A few things regarding children’s literature made the rounds on the Internet recently, so I thought it was almost necessary that I comment on them. One is Richard Dawkins, whose work on atheism I’ve enjoyed in the past, saying that kids shouldn’t be exposed to fairy tales because they encourage supernatural rather than rational thought.
When called out on it, he later claimed he was just throwing it out as a possibility, and that he doesn’t necessarily actually believe that. I know that, on a personal level, I aim to be a skeptical rationalist (which isn’t to say I always succeed), but I love fantasy and fairy tales. I’ve wondered before if this is somewhat contradictory, but I don’t think it is. I don’t believe that magic is real, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting. Also, there are plenty of things that I know aren’t true that I wish were. So it’s a form of escape and wish fulfillment.
I see a lot of defenses of fairy tales as helping children learn thinking skills and deal with problems, and while that might be true in some cases, I’m not sure it ever was for me. When I had to deal with bullies, I knew throwing a bucket of water wasn’t going to help, and I didn’t have access to a magic sword. But they let me know that, as bad as the world can be, there’s always imagination.
I also felt I should mention the Slate article about how adults should be embarrassed to read young adult books. This is a terrible article, not simply because I disagree with it, but because it makes an extraordinary claim without providing extraordinary proof. Instead, it takes the lazy route of comparing a few YA books to a few adult ones, making for total statistical insignificance. The article has been refuted many times, but my perspective is that it’s giving too much power to the marketing department. When a book is sold to children or teens, isn’t that more because they think that’s the audience who’d be most likely to buy it? I’m sure no author minds if people outside the recommended age group are reading it; it means more exposure for them. I know I sometimes felt a little embarrassed when someone saw me reading a book with large print and prominent illustrations in high school, but that was what I liked (albeit not ALL I liked), and I tried to own it. To me, the article just seems to be giving more power to those people we all knew growing up who acted like it was so babyish to like cartoons or video games after reaching a certain age. Or the 40-Year-Old Virgin thing where you have to sell all your toys to get laid. There’s also the literary snobbery against certain books, where people talk about how much better the Classics (which span a period of about 3000 BC to 1900 AD, apparently) are than Popular Literature, even though many of the Classics were written to be Popular Literature.
Some people insist that there are objective standards to measure literature, but I can’t say I buy it. To me, there are just different subjective scales. My idea of a well-written book might differ from yours, but there are also books I enjoy despite not thinking they’re very well-written, and vice versa. It doesn’t mean I think all books are equal, or that I might not judge you if your favorite books are the Twilight series. But I’m not going to stop you from reading them, and who really cares what my opinion is on what you’re reading?