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Roland Martin - Issue #21

Why a little fantasy keeps us grounded in reality.

Roland Martin

May 17 · Issue #21 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Why a little fantasy keeps us grounded in reality.

Fantasy Island
This week, Graeme Whiting, head of the Acorn School in Nailsworth, deepest, darkest Gloucestershire, has been getting a deluge of attention in response to a blog in which he suggests that fantastical literature is corrupting the minds of the young. It even reached America’s liberal West Coast: 
School principal: 'Harry Potter' and 'Lord of the Rings' cause brain damage - LA Times
As an English teacher, I obviously have my own views; I would argue that an addiction to reading is no bad thing. It’s far more desirable than an addiction to chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks or video games. Indeed, any English teacher in the land would probably suggest that an addiction to reading is a necessity if you are going to study English with passion. I’d certainly recommend exercising parental caution over some modern young adult literature, but not all of the titles that Whiting highlights. Most of these novels come with some kind of age-appropriate rating, and if they don’t, a bookseller or librarian seems to be well informed, in my experience.  
I do believe that there is a very valid case for experiencing ‘safe’ peril; for living out what might be troubling you inside, via characters in a novel. So, literature can allow a child/developing young adult to experience, on paper, catharsis, up to the point which he or she wishes. Here’s author Lev Grossman, putting it eloquently, 'The magic trick here, the sleight of hand, is that when you pass through the portal, you re-encounter in the fantasy world the problems you thought you left behind in the real world.’
Confronting Reality by Reading Fantasy - The Atlantic
The following articles make similar points, if you are inclined to align, or need further convincing!
Children’s fantasy literature: why escaping reality is good for kids
From The Guardian; why fantasy makes good therapy:
The real purpose of fantasy | Books | The Guardian
The scientific view from a serious sports’ coach, because, well, we all know that physical activity and mental stimulation work well together:
Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function | Psychology Today
There is, of course, a profound difference between reading Narnia/LOTR/Harry Potter and seeing the films. Reading allows a child to imagine as much or as little as s/he wishes; watching a film, someone else’s idea of what Fluffy or an Ork looks like, might be very different from yours, and far more terrifying. It’s a cliche, but a book shouldn’t really be judged by its movie.
Whiting has counteracted the backlash with a preface to his latest blog. I’ll leave you to ruminate over it:
The Imagination of the Child - The Acorn School
If you are a parent, and you don’t already know the following website, if we haven’t had time to read a book first, or watch a film before our children ask to read/see it, we’ve found it pretty useful - with a caveat that it is not always completely fail safe - because it gives the ratings that children and parents would really put on the various media, and gives an honest reason behind why those ratings are reached:
Reviews & Age Ratings - Best Movies, Books, Apps, Games for Kids
Handle with care
As with anything, one needs to handle a child’s stimuli with care. But Harry and Frodo are perfectly fine with me. Indeed, I chose to read the entire Chronicles of Narnia to our eldest when he was probably about five years old. Our two have been happy to graze on Disney-fodder too, but these days, they prefer Marvel and DC. And there, the archetypes of good vs evil are played out ad infinitum. We did discuss the extended metaphors, anti-terrorism agenda and global view after a recent trip to Civil War.
5 Reasons to Start Reading Comic Books |
Rick Curwin makes an excellent case for keeping students wondering, guessing, predicting. Isn’t studying literature - or reading for pleasure/fun/escape/catharsis - utterly about wonder?
Wonder, Prediction and Student Engagement | Edutopia
By means of an aside, this is blog number twenty-one. It’s a significant number. This fellow tells us all manner of reasons why:
Number 21 Symbolism, 21 Meaning and Numerology
Ah yes, the Bible. Possibly some moments that might cause a stir in there, too. But worth a read…

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