Fantasy has always been treated like the ugly duckling of literature. When most adult readers hear fantasy, what immediately comes to mind are stories of dragons, magic, and adventure; far separated from the realities of the world around us. Fantasy novels, especially those geared towards younger audiences, are viewed as escapist luxuries meant to offer a hideaway from the cruelty of reality. Fantasy, however, can be and often is so much more than just an escape. In fact, according the young-adult fantasy novelist Matthew Cody, fantasy novels offer up a space where children can confront reality in a constructive way.
Fantasy is the safe zone, but not to escape from the problems of the world, rather to explore them in a safer context. It’s a zone where the young reader can engage with big problems — sometimes scary — that they are a part of anyway, like it or not.
He makes note of a critic’s reaction to his own novel, The Magician’s Key, in which the critic makes note of the very real and very adult topics which Cody is able to re-contextualize for his young audience. The reviewer from Kirkus said the following: “The intersection of magic and modernity provides an interesting forum for the discussion of racial profiling, disenfranchised individuals, and the effects of evil in the world.”
What do you think of fantasy novels? Are they fanciful escapism, or are they tools to teach young readers of the more subtle complexities of life without overwhelming them. What are your favorite fantasy novels? What have they taught you?
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