Why is fantasy considered a children's genre?

Discussion in 'Archive: The Amphitheatre' started by Dark Lady Mara, Jan 9, 2003.

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  1. Dark Lady Mara Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 19, 1999
    star 7
    This is something I've been thinking about for a while. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is probably the book that began the fantasy genre, so let's look back to that. I don't think many readers would consider it suitable for children, since the story has heads rolling and main characters walking into apparent death. One of the greatest fantasy epics of modern times, The Lord of the Rings, features terrifying monsters and enormous numbers of deaths, again not very child-friendly. Its central themes of friendship among men and bravery don't seem to be aimed at children, either. The Star Wars movies (which I hope we're all familiar with ;) ) were criticized when they were released as being too upsetting for children, with references to scenes such as Obi-Wan's chopping Ponda Baba's arm given frequently. Most recently, the Harry Potter books, which started out being aimed at children but eventually morphed into adults' books when the author realized they would sell no matter what audience she targeted, have embraced heavy Satanic symbolism in descriptions of the practices of the dark wizard Voldemort and his followers, meaningless deaths (including one of a teenage boy), and many sex/genital jokes and references (I think there were about half a dozen in Goblet of Fire).

    What I'm leading up to is this: Why is fantasy considered a children's genre, if the books written in it have been meant for adults from the inception of the genre right up to the present day? Do many adults falsely assume that only children are imaginative enough to appreciate the books? Is it the writers' and publishers' mistake because they market the books incorrectly?

    Have fun. :)
  2. Spiderdevil Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 20, 2000
    star 4
    I've never considered fantasy to be a children-oriented genre, and I never will. Many fantasy novels I've read have had very gruesome imagery. One in particular, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike and Dru: Pretty Maids All In A Row, by Christopher Golden, has some of the most violent deaths I've ever read. (I'd go into a bit of detail, but don't know if I'd end up violating our esteemed terms of service.) Yet every time I see it in a bookstore, it's with the other Buffy novels on the "Younger Readers" shelf. But this goes right back to what you said, that everyone views television shows, movies, and books of that type to be for kids. I mean, I'm 22, and I still get slightly disturbed when I think back to the content of that novel. There's no way it's appropriate for younger readers, but thanks to the stigma surrounding the genre, there it sits on the kiddie shelf.
  3. ParanoidAni-droid Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2001
    star 4

    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is probably the book that began the fantasy genre

    Tolkien would probably have your tongue for that. I'm sitting here now, trying to convince his spirit against haunting your house. Pray all goes well.

    Why is fantasy considered a children's genre?

    That is because big beer-bellied bussiness men don't find pegasus all that amusing anymore. And when I become a big beer-bellied bussiness man (which is surely what all little fantasy-loving boys become) I'm going to renounce all things fantastic, as my father did, and his father did before him. I will carry out the "coming of age" ritual without any reservations, a great fire will reduce my books and other paraphanelia to cinders. It is the way of things, do not question its order. Let's just hope Episode III comes out before then.



    Seriously, Its considered childish because many people aren't really familar with the majority of it, let alone its history. Its a sad and pathetic cycle; the don't read any of it because they think it's for children and they think it's for children because they haven't read any of it to know better.

    ~PAd

  4. Drew_Atreides Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 30, 2002
    star 5
    ..honestly, i think it's because alot of adults just don't possess an imagination...
  5. Jon_Snow Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Feb 4, 2001
    star 3
    I wouldn?t say that the perception is so much that fantasy is a ?children?s? genre, but a ?children and fanboys? genre. And there is some truth to that. Fantasy, by and large, is not a mainstream genre. Magic and elves and Dark Lords tend to be the sort of thing that the average person turns their nose up at, for various reasons. The most common is simple lack of interest. While you can find fantasy stories that take on aspects of any given genre, they are not necessarily easy to find, and they are not always the best in the genre.

