantasy is many things to many people: other-world landscapes, high and low magic, heroic quests, elves and dwarves, knights and barbarians, vampires and ghosts, dilapidated castles, spaceships and distant galaxies, ideal societies and appalling ones, parapsychology and secret knowledge, grotesqueries of character and plot, Escheresque twists of reality, uncertainty balanced between the supernatural and the uncanny, and much else. Part of the fascination of fantasy is the difficulty of defining it.
Peter Hunt states that,
Fantasy literature is either taken seriously (and enthusiastically), or seriously rejected. It is the root of all literature, an area of advanced literary experimentation, and essential to our mental health; or it is regressive, and associated with self-indulgent catharsis on the part of the writers; or it is linked to a ritualistic, epic, dehumanized world of predetermination and out of tune with post-romantic sensitivity: or it symbolizes the random world of the postmodern. Or, quite possibly, all of these, for fantasy resists, and indeed mocks, the elaborate classification systems of academia that have grown up around it, just as it defies the view that its huge popularity is a sad reflection on the state of contemporary culture. However, it is useful to take the three most common (if not the most damning) of opinions - that fantasy is formulaic, childish, and escapist, to see if they can be sustained - remembering that the one thing that can rarely be said of fantasy is that it has nothing to do with reality.
'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and
girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.
Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can
only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts:
nothing else will ever be of any service to them.'
Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854)

Fantasy is the natural, the appropriate
language for the recounting of the
spiritual journey and the struggle of
good and evil in the soul.
VrsulaK. Le Gum (1992: 64)
Fantasy is literature for teenagers
Brian Aldiss (quoted in Winoker, 1987: 39)
There's certainly prejudice in some quarters
against fantasy, but this tends to be from
people who think it's all swords and dragons -
which is as silly as saying that 'Booker books'
are all about foul-mouthed Scots and lonely
ladies taking tea on wet Thursdays. It seems
to be suggested that fantasy is some kind of
fairy icing when, from a historical point of view,
it is the whole cake. Terry Pratchett (Pratchett
and Briggs, 1997: 467)
brings joy, excitement, and the element of surprise
(Ghezlel, 2006 as referenced in Jalali, 2011)
showcases heroes, expands curiosity, and improves imagination (Mohammadi, 1997 as referenced in Jalali, 2011)
has the potential to teach moral lessons
(Fuxa, 2012)
highlights the struggle of good versus evil
(Kiefer, 2012)
teaches through dramatic example
what it means to be a good adult
(Sherman (1987)
Some critics say fantasy :
expresses desires that are repressed by society, causes readers to avoid social responsibilities, and is the opiate of the masses (Algeo, 1986)
teaches children evil and anti-religious concepts and is amoral (Fuxa, 2012)
is escapist (escapism is the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation or activity)
"...many fantasy and science fiction works provide rich opportunities for students to safely use their own moral thought, whether they view their own morality through a religious lens or not, to consider their views on issues large and small. The Harry Potter series, perhaps the most demonized work of fantasy to date, is a story of good’s triumph over evil, perseverance in difficult times, and the importance of loyalty and friendship."
According to Robin Fuxa (2012),
The Hunger Games, a more recent target, creates opportunities for dialogue around government corruption, abuse of power, desensitization to violence, voyeurism as entertainment, power and oppression and related inequities, abuse of alcohol, and more. In a grand conversation about this book students focused on honesty in interpersonal relationships—did Katniss mislead Peeta about her feelings? Was that acceptable given the circumstances? Perhaps that is one of the greatest roots of the misunderstandings around fantasy works: out of context, a book that creates space for examining a social issue may appear to overtly celebrate one point of view at a glance. Great science fiction or fantasy, however, calls the reader to think critically for him or herself about the issue at hand.
Robin Fuxa (2012) also suggests,
Brian Attebery (1980), writes..
"The best fantasies perform the trick of
investing the familiar with enough touches of
the unreal - heightened color, heroic action,
unexpected transformations, and
dislocations in time."
Fantasy literature is significantly tied to the "real" world
through the attention it pays to social and political
structures, complicated family and domestic relationships,
and emotional and character development. In JK Rowlings
Harry Potter series, readers find themselves relating to
the traditions of school, family, and friendship. The reader
can easily relate to the characters and plot of the stories.
Fantasy vs. Reality
Fantasy opens the door to the world of reality. No matter the genre; fairy tale, folk tale, fables, myth, or legend, the reader can find examples of good versus evil. Readers can identify with this and this makes them become more engaged readers.
(wolf, pg 52)
Fantasy can be for adults or children. Children enjoy the stories for their sense of the magical elements, justice, triumphs of good or evil, characters and plot. Robert Coles (1997 ) suggests that "fairy tales and their motifs of transformation, magical objects and powers, trickery, and wishes help children identify with their sense of poetic justice and provide a straightforward understanding of right and wrong. These stories encourage them to wonder more about ethical issues".

offer a transition from novels to genres of myth and legends
provide the reader reassuring completion
calm fears that a particular and possible bad outcome won't happen (Cadden, 2012)
give connections to history and tradition (Cecire, 2009)
According to Freud...
Fantasy stories concentrate on symbolism
and the crucial role of drama in children's
development. Children need tales that
acknowledge their fears.
Distinguishing between fact or fantasy...

