Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reality Is For Those Who Can't Face Oz

"Fantasy is not for everybody," [Martin] Gardner contentiously puts it. "I know of no studies by professional psychologists on this matter, but I hazard the guess that an eight-year-old's liking for fantasy reflects the strength of his imagination. ... I suspect that it is from the ranks of such children, when grown, that come our most creative individuals." (Beverly Lyon Clark, Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children's Literature in America [Johns Hopkins, 2003], page135)

Such a tendency [to accomodate the real] was reinforced by John Dewey's turn-of-the-century preference for stories that do not encourage children to escape from reality... (Clark, 136)

When asked whether Oz is especially popular with young girls, Martin Gardner responded, "I'm afraid it is." (Clark, 140)
I think it's quite funny, this notion that "fantasy" fiction encourages children (or adults) to escape from reality while "realistic" fiction encourages children to face it. It's as funny as the Freudian belief that the Pleasure Principle is somehow opposed to the Reality Principle, though I suppose that one makes sense if you believe that Reality is no fun at all, but c'mon -- pleasure is still part of reality. I read all kinds of books as a child, from fairy tales to "realistic" fiction, biographies, popularized science, and so on, and I used all of them to escape "reality," the reality of growing up a book-crazed sissy in the semi-rural Midwest during the 1950s. Alexander the Great, George Washington Carver, Frank Lloyd Wright, Clara Barton, and Madame Curie were as real, and as fantastical, to me as Stuart Little, Jo March and her boys, Horton the elephant, the Boxcar Children, or the Three Billygoats Gruff.