    Generally, a story about lawyers or a Harlequin style romance is going to work better in the real world than a fantasy world. The same applies to a lesser degree with detectives, politicians, and stories about average people living average lives. That?s not to say that such stories cannot work in fantasy, only that their non-fantastic counterparts are usually easier to find and identify and often maintain more focus on their type of story. A fantasy story tends to become a Quest at some point or another, though there are definitely authors skilled enough to avoid that.

    I think that fantasy?s general readership are those that like escapism, who want to get away from reality into worlds of dashing heroes doing daring deeds, evil wizards, magic swords, and of course, True Love. I think that the serious fantasy readers are looking for commentary on values and social issues and ethical issues, intellectual food for thought. Science Fiction and fantasy allow for peoples to look at hot-button topics and raise potentially sensitive issues without pushing the hot-buttons or offending (too many) sensibilities. An sf example of that would be Starship Troopers, dealing with the rights and responsibilities of citizens and how to maintain a government and society, and a good fantasy example of that might be Heroes Die, dealing with the direction our culture and media are headed, and presenting characters that are neither good nor evil in any traditional sense.

    I would say that most good fantasy being written right now (though certainly not all) is rather inappropriate for children. George R.R. Martin, China Miéville, Matthew Woodring Stover, John Marco, Clive Barker (most of the time) and Jacqueline Carey are definitely not suitable for children, and maybe even people like Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Jordan aren?t either. Authors like Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Orson Scott Card, Phillip Pullman and the like are suitable for children in my opinion, but they?re outnumbered.

    It?s a lot easier to break through social taboos in fantasy than other genres, possibly more so than any other genre period (even more so than science fiction), and many authors take advantage of that. The aforementioned Heroes Die is cover to cover violence. Two main characters in A Song of Ice and Fire have an incestuous affair (and one of those characters has become a fan favorite despite that!). The title character of the Kushiel trilogy is a prostitute. The list goes on. By and large, fantasy is not a children?s genre, though some of the best books in the genre are children?s books.



    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is probably the book that began the fantasy genre

    Well, if you want to get technical, it was The Epic of Gilgamesh that properly began the written fantasy genre, way back when. The Iliad, the Odyssey, The Hesiod and Theogony, the Aeneid, The Bible, Beowulf, etc, are all examples of the roots of the genre. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was a proud continuation of the fantastic tradition. It?s a 14th century poem, if I recall correctly, which means that there?s quite a bit that has it beat age wise.


    Its central themes of friendship among men and bravery don't seem to be aimed at children, either.

    I would say that the central theme of the Lord of the Rings is that no one is strong enough to resist temptation without the help of God.
  6. dehrian Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 18, 1999
    star 6
    I think it's because many fantasy novels are written at what I consider to be a children's reading level.
  7. Jon_Snow Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Feb 4, 2001
    star 3
    I think it's because many fantasy novels are written at what I consider to be a children's reading level.

    Many are. But there are also a lot that are not - the majority of the genre right now is not, in my opinion.
  8. Dinoforce Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 1
    Dehrian: I'd have to disagree. Most people define children as being age 12 or below and many of the books mentioned by Jon Snow are are definitely not for children. In addition to the adult subject matters discussed in those books, the reading levels (vocabulary) are beyond the understanding of many children.

    I think that fantasy is considered a children's genre for the simple reason that they are not seen as being written for adults. Guys in suits probably consider SF and fantasy as being suitable only for children because 'red-blooded' American males would not be caught dead reading one of those books in public. Have you ever seen someone read a Star Wars book or a fantasy book in an airport/airplane? I think not.
  9. Dark Lady Mara Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 19, 1999
    star 7
    Well, if you want to get technical, it was The Epic of Gilgamesh that properly began the written fantasy genre, way back when. The Iliad, the Odyssey, The Hesiod and Theogony, the Aeneid, The Bible, Beowulf, etc, are all examples of the roots of the genre.