Writers of fantasy stories often used animals, which some say would blur the lines between fantasy and realism. In the early days of publishing there was anxiety about using such fantasy on the grounds that it may make children unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. Despite this, animal stories have been a staple genre of children's literature since the 18th century. (Reynolds, pg 81)
Some parents are still uneasy about sharing fantasy stories with their children for several reasons.
Little Red Riding Hood walks through the forest and gets eaten by a wolf on her way to Grandmother's house.
The reference to the dwarfs in Snow White is not politically correct.
Rapunzel had a "dark" overall theme.
Cinderella was treated as a slave and forced to do all the housework.
Fairy tale princesses are always portrayed as beautiful and popular.
Unattractive people in fairy tales are more likely to be evil.
A parent's point of view....
Harmful opinions about Fairy
Tale/Fantasy Literature
1. The heroin in fairy tales is usually a women. Women have different issues and concerns than little girls, who are the readers of this type of literature.
2. Characters in fairy tales are usually pure and perfect or ugly and evil.
3. Some fairy tales give out bad ideas for children. Pinnochio did numerous things that we wouldn't want our children to follow.
4. All fairy tales end with a "happily ever after" theme. Does everything end with happily ever after in the world?
5. Only some people will win in a fairy tale and it's usually the hero or heroine.
Gender issues with traditional fairy tales:
According to Russell Banks the film...is appallingly sexist:
“My wife and I . . . realized that The Little Mermaid was essentially a dramatized tract designed to promote the virtues and rewards of female submissiveness and silence
(Matthew and Greenberg, p. 221)."

The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber.
They think a girl who gossips is a bore.
Yes, on land it’s much preferred
For ladies not to say a word,
And after all, dear,
What is idle prattle for?
[Come on]
They’re not all that impressed with conversation.
True gentlemen avoid it when they can.
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn.
It’s she who holds her tongue
Who gets her man. (Menken and Ashman 1989)
A sexist lesson in Ursuala's song to Ariel?
According to Wolf (2004),
"Fantasy is a story of an alternative world, marked by broad flights of the imagination, talking animals, & magical forces (p. 53)."
"...fantasy opens the door to the rich world of make believe (p. 53)."
What else can Fantasy Literature
do for Readers?
Marilisa Sachteleben states that opponents say fantasy children's literature:
is violent and scary
has a negative emotional impact
depict worlds not governed by God
can threaten emotionally fragile children by its unreality
Finally, after examining all of the evidence, we have concluded that fantasy children's literature does serve an overall positive purpose. It gets children excited about reading, draws them into the story, allows them to use their imagination, expands their creativity and offers opportunities for dialogue about real issues. Because there are some negative aspects to fantasy, we feel there are limits that need to be respected, especially with young children. We don't want to cause fear or promote any type of biased
attitudes. And we want to make sure that children are not getting so absorbed in fantasy that they lose track of reality. But...shouldn't our children be allowed opportunities to escape if only for a short time and explore other worlds? Like Max, in Where the Wild Things Are, they will come back home.
Algeo, J. (1986). The nature of fantasy. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 11(3), 155-

Attebery, B. (1980). The fastasy tradition in american literature. Bloomington, IN: Indiana
University Press.

Cadden, M. (2012). All is well: The epilogue in children’s fantasy fiction. NARRATIVE, 20(3),

Cecire, M. (2009). Medievalism, popular culture and national identity in children’s fantasy
literature. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 9(3), 395-409.

Coles, R. (1997). The moral intelligence of children: How to raise a moral child. New York,
NY: Random House.

Fuxa, R. (2012). Finding fantasy: The genre that makes difficult topics easier for students to
discuss. Reading Today, 26-27.

Hunt, P. (2001). Alternative worlds in fantasy fiction. New York, NY: Continuum International
Publishing Group, Ltd.

Jalali, M. (2011). New fantastic tale in persian children’s literature: Fantasy stories trend in Iran
between 1990 and 2007. International Journal of Human Sciences, 8(1), 840-849.

Kiefer, B. (2013). Fantasy for children: Its roots and branches. Journal of Children’s Literature,
39(1), 36-41.

Matthew, P. & Greenberg, J. (2009). The ideology of the mermaid: Children’s literature in the
intro to theory course. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language,
Composition, and Culture, 9(2), 217-233.

Reynolds, K. (2011). Children’s literature: A very short introduction. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press.

Sherman, C. (1987). The princess and the wizard: The fantasy worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin and
George MacDonald. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 12(1), 24-28.

Wolf, S. (2004). Interpreting literature with children. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates, Inc.
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