    I think those works were all fantastical retellings of something that may have happened in history. Their plots all included events whose veracity a modern reader would probably doubt. However, the fantastical occurances in those books were based on religious beliefs of the authors' respective cultures. For example, a lot of the ancient Greeks really believed that Poseidon could have summoned a storm for Odysseus or that a nymph could have changed Aeneas's ships into dolphins which could swim away from a battle. The same thing obviously applies to the Bible. I don't think a work is really fantasy unless the majority of its readers will think, 'Wow, that's impossible.'
  10. Spiderdevil Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 20, 2000
    star 4
    Have you ever seen someone read a Star Wars book or a fantasy book in an airport/airplane? I think not.

    While I can't recall seeing many Star Wars books being read in public, I do see the occasional Robert Jordan or Tolkien. I also see Stephen King, though I suppose he's a bit more mainstream than those others. I know he writes predominantly in the horror genre, but fantasy/SF/horror are usually close together on bookstore shelves anyway.
  11. Jon_Snow Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Feb 4, 2001
    star 3
    Horror involving magic is fantasy. Fantasy is not just elves and dwarves and farm boys.



    Have you ever seen someone read a Star Wars book or a fantasy book in an airport/airplane? I think not.

    Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling are all fairly common sights. I saw a girl reading a young Jedi Knight book the other day, though I'll admit that Star Wars isn't exactly common. I've seen people reading Terry Brooks, Dragonlance, Stephen King, Terry Goodkind on a semi-regular basis, and others every so often.




    I think those works were all fantastical retellings of something that may have happened in history. Their plots all included events whose veracity a modern reader would probably doubt. However, the fantastical occurances in those books were based on religious beliefs of the authors' respective cultures. For example, a lot of the ancient Greeks really believed that Poseidon could have summoned a storm for Odysseus or that a nymph could have changed Aeneas's ships into dolphins which could swim away from a battle. The same thing obviously applies to the Bible. I don't think a work is really fantasy unless the majority of its readers will think, 'Wow, that's impossible.'

    By the time that Gawain and the Green Knight was written, the majority of Christians believed that the stories of Odysseus and Hector and Achilles were impossible. After all, they had gods in them that weren?t real, since there was only one god. But in any case, Gawain and the Green Knight was written by an anonymous contemporary of Chaucer. You only have to go back half a century to find Dante?s Divine Comedy and Inferno, and Dante certainly expected that his readers would realize that he never actually went to heaven or hell.
  12. Jades Fire Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 8, 1998
    star 4
    I've never considered fantasy a children's genre.

    I've always thought of fantasy as a geek's genre. ;)
  13. Goldenboy62 Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Sep 29, 2002
    star 2
    Point taken in that you need to define what type of fantasy you're discussing. I assume you're actually meaning heroic fantasy, or what is more commonly termed Sword and Sorcery.

    I don't believe it is any more a children's genre exclusively than say romance stories are strictly a woman's genre. Unfortunately because of public tastes, the more juvenile examples of the genre gained prominence in film and television, so for most people that is the only "fantasy" they have seen. Then you have people who further murk up the waters by inventing terms like space fantasy, or historical fantasy, etc. Which is all right I guess for those who feel they have to categorize everything, or only want to read a similar story ad nauseum, but what it does is create a sort of literary ghetto.
  14. dustchick Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Aug 12, 2000
    star 1
    I travel by train a lot, and I see primarily genre fiction, including SW novels, being read.

    Many of the authors whom Jon_Snow mentioned as being suitable for children have the same books in both the SF/Fantasy and Children's section. In fact, Tor Books recently launched a children's imprint that reissues books previously aimed at adults with "kid-friendly" covers.

    And any of you who think that children's lit is written at a lower level should read some intermediate and YA fiction. Some great stuff is out there - David Almond and Tamora Pierce both write great fantasies. I also highly recommend Laurie Halse Anderson, although her work isn't fantasy or SF.
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